A multi-generational workforce is fast becoming the most prevailing form of workforce across organizations. The benefits of such a workforce are many but to avail these benefits a few challenges need to be overcome first. The article looks at the benefits, the challenges and the ways to ensure the unified functioning of this varied group.
Today’s workspaces can have as many as five generations of people working together. People’s lifespan is increasing and many choose to continue working when health is not a hindering factor. As a result, we have an amalgamation of age groups at the workspace. This comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
While this gives people an opportunity to learn new perspectives and fosters creativity and innovation, many people have trouble adjusting to others’ ideas. Communication too can become a challenge as the way different generations communicate varies. There are chances people might misunderstand the younger generation’s way of communication as disrespectful when no disrespect was meant.
However, when people learn to work well together, there is nothing as productive as a multi-generational work place. It is in an organization’s best interest to promote multi-generational team work as the combination of talent and experience available with this kind of workforce has great prospects.
Categorizing Different Generations
According to the year of birth, the different generations can be classified as follows:
- The Traditionalists refers to those born between the years 1928-1945.
- The Baby Boomers are those born between 1946-1964.
- Gen X are those born between 1965-1980.
- The Millennials (or Gen Y) fall between 1981-1996.
- Gen Z refers to those born between 1997-2021.
With so many age groups working together, some amount of friction is expected. However, learning how to work in a multi-generational work place will benefit not only the organization, but once the employees open themselves to change and new ideas, they too will feel a sense of enthusiasm and fulfilment at work.
Benefits of a Multi-Generational Workforce
- New Viewpoints: With so many generations at work, each is going to bring its own perspective to any issue. Learning to see a problem from different perspectives adds to our knowledge and understanding of the issue. This will translate to innovative ideas and solutions being brought forth.
- Problem Solving: With a diverse mixture of people, solutions to problems are also going to be diverse and the management can even choose a combination solution to solve a problem.
- Mentorship Opportunities: Older generations undoubtedly bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. They can guide the youngsters while also learning from the youngsters who are more adept at adapting to the evolving technological innovations. It can be a win-win situation for all concerned.
- New Relationships: Once the initial barriers to working in a multigenerational workspace are overcome, it can become quite a happy place to work in with the many generations closely resembling a family structure. A happy work atmosphere prevails, job satisfaction increases and the employees and the organization thrive.
Challenges of a Multi-Generational Workforce
- Stereotyping and Biases: Every generation has a preconceived notion about the other. The older generation might think of the younger as entitled while the younger might perceive the older generation as narrow-minded and obstinate. Such biases will lead to a toxic work environment.
- Communication: As already mentioned above, communication is the greatest challenge faced not only between the different generations but also between the management and the workforce. Nowadays, we have a plethora of communication options available – from emails to phone calls and instant messages. The organization’s task is to choose the best form of communication that will suit all members to ensure there is no miscommunication or loss of information.
- Different Values: With diversity in age group comes variation in values and what people consider important to them. This can be a possible source of conflict as one generation may consider the other too lazy (or inversely as workaholics) and might be unhappy with the other’s working style.
With such a workforce, the management has its task cut out and that is to unify this diverse task force and ensure productivity. This involves taking the needs of different generations into account and tailoring the response.
Discussed below are a few measures the management can consider to keep their workforce happy.
- Every generation has its own set of priorities which typically come from how their family situation was while they were growing up.
- There is no right or wrong in this but the management or leadership of an organization has to understand these varying priorities to fulfill them.
- For example, Baby Boomers might prioritize job security while for the Millennials it could be job satisfaction and for the most recent generation it could be work-life balance. Understanding this and having incentives accordingly will help the management motivate this varied workforce.
- One of the biggest barriers to a multi-generational workforce, communication styles preferred by various generations need to be understood.
- While the older generation could be comfortable with face-to-face means of communication, the younger generations might prefer e-mails and messages.
- The management needs to acknowledge this varied communication requirement and work towards creating channels that will encourage collaboration.
- Every generation’s expectation from their job also varies.
- From flexible working hours and opportunities for career advancement to expecting loyalty and appreciation from the management, fulfilling these expectations and having competitive packages will make sure employees give their best.
- Every generation will have its own strengths and weaknesses.
- Having workshops to help them strengthen their weak points will be greatly appreciated – workshops on technological advancements, soft skills, etc. are some that can be considered.
- Last but not the least, helping employees understand change as a necessary factor to keep moving ahead will reduce their resistance to new ideas and will make them more flexible in accepting others’ perspectives.
- Having regular seminars on change management spearheaded by experts will help reinforce the need for change as a driving factor in moving forward.
Ensuring unity in a multigenerational workforce is not easy. It requires patience, understanding and commitment on part of the management and leadership. Realizing that in the long run, this will have immense benefits for the organization can help face the many challenges that crop up.