Navigating a Multigenerational Workplace

For the first time in history, there are five generations interacting in the workplace. The workforce is now made up of employees from a combination of different milestone generations, each with different values, needs, motivators, career goals, and professional experience. And this is only the beginning – in the coming years, there could be up to six different generations working within organizations at one time, which is why learning to navigate and manage a multigenerational workforce now is so critical. With the median retirement age in Canada steadily increasing,  it’s inevitable that organizations will have to pivot to include the evolving priorities of newer generations while still accommodating older employees, and this shift won’t be easy. However, it’s important to remember that generational divide is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and there are steps that can be taken at all levels to ensure that you, your colleagues, and leaders are mutually benefitting and growing within this new generational environment.

What’s In a Year?

While it can be detrimental to categorize groups of people based on their generational group, there are certain elements and experiences that are universal to each generation.

Gen Z: Born between 1996 – 2014

  • Immersed in technology from birth, adapted to a technologically interconnected world
  • Experienced with financial and social instability
  • Grew up during an economic downturn during major global events
  • High aptitude in digital communications

Millennials: Born between 1981 – 1996

  • Witnessed major technological advances within their lifetime
  • Experience finding work in difficult job markets
  • Witnessed wealth followed by economic downturn
  • Good balance of in-person and digital communication

Gen X: Born between 1965 – 1980

  • Experienced high divorce rates and disproportionately high single-family upbringings
  • Significant technological advancements during working years
  • Varied workplace experience and high adaptability
  • Combination of digital skills

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 – 1964

  • Post-war upbringing
  • Not native to digital technology, but experience working throughout varied technological advancements
  • Experienced high job market accessibility
  • Tend to be less adept at utilizing digital technology

Traditionalists: Born between 1925 – 1945

  • Experienced the first wave of true technological innovation during their upbringing
  • Typically have limited experience with technology in the workplace

 

Industry Matters

Tech-centric environments are some of the most influenced by multiple generations of employees. It’s becoming increasingly necessary to hire younger employees to close the knowledge gap while still relying on older workers’ tenured experience, which can lead to conflict.

The methodologies in a technological environment are a huge contributor to this issue. While the fundamental career goals of many employees remain the same, including a need for financial security, desire for work-life balance, and overall commitment to their career, methodologies within a tech environment are one of the big differences seen when comparing older and younger generations. In general, rapidly changing technology influences the way that workers interact with each other, with certain environments facilitating a highly communicative and collaborative approach. This can exile older groups while leaving younger generations feeling unheard. Incorporating generational differences in training and mentoring can help, with an emphasis on understanding and integrating the preferred communication styles of all generations. Overall, the most important thing to remember is that the larger goals of the company should be the focus. A good strategy is identifying the areas of each generational group that can be of benefit to the bigger picture.

 

Lose the Labels

Generational stereotypes just aren’t accurate. It’s an oversimplification to box younger employees into a specific way of thinking and can lead to more division, and research shows that different generations tend to think that their older or younger counterparts have vastly different priorities than they actually do. When it comes down to it, it’s important for organizations to maintain a good idea of what all of their employees want, without making any assumptions. Anonymous company-wide surveys are a good way to monitor the success of different initiatives and gain an overall understanding of how your team is running from a cultural sense. In short, put in the time to find out what your workplace culture is and work together to build it as a team based on real metrics.

 

Meet People Where They Are

Every employee is going to have their own individual values within the workplace, no matter what age group or generation they’re apart of. The most important thing to remember is that generalizing an approach isn’t the most effective way to manage any team, and having a good understanding of your employees’ widespread goals is the best way to strategize your approach. Good corporate values, better communication, and the right amount of support are things that every employee can agree facilitate a positive working environment, and these are things that can be upheld by employees of any experience level or generational group. Focusing on the things that each person has in common is more productive than trying to generalize each specific concern, and creating an environment that supports good communication allows everyone to have a good understanding of workplace needs as a whole.

 

Moving Forward

Ready or not, the workplace is changing faster than many organizations can accommodate. On average, only 1 in 5 employers said that they felt “very confident” that their organizations were ready to manage the next generation of talent. To get ahead, prepare to leverage young talent to bridge the skills or culture gap that you might be experiencing. Hire based on skill, not experience, and remember that employer values can make or break a successful work environment. Keep on the pulse of the new generation while making room for your older, more experienced employees. Whether you’re an employer, employee, or brand new to the workforce, think about the things you can do to share your own knowledge with the people around you to build an inclusive and successful place of work, for the benefit of every generation.