The case for multi-generational diversity

It's a kind of diversity that is often overlooked, and is relevant especially today, when most startups have a much younger workforce and old organisations struggle with aligning young aspirations and mature opinions

Updated: Jun 28, 2019 02:47:15 PM UTC
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‘Diversity maybe the hardest thing for a society to live with and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to live without’

It’s proven time and again that having employees from a variety of backgrounds and cultures adds to the happiness at the workplace. But one kind of diversity that is often overlooked is generational diversity. The issue of generational diversity is relevant especially today, when most start-ups have a much younger workforce and old organisations struggle with aligning young aspirations with mature opinions. Why is generational diversity important? To put it simply, to get the best of both worlds: Excitement and experience. Edgy and knowledgeable. Exhilarating and relevant.

The chemistry that exists amongst multiplicity is both challenging and fascinating.

Diverse generations bring unique perspectives to the table, but it’s also interesting to note how two contradictory sets of abilities can merge to build a collaborative, well-rounded team.

A Dale Carnegie whitepaper on Employee Engagement suggests that younger employees are fully engaged at about the same level as their older co-workers, around 30 percent overall, but there are important distinctions to consider.

What do baby boomers need? One of the things that make baby boomers unique is that unlike subsequent generations, they give a lot of importance to virtues of loyalty and consistency. They are some of the most experienced workers in the industry right now and have a lot of knowledge to share with younger generations. Contrary to that, a recent research shows that 91 percent of the millennials intend on staying at a job for less than three years.

However, learning new skills could be a challenge for older people and reverse mentoring could be an effective solution to train them in new competencies.

The following are some of the ways to keep this generation engaged at the workplace:

  • Recognise their unique qualities and characteristics. Boomers like to feel unique and different from their co-workers
  • Provide them with resources and involve them in the decision making. They like a collaborative and consensual environment. They feel important when you include them in the decision-making process
  • Appreciate their strong work ethic, willingness to work long hours, and desire to prove themselves
  • Communicate face-to-face and directly. Give them continual feedback with evidence
  • Recognise them publicly. They like to be praised in front of others

What keeps millennials engaged?
Millennials have their own style to approach a work-day and have completely different aspirations from their life and career. This generation is individualistic, well-travelled and driven by a higher purpose. Their learning style is starkly different from any other previous generation. They have a penchant for upskilling but like their information bite sized and creative. They have forced learning to evolve into a fun, interactive and engaging exercise rather than a tedious one.

As noted in the Dale Carnegie Book on Learning and Development (L&D) Best Practices, large organisations are now redefining skilling and continuous learning by adding games, role play and other imaginative forms of learning.

Some of the strategies to deal with the unique traits of millennials are:

  • Coach them directly and know they will get the point quickly. Paint visual pictures to engage, motivate and inspire them. Use different electronic forms to communicate with them
  • Get to know them as personalities and create a person-centered relationship with them. Show respect and interest in their personal lives. Focus on their personal values and goals, try to align those with the company’s goals. Provide opportunities for learning, personal growth and responsibility. Communicate company’s overall vision and plans for growth
  • Positively challenge their abilities, creativity and interests. Gen Ys like to be challenged. Assign them projects from which they can learn. They like to try new things. Encourage them to use the latest technology and media. Stimulate out-of-the box thinking and innovation
  • Create a positive, informal, and fun team environment and delegate tasks. Gen Ys prefer to work in tandem with others. Often their colleagues become their friends. Assign challenging and meaningful work. Show them how their work makes a difference and that it is important to the team and the company’s goals. Give them flexibility, and they will be loyal to you. Respect their personal lives, family concerns and health issues, and they will pay you back with respect as a leader
  • Create an environment where reciprocal feedback is encouraged. Show Generation Y employees your door is always open for them. Recognise them frequently with positive feedback. Personal recognition from direct managers is a very effective motivator

Boomers + Millennials = A winning combination:
Learning to balance the generational diversity can yield notable results. As with any attitudinal shift to happen in the workplace, it must initiate from the leadership. It needs a solid understanding of the generational chemistry and the different behaviour at play.

One of the best ways to better productivity is having multi-generational teams and create an environment where different generations can learn and thrive off each other’s abilities.

It really begins with the intent of understanding their unique viewpoints and sensitising each other to them. It is also important to have a flair for candour, which is not always present in the culture. The benefits of having a candid conversation about the needs of a multi-generational workforce are immense. An open workspace has no substitute. It fosters open communication without being prejudiced about the job titles. It boosts transparency and imparts a feeling of having a voice and stake in the organisation. It also forces both sides to see and come to grips with each other.

A diverse workforce calls for diversity in benefits and engagement strategies too. While younger employees value flexibility and freedom, older employees look for respect and security. Part of being considered a good place to work at is that the HR policies keep in mind the multi-generational needs.

When we leverage the unique strengths of both generations and enable them to learn mutually, it creates a more engaged, cordial and collaborative environment. Focusing, adopting and implementing the above fundamentals results to having a matured, successful and harmonious work culture.

The author is the chairperson and managing director at Dale Carnegie of India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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