The Ultimate Guide to Managing Generational Diversity in the Workplace for Business Success
Managers have to deal with a lot in the workplace, but one particular challenge that often goes under the radar is that of managing multiple generations at once.
Today’s workforce has the widest age diversity. From the fresh-faced 17-year old intern to the retiring 68-year old veteran, each generation is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing them all.
That said, you can use each generation’s unique characteristics to your advantage. An age-diverse workforce can help boost your company's bottom line, employee retention rate, and market share.
What is Generational Diversity?
Generational diversity refers to having personnel of several generations represented in the workplace. In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of five generations; you’ll often see employees with an enormous age difference working side-by-side.
So, what’s the reason for this sudden shift? The answer is simple: people are now living longer. The average lifespan has been steadily increasing, and we have medical advances to thank for it. People are more focused on maintaining peak physical shape and working on their mental health.
For this reason, most workers are choosing to continue working past the typical retirement age and staying in the workplace longer.
Breaking Down the Five Generations
Look around you in the office, and you’ll most likely find workers representing these five generations:
Silent Generation: Born between 1928 and 1945
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964
Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980
Millennials: Born between 1981 and 1996
Gen Z: Born Between 1997 and 2012
Each generation has different ways of doing things; they communicate differently, they prefer different ways of working; they value different benefits and compensation packages.
These differences typically present a lot of challenges in the workplace, often resulting in conflict and miscommunications. But under the right management, these differences can provide opportunities for business growth.
Here’s a quick overview of the five generations in the workplace:
The Silent Generation
The silent generation accounts for 2 percent of the workforce and is currently the oldest generation in the workplace. They grew up without today’s technology or the modern luxuries that many young people often take for granted.
A lot of people in this generation have had to overcome some adverse economic obstacles in their lives, so naturally, they’ve developed some diligent financial habits. They work hard and boast some strong core values.
Gen X represents 33 percent of the workers and includes over 50 million Americans. The generation is sandwiched between Millennials and baby boomers. They’ve seen the world transitioning from analogical to digital, so their biggest highlight is that they can easily adapt to change.
They’ve also witnessed first-hand the laying-off of their parents, and for this reason, they love family time and prioritize a work-life balance. They’ve grown up hearing a lot about inflation and recession. As a result, they often have a cautious point of view of the future.
In the workplace, they appreciate learning opportunities and are always looking to build their skills. They prefer professional growth over having high workplace positions. Capitalism has shaped them to be hard workers and they’re very productive at work.
Baby boomers, born after WWII, account for 25 percent of the workforce. They value safety and stability; they’ll continue working in the same company for years without burnout.
They hold authority in high regard, and ideally prefer to be part of hierarchical organizations. They don’t take their work lightly -- they consider it a priority in life over leisure.
Like traditionalists before them, they didn’t have the technology that we have at our disposal today. And that’s why they’re used to formal communication, face-to-face conversations, and phone calls.
Millennials represent 35 percent of the workforce, having surpassed other generations in 2016 as the largest portion of the workforce. They’re the first generation to grow up with the internet, and unlike Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers before them, they’ve had advanced technology as an everyday part of their lives.
Their electronic literacy can offer some benefits to your business. You can take advantage of their experience and knowledge to improve communication -- both internally and externally -- for your business.
Generation Z represents 5 percent of the workforce and comprises about 60 million Americans. It’s the most tech-savvy and global generation ever. Most Gen Z members can’t imagine a life without a smartphone or social media, having grown up in a digitally connected world.
Therefore, this generation is more in-tune with modern technology than Millennials, and can play a role in your company’s success by driving innovation. The difference with Millennials, however, is that they’ve learned to value their online privacy.
They appreciate financial security and care about compensation packages and salaries. Naturally, they expect to earn a sizeable salary when they leave college, but they also understand that they have to work hard for their paychecks.
Ageism in the Workplace
Before we dive into the benefits of generational diversity, let’s first address a common problem in the workplace: ageism.
Passed in 1967, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was meant to protect employees from discrimination based on age, and this includes promotions, firing, hiring, or work assignments.
The act’s intention may have been clear-cut, but its applications in the workplace have been anything but. For instance, it's common to see:
Employers offering training opportunities only to younger workers
Older employees have been excluded from work meetings
When invited to meetings, older employees may get talked over
Younger colleagues casually making age-related jokes in the workplace
Employers overlooking older employees when it comes to promotions and pay rises
A common misconception in most workplaces is that older workers aren’t tech-savvy, and find it difficult to learn new skills. The assumption is that they’re just coasting in their jobs until they retire.
These assumptions have created a subtle tension between the new guard and the old guard, where the older workers are expected to step aside and leave room for fresh new faces.
Consequently, older adults often feel like they’re not appreciated enough, almost as if they’re being subtly nudged out of the door.
But these assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth; hiring older workers presents a huge untapped opportunity, as research has proven.
And here are a couple of reasons why:
They’re often more engaged and motivated compared to their coworkers
They have a wealth of expertise and knowledge that they can draw upon
They provide crucial baseline skills -- think of self-direction, professionalism, and quick problem solving
They can save you some bucks. They prioritize flexible hours and fulfillment and may be willing to accept lower salaries to gain these benefits
Realize, though, that ageism works both ways -- younger adults can get discriminated against, too. Other assumptions are that younger employees feel entitled, don’t work hard enough, and are ignorant. Some employers even don’t offer younger colleagues any time off during the holidays because they don’t have any families to take care of.
Benefits of Generational Differences in the Workplace
Here are a few ways your company can benefit from having generational diversity:
Improved Customer Experience
Having an age-diverse workplace allows you to get better insight into the different target audiences you're trying to attract. Even with your current customers, you’ll be able to better understand their needs and wants -- unless you’re selling something that’s very age-specific.
Of course, carrying out market research and asking for feedback from customers may be a good idea. But to truly understand your customers, you’ll need to have workers who can offer perspectives of different generations from the start.
Developing young workers into great leaders take a lot of time and effort. Having a team of only young professionals means you may lack enough leaders to drive your company to success. On the contrary, having a team of only senior professionals means you may not have enough ready-made leaders for the future.
The idea is to find the balance between older adults and younger colleagues, which means you have to assemble a multi-generational workforce.
Of course, you have to realize that not everyone is equipped for leadership positions. So it’s important to create a succession plan that not only focuses on generational diversity but also prioritizes experience and expertise.
By combining different perspectives and a diverse set of skills, you’ll be able to get creative solutions to problems whenever they arise in your workplace.
Each generation is shaped by their life experiences, which influence the way people address challenges and come up with solutions.
Builds a Strong Talent Pipeline
By investing in a multi-generational workplace, you’ll have a distinct advantage over other companies, as you’ll have a future-ready workforce. Young employees will grow with your company as they learn from their older colleagues, and you’ll quickly build a healthy talent pipeline.
Another benefit is that you’ll spend less when hiring. And with these savings, you can focus on training courses for enhancing your employees’ capabilities. This approach allows your employees to get more opportunities for internal promotions.
At a time when diversity is a controversial topic, having an age-diverse team can help build your company’s reputation and give you a competitive edge. With a multi-generational workforce, you’ll be able to attract the best talent in your workforce -- it will position you as the “employer of choice” to potential candidates.
What are the Challenges of Generational Diversity in the Workplace?
Stereotypes are a big barrier to a multigenerational workforce. They’re the worst -- regardless of whether they’re true or false. Whenever stereotyping rears its ugly head in the workplace, there’s bound to be conflict.
And we’ve all come across it in one way or another. You’ve probably heard of microaggressions or subtle comments on an older employee’s inability to use technology properly, or a young employee being inexperienced for the job. Other stereotypes you may hear include:
Gen Z employees lack interpersonal skills; they can't live without their smartphones
Gen Xers just want to get ahead
Millennials are always entitled
Baby boomers are resistant to change
Whether you’ve overheard other workers sharing these ideas or you’ve had them at the back of your mind, you should avoid them at all costs.
The simple truth is this: generational stereotypes ruin productive work environments. They prevent collaboration in the workplace and often lead to a lack of respect.
Different Working Styles
Older workers typically don’t care much about their surroundings and prefer familiarity, predictability, and routines. On the other hand, Millennials like environments that stimulate their creative juices. What might make them more productive are things like unique desk arrangements, hot desking, and more relaxed working areas.
Also, mature workers may be more comfortable with the traditional 9-5, preferring to keep their schedules intact. Conversely, Gen Z workers may want more flexibility, preferring the freedom that comes with remote working.
Note that older workers may also want some of these options too. So, the key to satisfying all the generations in your workplace is to provide options for all of them. For instance, you can offer an area for standing desks and another one for fixed desks. You can also allow employees to work remotely, but also give them the option of coming to work on specific days.
Different Employee Expectations
Naturally, workers from different generations may hold varying expectations for their employment. They may expect to be evaluated in different ways; they may prefer different training methods; or they may value different work processes.
Despite these varying expectations, you can still get all your workers on board with your goals by asking for suggestions and feedback. And you have to actually implement these suggestions if you want to maintain positive company morale.
Each generation has its preferred communication style, tone, and tools, and this can cause a lot of misunderstandings. .
Mature workers tend to use technology mainly for productivity purposes; they value face-to-face or phone conversations. On the flip side, younger colleagues love digital communication, leaning towards emails and instant messages.
These varying communication styles can lead to miscommunication between workers -- or even worse, no communication at all. Obviously, both situations pose a huge problem and workplace collaboration may take a hit.
So you’ll need to avoid sending workplace announcements and messages using only one communication channel.
Here’s what each generation prefers when it comes to communication:
Generation Z workers value transparent and visual communications; they appreciate video and engaging content that’s easy to consume.
Millennials like authentic and fast communications, as they prefer efficiency and a digital-first approach.
Generation X members prefer sending emails and communicating via texts
Baby Boomers have a liking for face-to-face communication and phone conversations, similar to Traditionalists.
How To Manage Generational Diversity
Here are a few tips that can help you bridge the generational gap in the workplace:
Provide Generation-sensitive Benefits
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when you’re dealing with employee benefits. You need to avoid assumptions when meeting employee needs. The benefits that appeal to Baby Boomers may not interest Gen Z members.
Realize, though, that even if they’d want similar benefits, they’d want them for different reasons.
For instance, both an older worker and a young intern may want job flexibility. However, the older worker may be nearing retirement whereas the young intern may want extra time to study. So, you shouldn’t rule out some specific benefits thinking they won’t be ideal for specific workers.
An easy way to understand what your employees want is to carry out a survey in the workplace. This approach allows you to better understand how each generation values certain benefits, and design benefits packages that suit their needs.
Here are some of the benefits that appeal to each generation:
Student debt assistance
Company raises and other financial incentives
Employee resource groups
Reimbursements for tuition
Personal development opportunities
Assistance with student loans
Any benefits that support a work-life balance
Mental health support
Career development programs
Flexible work arrangements
Any benefits that support a work-life balance
Reduced work schedules
Phased retirement programs
Flexible work policies
Paid time off
Rethink Your Hiring Strategy
To get a more diverse workforce, make sure that you’re not limiting your pool of potential candidates from the start. And you can accomplish this by age-proofing your hiring process.
On job applications, ensure you don’t include any requirements on birth dates and graduation dates. Also, strip out any language that ties your advertised position to years of experience.
Instead, focus on the competencies that potential candidates require for the job. By doing this, you'll encourage a wider range of professionals to apply.
It’s common knowledge that professionals should never stop learning and educating themselves. And yet, many companies don’t invest in creating learning opportunities.
Training is crucial to employees of all ages, especially if you’re trying to prevent generational conflict. You need to ensure your workers are aware of generational differences at the workplace. They need to understand that respect is crucial for a thriving business.
In case of any transgressions, your employees need to know the proper procedures for reporting them. On your end, uphold fairness with all members of your team. Each worker, regardless of age, needs to be held to the same workplace expectations.
And while you’re focusing your efforts on your current employees, you shouldn’t forget about the new recruits. They need to quickly learn about the company culture.
Educate them on why they need to remain respectful to both younger and older colleagues. And if you have done a good job, they’ll have a couple of seniors to look up to.
A common problem most companies make when establishing their training programs is failing to consider their employees’ work schedules. Workers often have demanding schedules, and you need to make sure your training programs don’t overwhelm them.
That said, you can use EasyLlama’s Diversity and Inclusion Training to educate your workers on why generational diversity is important. The training program offers engaging, bite-sized lessons that employers can watch on any device. They’re accessible 24/7, so the training can fit perfectly with your employees’ schedules.
Members of each generation -- from Gen Z to Baby Boomers -- can learn a lot from the lessons. Even though they’re only 5-10 minutes long, they’re packed with lots of educational information.
Younger colleagues often want to grow their skills and get more development opportunities. There’s no better way to satisfy their desire for learning than implementing a mentorship program.
With mentoring, multiple generations can share their expertise, skills, and experiences. In turn, the skill gap reduces in your company. It also helps build positive relationships, improves engagement, and builds teamwork in your company.
To top it off, it helps your employees understand each generation’s strengths and differences. As a result, this fosters a culture of growth where workers of different generations have a close bond. You’ll not only see the results in a more positive work environment, but also in an environment where workers are highly productive.
That said, a trend that has quickly caught up in multi-generational company teams is reverse mentoring. This approach involves younger colleagues being paired up with older workers to provide mentoring.
The younger workers educate their workmates on new technologies and get them up to speed on social media developments. Also, they provide insights into the purchasing habits of people from younger generations.
This typically results in “mutual mentoring”. With your employees building strong bonds with each other, the young workers can gain some nuggets of wisdom from the older adults, while the older adults can also tap into the technological expertise of their younger colleagues.
Resolve Conflict as Soon as You Can
Transparency is one of the most important qualities of business leaders, especially if you’re managing an age-diverse team. Whenever conflict arises, you need to communicate your expectations quickly to every worker involved. If you delay, you can worsen the situation and create more tension between employees.
Remind your team members that differences in opinion are welcome, and promote constructive criticism. However, any negative conflict, where an employee feels hard done by, should be dealt with quickly.
Listen to Your Employees
It might seem simple, but listening to your workers can make a big difference in fostering a positive company culture. Many managers don’t take the time to understand what their age-diverse workers truly want.
On the flip side, there are managers who understand that to build a high-performance culture, they first need to build close relationships with their workers. They try to learn a lot from their workers by asking them about their work expectations, goals, and interests, and they listen carefully.
Essentially, conflict-free relationships between generations in the workplace start with you. You have to open up communication and encourage your team members to engage in productive dialogue.
Use Personalized Coaching
You can help your workers discover the opportunities for growth within your company by leveraging personalized coaching. Here’s how a manager-coach can help you:
Providing insights to employees on what they need to reach the next level of their careers
Helping your team know what skills they need so that they can perform at a better level, and how they can attain those skills
Providing guidance to employees on managing difficult conversations and conflicts
Educating employees on how to request and provide feedback
Try Different Communication Styles
As we mentioned earlier, each generation has its preferred communication style. So, to share information effectively, you have to vary your communication style, tone, and tools. And the best way to know the method that suits your team best is to survey them. Try to know how you can connect with them better -- both individually and collectively.
Armed with enough insights, you can provide your workers the perfect tools to improve productivity, while helping individuals communicate and collaborate better.
Look for Commonalities
You may be surprised that, beyond all the differences, there are a lot of similarities that workers of all generations share. Even if the differences may seem stark, there’s a lot more in common than you might think -- in fact, the similarities may be more than the differences.
Think of it this way. Most employees want to feel engaged when they’re working; they don’t want to feel like their job is a chore. They want to earn fair compensation, build a higher-quality life, and get respect.
In the same vein, they share the same frustrations, regardless of age. Feeling overworked and receiving poor pay are things that no employee is looking forward to. If you can create opportunities that unite your team and reduce these frustrations, then you’ll be closer to unlocking the full potential of your multi-generational workforce.
Educate Your Employees on Generational Diversity with EasyLlama
To cultivate a more productive and respective environment, your employees need to know why diversity is important. EasyLlama’s course addresses some of the diversity’s biggest challenges, giving your employees the tools necessary to fight bias in the workplace. Sign up for the training today.