How to Leverage Generational Diversity

Talking about my generation

Creating a work environment where generations can coexist is essential. “Managing generational diversity is key for organizations to gain a competitive advantage and make a positive impact on employee morale, productivity and retention,” says Dennis Kennedy, founder and CEO of the National Diversity Council. Here is an introduction to the multigenerational workforce, reasons generations clash and how employers can leverage what each generation has to offer.

The generational breakdown

There are currently four generations in the workforce. According to Marna Hayden, president of the human resource company Hayden Resources Inc., 9 percent of the workforce is comprised of traditionalists, 46 percent is baby boomers, 29 percent is Generation Xers and 16 percent is Generation Y. Kennedy explains that diversity discussions should include generational differences. “Organizations that want to thrive in the future will need to have employees and managers who are skilled in dealing with differences along these and other dimensions, including generational diversity,” he says.

Different influences + experiences = distinct values and characteristics

Kennedy says the four generations in the workforce each have their own set of values, attitudes and work styles, developed from experiences and defining moments. According to Hayden, traditionalists were defined by Pearl Harbor, baby boomers by President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Generation X by the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle and Generation Y by Sept. 11.

Traditionalists

Traditionalists, also known as the silent generation, were born between 1925 and 1945 in the shadow of the depression. Jamie Notter, consultant, speaker and author of JamieNotter.com, says, “traditionalists like stability and not instability and change.” They also keep work and life separate and favor control because their early years were unstable. According to Kennedy, personal characteristics of this generation include honor, loyalty and discipline at work. Notter says traditionalists also tend to value directive leadership, one-on-one communication and recognition for achieving long-term goals.

Baby boomers

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are optimistic and career-driven. Born in a era of revolutionary thinking and a good economy, boomers are likely to be involved in changes at work and in the community, Hayden says. Notter adds that boomers tend to work longer hours, and are more likely to work in the office and resist teleworking.

Generation X

Born between 1965 and 1979, Generation Xers grew up fast. Part of the latchkey kid generation, these workers were raised during a time when divorce rates increased and corporations downsized. “Generation X is more independent and often cynical because they witnessed promises that weren’t delivered,” Notter says. Generation Xers see education as a means to succeed, Kennedy says. This generation is also more entrepreneurial and wants more freedom to do their job.

Generation Y

Generation Y is the tech-savvy, collaborative and meaningful work-oriented generation born between 1980 and 2000. Members of this generation, also known as millennials, had to pay more for their education, according to Kennedy. Yet they’re confident, achievement-focused social networkers who like immediate communication and value work-life balance.

Beware of generalizing.

Generational research can sometimes lead to employer and employee generalizations. All millennials aren’t entitled and lazy, and all baby boomers aren’t out of touch with technology. Kennedy says employers should be aware of generational trends, but warns that trends also carry “the danger of reinforcing stereotypes, either positive or negative.”

Solving workplace issues

Training and generational diversity conversations may create a more effective workforce and workplace. “Developing employers’ awareness of intergenerational issues and enhancing employees’ skills in conflict resolution and communication should contribute to increased effectiveness in the workplace,” Kennedy says, adding that employers should make diversity a high priority. “Employers should develop in their employees the skills to manage all differences — including generational differences — in ways that promote respect and empowerment for everyone.”

Creating an inclusive workplace

Kennedy suggests employers view the diversity of their staff as an asset that keeps them competitive. “Smart companies should invest more money and effort in recruiting and hiring great talent from every generation,” he says. Notter explains that differences are due to life stages, but generational knowledge helps workers ask better questions, which leads to better decisions.

Getting millennials over the ‘entering the workforce’ hurdle

Millennials may have had the most hills to climb to achieve career success. “Issues such as increased competition, a struggling economy, changing retirement tendencies and generational prejudices all work in tandem to create a business environment that is often unprepared to successfully leverage millennial talent,” Kennedy says.

What will the future workplace look like?

The workplace is destined to change in the next 10 years, and the way diversity is valued will change the paradigm, Kennedy says. Meanwhile, Notter predicts: “First, hierarchy is going to be more radically flat, transparency is going to shift, speed is going to change and digital will be built into the heart of organizations.”

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