What is Generational Diversity?
At its core, generational diversity refers to the presence and inclusion of individuals in the workplace who belong to all generations. According to the Pew Research Center, the five main generations in the U.S. are the Silent Generation (born between 1920-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1996), and Generation Z (1997-2012). While not universally agreed upon, these categories provide a good framework for generational divides.
It's important to note that generational studies look at the influence of culture and society on a group living during a particular time period. It doesn’t reflect the wide variations among individual experiences. While looking at common generational traits may provide insight into a group, it should never be used as a way to stereotype an individual.
For the first time in history, more than four generations are working together and sharing their unique ideas and values. Investing time to understand common generational differences allows employers to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts while reaping the benefits of a multi-generational workforce.
The Benefits of Generational Diversity
Knowledge-sharing is one of the key benefits of generational diversity in the workplace. Every one of your employees brings something to the table, whether they have a wealth of experience or are just starting out. Younger employees can receive practical advice from mature groups with more work experience and expertise. Because technology is native to younger generations, they can help older employees become more adaptable and proficient with tech. With knowledge-sharing, generations can help each other in various aspects of their professional development.
2. Increased Innovation
Diverse teams have an advantage when it comes to innovation. While individual members draw inspiration from unrelated experiences, the team collectively benefits from all perspectives. Different points of view, like those associated with generational diversity, lead to creative solutions.
3. Improved Customer Experience
As customers often fall into a range of diverse ages, having a similarly diverse workforce will help your team connect with customers and better understand their needs. Because people are often drawn to others with similar characteristics, age diversity allows you to reach wider audiences in a more meaningful way.
4. Employee Retention
A Forbes study on the impact of diversity found that 43% of companies cited retention and development of talent as among their top priorities. With a multi-generational workforce that works well together, your organization can increase internal mobility and be better equipped to retain your top talent. The strengths that each generation offers can better prepare your business to meet its future leadership needs.
The Consequences of Not Fostering Generational Diversity
Companies that fail to foster and respect generational diversity run the risk of tribalism, or individuals sticking with a like-minded group and not engaging in collaboration with other groups. Inclusive workplace cultures are more likely to influence the shaping of those behaviors and mend divisions in the workplace.
If problems related to ageism or generational misunderstandings aren’t addressed head-on, they can negatively impact employee morale, productivity, and engagement. People want to feel welcomed and accepted in their place of work, and a successful multi-generational workforce depends on inclusive company culture.
Vinika D. Rao, Executive Director of INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, made the point that “managing a multigenerational, diverse workforce entails a careful study of how workplace measures are perceived by different employees.” Without careful consideration and an intentional effort to promote generational inclusion, employees may end up feeling excluded.
How Can You Promote Generational Diversity in Your Workplace?
1. Model (and Promote) Inclusive Leadership
At its core, inclusive leadership puts belonging in the workplace at the heart of everything. Embracing age diversity in the workplace and promoting an inclusive environment can yield many benefits. A BetterUp study found that inclusive leadership results in employees who are:
- 50% more productive
- 90% more innovative
- 150% more engaged
Inclusive leadership also sees 54% lower employee turnover. By modeling inclusive leadership in your organization, you are promoting a healthy environment where all employees feel like they belong.
2. Respect for Collaboration and Different Work Styles
One method of communication or training may not work for all employees, so it is important to prioritize collaboration and understanding when communicating across multiple generations. As your employees collaborate, they will bring their expertise, helping to make projects successful.
There can be generational differences when it comes to work styles. For example, baby boomers may prefer phone calls while millennials prefer text messages. Instead of making this a point of contention, you can show respect for others by discussing their preferred work styles upfront and adapting as needed.
3. Encourage Cross-Generational Mentoring
The most important part of cross-generational mentoring is that the mentoring goes both ways. Mentoring can have a positive effect on both the mentor and mentee, as it can help increase an employee’s skills, confidence, and engagement. Creating a corporate mentorship program can allow employees of different generations to learn from each other.
Corporate mentoring is a win-win for everyone involved, and it gives employees who may not normally interact with each other the chance to communicate and grow. This mentoring can lead to new ideas, connect your company with your customers, and create a sense of belonging at your company.
4. Focus on Commonalities
A company with generational diversity shouldn’t focus on the things that separate groups, but rather on what people have in common. There is more that connects your employees than divides them. While generations do benefit from their differences, employees are united by the common desire to be a part of the company culture, goals, and vision. By focusing on these things, you can create a better understanding between generations.
According to a study by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials all expect work-life balance, the chance to work on challenging projects, fair treatment, advancement opportunities, and competitive salaries and benefits from their employers. At the end of the day, employees just want to feel valued, listened to, heard, and respected.
5. Check Your Biases
Unconscious biases are common and easy to lean on, but age-based assumptions or stereotypes are as dangerous as any other type of generalization. When you make age-based assumptions, you can end up placing someone in a box. At best, you risk misunderstanding or underestimating your employees, and, at worst, you risk inviting a discrimination lawsuit. Promoting a diverse, multi-generational workforce ensures that different experiences, views, and beliefs are being shared, allowing for more nuanced and productive discussions and collaboration.
It is important to remember to focus on skills and job responsibilities rather than a candidate’s age, gender, or race. Checking your biases will help keep you and your organization out of legal hot water and help you find the best talent. Additionally, offering training and awareness can prevent age discrimination and protect your employees and your business.