There has been much talk in recent years about the evolution of the workforce and the evident changes in workplace personas. From communication preferences to remote work, the status quo of working as we historically knew it is shifting drastically. Many attribute this shift to both diversity of generations in the workplace and the evolution of technology.
Generations in the workplace
There are currently four generations in the workplace, with a fifth (Generation Z), soon to enter. Each generation brings different perspectives, needs, and values to the workplace.
The Value of Generational Diversity
Embracing generational diversity can strengthen a workforce in many ways, just as diversity in gender, ethnicity, background, and more have proven to provide positive impacts on business. Specifically, generational diversity in the workplace can enable businesses to better understand the next generation of both employees and customers. This understanding aids in both attraction and retention of top talent, and growth in the sales and brand of the business.
Specifically for employees, one benefit of generational diversity is that it provides an opportunity to engage in reverse mentoring. Inexperienced employees can learn from the experienced, and vice versa. For example, Millennials and Generation Z are known to be naturally tech-savvy and in some cases, have never experienced life without technology, making them the perfect teachers to a workforce less experienced in technology. On the other hand, the more experienced Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers have a wealth of knowledge to share on lessons learned in business and life.
Specifically for customers, one benefit of generational diversity is that consumers tend to gravitate towards businesses that understand their needs and preferences. This understanding becomes clearer when diversity in engrained in everyday business processes such as product development and the like. Millennials will soon have the largest buying power of all current generations. Therefore, understanding next generation needs is critical to business sustainability. Companies who embrace generational diversity can better appeal to this diverse customer base.
Awareness: If you haven’t already, conduct analysis on generation populations in your organizations. Seek to understand whether there are any unrepresented groups and how this could impact the business strategy in the future. Some organizations are finding that as Baby Boomers retire over the next several years, the Gen X and Millennial populations are not large enough to fill the void, creating a potential gap in both leadership and general talent.
Communication: Understand that different generations have different communication styles and preferences. For example, a Millennial may be completely fine with a meeting cancellation via text message, whereas a Baby Boomer may prefer a phone call or voicemail and a Generation Z’er may find a SnapChat message acceptable. Furthermore, the frequency in communication demanded by each generation may differ. Millennial’s often seek continuous feedback, while preceding generations may be fine with more infrequent and formal reviews.
Humility: Be humble enough to teach and be taught, regardless of level or status in the organization. New generations tend to see the world as flat, and do not hold hierarchy in the same regard as the traditional workforce. Respect is always expected, but as the workforce evolves, leaders must be more open to informal communication, new ideas, and the inexperienced perspectives of the next generation. This often proves to be a gift in shifting the status quo and shedding light on new opportunities within organizations.
Seek Understanding: We must seek to understand the values and needs of all generations. As an example, a Baby Boomer may place higher value on retirement benefits and a corner office, while a succeeding generation may have a greater interest in paid volunteer time or flexible work schedules that allow remote work. We must seek to understand these needs in order to better meet them. A few starting points could be in exploring preferences in communication, time-off, technology such as enterprise social platforms and video conferencing, collaborative workspaces, and more.
Generational diversity provides many benefits. Though not an easy road to navigate, with adequate thought and preparation, organizations can address these challenges and provide greater business sustainability by supporting all generations in the workplace.
Senior Security Analyst and Vice President of Gen Trend, United Airlines
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