There are many topics that impact Corporate America and business environments alike, with many of them being aspects of diversity. When we think of diversity, we must first think beyond gender and ethnicity exclusively and then begin to explore the differing values and skillsets that come along with generational diversity. In this essay, we will review generational diversity in the workplace and how the varying level of insights and experiences can come together to produce high performing teams. We will also address opportunities that organizations can utilize to bridge the gaps between employees, departments, and most importantly the organization as a whole. Many organizations are creating a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) department to address the growing need to ensure corporate responsibility around the evolving workforce.
In an ever-evolving business landscape, organizations are tasked with managing ecosystems that include diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, and various other human elements. To do so, organizations are investing a lot of time, money and attention into programs affectionately titled Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). The most commonly discussed areas in D&I are gender and ethnicity, but what about generational diversity? Generational diversity simply means having people of a wide range of different ages represented in the workplace (Blackman, ‘What Is Generational Diversity? How to Embrace It & Avoid Ageism’, 2018). Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers account for the three prominent generations working closely together under the same roof and each one brings unique and differing experiences and insights. As we are seeing a trend of people working longer than twenty years and not retiring early, generational diversity will remain a concept that needs to be strategically managed to ensure a high performing workplace.
In an article printed by Lin Grensing-Pophal in the HR Daily Advisor, they give us five tips on how to deal with generational diversity in the workplace. The five tips are: Don’t dwell on differences, build collaborative relationships, study your employees, create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring, and consider life paths (‘How to Handle 5 Generations in the Workplace’, 2018). The tips that stood out most for me, were creating opportunities for cross-generational mentoring and considering life paths. The mentoring is great on both ends because everyone can benefit from coaching and support regardless of age. You never know someone’s life path; did they go into the military, did they work their way through college, did they have kids early, but are still trying? All of these paths are unique and make people who they are. Understanding the journey of your colleagues and sharing your own can help to breed a culture of empathy that will ultimately lead to higher performing teams.
Managing diversity in the workplace is a never-ending learning opportunity. One management challenge might be having a direct report that believes they know everything and therefore leaves little room to introduce new ways of thinking. In GQ, there was an article that highlighted the opportunities for managers to help bridge the gap, because in the UK they will be facing an increase of millennials in the workplace from thirty-five percent to fifty percent by year 2020 (Harvey, ‘How to manage generational diversity in the workplace’, 2018). In this article it also touches on the struggles that occur with millennials because they are striving to make impact with a market that does not care about the individuals. They credit this struggle to the increased dropout rate, depression rate, and even suicide rate. That is a bigger issue than merging the gap, because you are now looking at a future of depressed drop outs in the UK.
There were a few points on how to manage out the Baby Boomers in way that will help the company smoothly transition. The first suggestion was to offer a phased retirement package, so that the mature generation can teach the millennials the skillset that they need to be successful. They also suggested early preparation for future leaders through mentorship and/or career development (Harvey, ‘How to manage generational diversity in the workplace’, 2018). In a similar article written by Victor Lipman in Forbes he asked multiple CFOs what are the greatest differences in the workplace between the generations? The top three responses were the communication style, adapting to change, and the technical skills (Lipman, ‘How To Manage Generational Differences In The Workplace’, 2018).
In an article written by Andrew Blackman “What Is Generational Diversity? How to Embrace It & Avoid Ageism,” he discussed the differences in the generations. For example, Generation X would ask for more money, a higher bonus, and a higher job title. While Generation Y tends to ask for more training, better perks, and flexible work hours to volunteer (Blackman, ‘What Is Generational Diversity? How to Embrace It & Avoid Ageism’, 2018). When reading this article, I can see where employers can be at a disadvantage and may need to alter their hiring practices.
Managers can even be at a disadvantage depending on the job that they are hiring for or even the conditions that the positions may be in. I do believe that embracing the generational differential can be very beneficial to any manager and/or corporation. The best way to bridge the generational difference would be mentorship, especially when you are looking at the possibility of passing the torch. There is a lot of great knowledge in all generations that will easily be lost due to retirement, and lack of peer reviews. There are some companies that will recruit with a purpose for the millennial to become a protégé of an executive or baby boomer.
In Market Watch, an article by Humana on how they approach the obstacle of thriving in a multigenerational workplace through learning and development, career navigation, workplace experience, and consumer experience and integrated care (‘Thriving Together in Today’s Multigenerational Workplace’, 2018). In the learning and development stage it gives employees the opportunity to share their experiences and teach each other for a more successful work environment. In career navigation it will assist employees to reach the position they want by giving strengths and weaknesses through the workplace experience.
The best way to overcome the issues surrounding generational diversity is to have programs that support all generations coming together and I believe it should start during new hire training. I also believe that mentorship is a great way to break down barriers of communication between the generations in an “each one, teach one” format. When you have opportunities in place such as these two examples, it gives organizations the ability to move forward, be successful and create high performing teams. With my personal experiences working in Corporate America and being a consumer, I notice that customer service is a lost trait that needs to be revamped.
This is a skill that baby boomers pride themselves on and millennials struggle with due to their lack of interpersonal skills resulting from being born into an era where facetime is limited and digital communication is increased. Experiences such as the above highlight the importance of embracing generational diversity and shows that when managed effectively, we have an amazing opportunity to learn from one another and take our organizations to the next level.