Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever, which is good. Numerous studies have proven that diversity offers significant business benefits and enhances workplace culture. However, while diversity is beneficial, it can be complicated to promote and manage. Generational diversity in the workplace is a prime example of that.
Although organizations undoubtedly gain from the talents, interests and desires of employees from multiple generations, ensuring those differences are recognized, understood and appreciated requires intention and effort. With some employees returning to the office while others remain at home or work on hybrid schedules, it’s more critical than ever that leaders understand how generational diversity in the workplace affects employees. This can help them meet their employees’ needs and optimize their strengths.
One of the first steps to understanding generational diversity is talking about it. During the virtual summit Women@Work 2022: Redefining the Workforce of Tomorrow, hosted by ADP, the panel discussion “How to Leverage Generational Diversity to Create Connection and Growth at Work” explored the complexities of this situation and its potential solutions. Moderator Cate Luzio, Founder and CEO of Luminary; Mark Greville, Vice President of Architecture for Workhuman; Debbie King, Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications and Culture Velocity at Paramount; and Mayumi Young, Founder and CEO of CPA Moms, provided a thought-provoking exchange on how leaders can bring out the best in all of their employees.
Different generations have the same desire for flexibility
For many organizations, the in-office culture was an essential part of their identity. When Workhuman employees were able to return to work as the pandemic waned, Greville and his teammates assumed they would return to the same office and culture, but employees had changed in the interim. “[The culture] wasn’t going to work the way it worked before,” he notes.
Greville, for example, had initially been a big fan of being in the office, but after getting used to remote work, he didn’t want to give up daily routines with his children that he had enjoyed while he was working from home. Now, he has a hybrid schedule, which allows him to connect with employees in the office some days and work remotely the rest of the time so that he can participate in his children’s activities.
King said that employees might need flexibility for different reasons, depending on their stage in life. “It doesn’t matter why you need it,” she explains. “Whether you’re a mother with kids, you want to take care of your parents, or you’re single and want to go home — everyone should have the freedom to make that decision.”
King noted that many aspects of her approach to managing come from how NBA coach Phil Jackson managed the mercurial but talented player Dennis Rodman. “Dennis was a wild card, and Phil Jackson managed him the way he needed to get the best out of him. You don’t have to treat everyone the same, but fairly,” she says.
Managing generational diversity in the workplace with a culture of care
Beyond offering flexibility, organizations need to create a culture of care, Luzio advises. This starts with listening. She explains that there needs to be more focus on “management by outcome, versus management by activity.”
Greville emphasized the need for listening and understanding across generations to create a culture of care. “How are you ensuring every generation has opportunities? How do we engage the younger generation? Flexibility is important, but purpose is too.”
Other generations’ needs may intersect, but Greville explained that there might also be nuances which shouldn’t be forgotten. For example, tech organizations often say they can’t find qualified staff, but they might be overlooking moms returning to the workplace. “Listen and have the right structure to support people of all generations.”
Building bridges between generations
Gen Z workers are generally tech-savvy and socially conscientious. Millennials may be impatient about advancement. Gen Xers might be more laid back, while Baby Boomers tend to be hardworking. These are the stereotypes, but most employees have attributes that transcend a specific generational description.
Young noted that, instead of looking at an employee through the lens of their generation, the organization should view them as an individual. “Our strategy is established to respect the individuality of each person and their needs,” she explains. “Age, gender, children or no children — we teach the idea of having a clear personal vision at the level of each team member. The needs at each stage of life are unique, and purpose is important.”
Leveraging generational diversity in the workplace
Regardless of their organization’s size, leaders can help create a culture of care, establish a sense of purpose and create space for active listening across generations. Young suggests three places to start:
- Be clear on why the organization exists.
- Define or redefine what culture will meet the needs of the current workforce.
- Find assessment tools that can help change how people behave for the better.
Small businesses might check off one item at a time, or one each quarter. “It’s not just evaluating a multigenerational workplace,” according to Young. “So many things are part of the conversation, such as shifts in leadership and power of influence, and how we can create more justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and create a framework to shift into an inclusive model.”
Individuals can also play a role in building a culture that embraces generational diversity daily. “Notice when you go into a room, meeting or forum,” Greville says. “Look around at that group. Is it generationally diverse? Speak up, and if people don’t want to hear you, go where you’re appreciated.”
Young added that generational diversity in the workplace isn’t new, but the pandemic forced leaders to change. “The challenges we’re dealing with were always under the surface. COVID brought it to the surface and created an opportunity for leaders interested in having an inclusive workplace.”