When we think of diversity in the workplace, we usually think about gender, race and ethnicity. But diversity also includes age, work style and attitude. Today’s workforce is comprised of employees spanning multiple generations. This multigenerational workforce brings with it a unique set of challenges.
"As new generations join the workforce, there is a period of adaptation that's required on both ends," said Rich Milgram, CEO of career network Beyond.com. "New talent needs to respect and assimilate, while established talent needs to adjust and remain flexible. Companies should challenge their employees to rise above [generational differences], think outside their comfort zone and tackle problems together."
Let’s take a look at the typical characteristics of the generational composition.
Baby Boomers (born between 1940-1960; post WWII 1946-1964):
– Grew up with a strong sense of security and are typically loyal and devoted employees.
– Comprise nearly one-third of the total U.S. workforce, according to AARP, and many Baby Boomers are postponing retirement due to diminishing financial investments.
– Want flexible or alternative career opportunities to accommodate family needs.
Gen X (born between 1960-1980):
– Came of age as "latchkey kids" due to the necessity of dual-income families, rising divorce rates and a faltering economy.
– Are highly educated, with more women earning college degrees.
– Are independent and self-sufficient in the workplace and value freedom and responsibility.
Millennials, Generation Y (born between 1980-2000):
– Were born into an emerging world of technology and have grown up surrounded by smart phones, laptops, tablets and other gadgets.
– Want work/life balance and prefer jobs defined by task, not time, and want to be compensated for what they produce.
– Are confident and ambitious and often believe there are no limits on what they can achieve. They are not afraid to change jobs to find the "perfect fit."
The next generation, Generation Z, will soon be entering the workforce. This generation is marked by a sense of realism having grown up in the shadow of 9/11.
If you manage, or are part of, a multigenerational workforce, it is helpful to understand how your own beliefs and values are influenced by the era in which you grew up. In my own experience, I did not let age become a barrier to hiring. Older workers bring wisdom, experience, and stability to the workplace while younger workers are energetic and can look at situations with "fresh eyes." I believe there is strength in diversity as long as the channels of communication remain open. When we are able to manage the differences effectively, each generation has the opportunity to make a valuable contribution.
Not everyone feels this way, however, and here is a cautionary tale. I met a young woman in her early 20s who worked for a recruiting company and performed the initial screening for the job seekers looking for new employment. Because of her age, some senior applicants did not treat her with respect when they were interviewed. Of course, this was a huge mistake. The recruiting company sensed that these job seekers would have a difficult time collaborating with younger colleagues and managers. Dismissing the gatekeeper meant the entrance to a possible future remained shut.
Although the different generational groups vary in their work style and their expectations, they are similar in their desire to succeed. Find the bridge and strive to develop a true "peer" environment where each employee is respected for his or her unique perspective and is willing to share ideas, teach emerging technologies, communicate clearly, and support one another.