Published on Sep 07, 2022
It’s hard to write an article about the different generations in the workplace without resorting to stereotypes. Young people are entitled. Old people are stuck in the past. Generation X do all the work…
You can tell where I sit.
It’s important, perhaps, to take a step back and look at just why it’s so hard to manage an intergenerational workplace – i.e. a workplace that includes many different generations, and why there are so many potential benefits.
Society has gone through so many changes over the past century that the different generations coming into the workplace have grown up in such contrasting environments. These contrasting environments will influence their views, their expectations of the workplace and how they work alongside each other.
As society has diversified, younger generations have come to expect more from employers in terms of diversity and inclusion, something that older generations never came to expect. Older generations have come through hierarchical structures in office-based roles, and expect that hard work over time repays itself in promotion. They might bridle at the expectations of the young.
Already, we’re potentially veering into stereotypes. Boomers who can’t use their phones versus Millenials who do nothing but? It’s an insult, but it’s easy to slip into stereotype and this is why it’s so hard.
Over time, as communication methods have diversified, so has the way we use those communication methods. Older employees will be used to picking up the phone. Generation X will be used to sending emails, while Generation Z will perhaps be more accustomed to sending a WhatsApp message or – shudder – voice notes. And so on, and so on. We communicate in different ways, so the generational divide will always exist, whatever we do.
You’ve seen how easy it is to slip into stereotype. But are you unconsciously stereotyping your workforce and unconsciously hiring according to stereotype? Do you, for instance, ask for “vibrant, agile and dynamic” people to apply to your roles? Do you scan a CV and look straight for when a person graduated from university?
Have you, perhaps, enforced WhatsApp groups on the business because it’s what people do nowadays? Or have you put an expectation on employees that they have to be present in the office between the hours of 9am and 5pm? How old-school!
Have you selected a range of benefits that appear biased towards a certain generation or are you encouraging behaviour around the workplace that favours one generation over another?
These are all questions the intergenerational workplace needs to ask of itself – are we unconsciously acting against our own interests?
There was a study in 2017 that found that “employees threatened by age-based stereotypes concerning work performance are less able to commit to their current job, less oriented towards long-term professional goals, and are ultimately less adjusted psychologically.”
In short, if they don’t feel that they fit in, they don’t perform as well.
Hence the inclusivity. It’s entirely in your interest as an employer to find ways of being more inclusive to different generations, and that spans all of those aspects previously mentioned:
You can’t change the way people want to communicate. You can enforce Slack or WhatsApp, but ultimately, people will always revert to the method of communication they find most communicative. Which implies that you need to encourage a wide range of communication styles within the business – there is no one-size fits all, there is no one single way of doing things, but if each generation is given the opportunity to use the communication method of another generation, it opens up understanding.
Any young generation entering the workforce rightly seeks opportunities to grow and develop. Training courses, legislative updates, learning material – all essential, but what about an in-house mentoring programme with someone who has been there and done it?
Look at your hiring practices and ask yourself if you’re unconsciously targeting a certain type of individual or a certain generation. Look at your working practices and ask yourself if you’re unconsciously favouring one generation over another. You’ll put off younger workers by being strict about working hours or days, and even more so if you’re not promoting diversity. You’ll put off older candidates if you’re asking for a dynamic, vibrant workforce, and even more so if your culture is parties, gym memberships and late nights.
As you can see, it is hard to write about the intergenerational workforce without slipping into stereotypes. Most Gen Z employees I have met are far from interested in parties and late nights, and many of the older employees I have met are delighted at the greater flexibility afforded to people since the pandemic. If, as employers, we can see that generations are not defined by their tropes but that, by working together, they can find commonalities, they can also find ways of improving how the business works and therefore increase productivity as a whole.
The intergenerational workplace is an opportunity, but because it’s hard, many employers shy away from it. But as many a boomer will tell you, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of hard work.
There I go again…
Published on Sep 07, 2022 by Gareth Cartman