The topic of ‘dinosaurs’ (much older people) in the workplace belittling and diminishing the efforts of younger team members or colleagues may be an age-old issue. The older generation may think their methods and thought processes are the only correct and standard modes of operation while the younger ones may feel as though their ‘new-age’ ideas are not given any opportunity to be explored.
This type of situation may unfold on the other side of the coin as well – where a business with more younger employees may think the older generation of staff ought to retire and leave because whatever they have to add is considered outdated and will only put the business back in the stone age.
With either circumstance, this highlights the issue of ageism and a lack of generational diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. For those of us who may not know, ageism is the discrimination against a person or groups of people based on their age or age-group. It sometimes manifests as personal issues but in general terms, it surfaces based on systematic structures that people tend to ignore and work through on their own.
I t boils down to understanding , effective communication and doing away with the thought that people from particular age groups have nothing to contribute because they are either too young or too old . Each player in these situations should attempt to understand the other based on their experiences , skillset and not so much their age . This understanding should reveal a willingness to learn and adapt . With that, modes of communication ought to improve, and subsequently , each person , regardless of age should feel a sense of belonging and value by being part of a team.
What we fail to realise as a people is that despite age, each person is valuable in what they currently bring and what they can bring to the table of their workspaces and projects. This false belief trumpets an unconscious bias that causes stereotyping that tends to suggest:
Resource and succession: the feeling that older generations should step aside and allow the younger ones to take over.
Symbolic identity avoidance: the expectation that people should act their age
Let’s take a look at what generational diversity is and how we can use it to our advantage on our teams and in our offices .
Plainly, generational diversity is the concept of having a wide range of generations on your team. So, we’re speaking of mixing the Baby Boomers with The Gen X – ers , Millennials and the Gen Z – ers . It seeks to combat age discrimination where an employee or job candidate is treated differently because of their age.
Is this the key to completely removing ageism? It is not, but this is a great way to start. In order to rid our workspaces of ageism, we need a complete overhaul of workplace cultures w ith effected policies and upgrading perspectives.
Like any other type of diversity, generational diversity has its benefits.
So, how does it benefit workspaces?
Well, in the words of Mary Cooney, PhD., “when done correctly, generational diversity offers a huge [return on investment] ROI, it decreases employee turnover expenses, increases potential client base, and improves succession planning for retirement.”
Knowledge sharing is key in reaping the benefits of generational diversity. Though the older generation can benefit from the teachings of their younger counterparts, “there is just as much benefit to be found from [Baby] Boomers mentoring younger generations.”
Cooney states that over the next decade, the majority of B aby B oomers will retire from the workforce. The Harvard Business Review reported that one organi z ation predicted a wave of almost 700 over the course of ten years which will result in a loss of over 27,000 years of experience. By hiring younger generations and sharing the wealth of knowledge with them, ch ances of the business surviving are increased.
Generational diversity will also impact the company sales. When a company’s staff reflects its target audience, it is better able to anticipate and respond to their demand. The diversity will appeal to a larger audience. As stated by Cooney, this is more important than ever as currently, approximately 83 mil lion millennials spend about USD$200 billion each year. They actually currently have more spending power than any other ge neration.
Emily Heaslip , in her work at Vervoe adds that with generational diversity comes new perspectives, increased innovation and creative problem-solving. They share the sentiments of Cooney in that generational diversity allows for inter-generational mentoring tha t can lead to employee retention. They share, as well, that it helps companies to better understand their customer base .
What happens with a lack of generation diversity?
Cooney states that without it, businesses will find it difficult to hire, engage and keep talent. Additionally, a lack of generational diversity has the propensity to negatively impact employee performance. They may feel unappreciated and not respected paired with a sense of poor communication.
As stated by Cooney, a ccording to a survey executed by Deloitte, 39% of Millennials feel that businesses need to address age diversity. People feel a sense of belonging when they see they are represented in any group.
These issues may lead to a high turnover rate and that diminishes ROI, it is expensive.
Cooney also shares that as reported by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), on average, it costs a company anywhere between 6 – 9 months of an employee’s salary to replace them.
In order to reduce the incidence of high human and financial loss, companies should consider improving their generational diversity.
Now that there’s an understanding of the benefits and consequences of its absence, let’s highlight ways to manage generational diversity:
1. Set up a mentoring programme
We have said it. Knowledge transfer is key!
Cara Pilgrim of Inspirus says, with an increasing leadership gap, creating a corporate mentoring programme can allow future leaders to learn from seasoned executives while giving all generations an opportunity to learn from each other. “Mentoring can have a positive effect on the mentor and mentee, and can help increase an employee’s skills, confidence and engagement,” she says.
2. Focus on the commonalities
Categorizing your people based on their generation can give a ‘divide and conquer’ feel. Instead, find the similarities and improve the cohesiveness of the g roup .
Pilgrim states that an organization with a positive workplace culture doesn’t focus on the things that keep generations separated, rather what we all have in common . Despite generic generational differences, we are actually quite similar when it comes to workplace needs.
3. Adapt to people’s life stage
Heaslip s ays that employers should consider the life stage of each employee. Doing this accounts for work from home arrangements and flexible hours where necessary. F or instance, some people are parents, some are caregivers for sick relatives and some may be in school. “ Adapting your work strategie s to be able to work across different needs will make your company attractive to any generation, ” she says.
4. Diversify communication styles
Have you ever heard of not using the same broad-brush stroke to paint the entire house? Well, that principle should be ta ken with the people who work with you and for you. People across the generations communicate differently, so diversification in communication styles is important. Heaslip sums it up nicely using the following image:
A good place to start is to ask them about their communication styles. Do that and find the common ground similar to identifying the commonalities and focusing on them.
So, we have spoken about a few areas within generational diversity, do you feel as if your company has a solid base or is there much work to be done?
Let us have a discussion.
Understanding Generational Diversity: Why It’s Important to the Future of the Workplace
How to Embrace Generational Diversity in the Workplace
3 Proven Ways to Manage Generational Diversity in the Workplace