Making generational diversity work for you

Finding opportunities in the four generations

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 12 Apr 2022

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Making generational diversity work for you

Finding opportunities in the four generations

With a multiplicity of generations adding variety, challenge and opportunity to the workplace, the only way businesses can optimise these is by looking at some of the future-looking approaches towards work, culture, career and people practices. Supporting and managing multiple generations of employees can pose a number of challenges for business leaders.

This is Part 3 of the Generations Series. Read Part 1 Inter-generational Diversity is getting real and Part 2 The Inter-generational Disruption at workplaces

While many of these challenges may appear daunting, a multi-generational team also provides an opportunity for people with different perspectives to learn from each other. Let’s look at some of these opportunities and solutions that can help work multi-generational diversity to our advantage:

1. Mentoring and knowledge transfer:

This is the most obvious of all opportunities and it works both ways. While older employees can pass on a lot of information to the younger generation, they can also learn from their younger colleagues. Knowing this, organizations can benefit from a mentoring or advocacy program that also explores the generation gap and educates leaders in effective communication and the strengths of each generation group.

Developing leaders capable of leading generations of employees is likely to take time, training, and great intergenerational dialogue. As discussed in the previous blogpost, one of the biggest challenges in multigenerational workforce management is getting each generation to recognize and respect the unique attributes of others. It is important to appreciate that differences are related to time, place, and events. Diverse generations can also be considered peers, that is, a group of people who have similar experiences, rather than values due to growing up at the same time.

2. Diversity and Inclusion:

The Randstad Work Monitor Q2 2018 identified that 85% of their respondents agree that they come up with innovative ideas and solutions, thanks to an age-diverse team. A huge area of opportunity emerges when different generations interact in a non-judgemental environment with open to healthy questioning and transparent communication. Building a culture of healthy discussions and cross-questioning is an important opportunity that can bring the generations together.

It is not unusual to hear a millennial being described as ‘smart but lacking motivation’, but this could just as well have meant ‘smart but I don’t understand his/her motivation’. Unpacking these motivations is a critical area where immense opportunity resides in dealing with the different generations at the workplace. As discussed in the previous sections, mutual respect and sensitisation towards the different value systems of these generations.

3. Constructive feedback:

Another sensitive area of opportunity is how feedback is handled between these generations. Closely linked to communication, the organisations can tide over the challenges of misunderstandings by creating a standard system of feedback and building the team capability to give and receive feedback impersonally, timely and clearly. Building sensitisation and awareness in respecting each other’s backstories, value systems, beliefs and world view is important. However, at the same time, it is important to watch out for stereotypes and unconscious biases. It is easy to brush a person with a generation brush and oversee the individual personality traits in absolute terms. This approach can lead to significant loss of opportunity that emerges from having an age-diverse and inclusive work environment.

4. Learning and talent management:

A progressive career path needs to replace traditional hierarchies with seamless work structures to effectively manage this melting pot of generations. ‘One size fits all’ programs will no longer be valued, and technology will continue to play a pivotal role in this arena. For example, for the Gen Z who are not waiting to complete their education to enter the workplace, e-learning courses and sabbaticals must become built into their career plans. Learning management systems (LMS) to map individual e-learning needs, leveraging digital media to attract and retain the right young talent, and using advanced people management software to track their progression, are just some of the areas where technology can lend an edge to organisations in managing their inter-generational diversity.

5. A culture of trust:

A lot of change needs to be created on the intangibles as well. The multi-generational workplaces can either turn into war zones or can transform into collaborative, respected centres of excellence that are looked up to in organisations. The latter is possible by only focussing on the strengths of each generation and building trust. It is easier said than done, but once it is revealed to each of the generations that their drives and ambitions are exclusive yet complementing each other, their insecurities can turn into synergies. Extensive coaching to senior employees on handling the younger workers, as well as sensitisation of the millennials to adapt to the older generation is a way forward.

This is a classic win-win situation with not only the employees across different generations benefiting from each other but also the organisation progressing. Beyond large savings in attracting and retaining the right talent, the organisations are assured a happy, engaged workforce that is motivated for the right reasons apart from pay. Their employees believe in the vision and work towards improved productivity, which in turn leads to increased customer satisfaction and quality. So, let’s expand the meaning of diversity in our workplaces and blend in all generations together!

This is Part 3 of the Generations Series. Read Part 1 Inter-generational Diversity is getting real and Part 2 The Inter-generational Disruption at workplaces