Top tips for managing your multi-generational workforce | Main Region | EW

Top tips for managing your multi-generational workforce

Look across your employees and you’ll likely find members of the ‘Silent Generation’ and Baby Boomers working alongside Gen Z.

By 2050, there will be one person aged 65 and over for every two persons aged 20-64 [1]. The same study that found that figure stated that living standards globally would be ‘improved substantially’ by increased participation of older workers in employment.

There are significant benefits to businesses too. Research shows that an organisation with a 10 per cent higher share of workers aged 50 and over is 1.1 per cent more productive. Increased age diversity is also linked [2] to stronger knowledge retention and enhanced talent pipelines, improving the continuity of operations.

What defines a multi-generational workforce?

A multi-generational workforce is comprised of people spanning several generations. There are now five generations operating simultaneously, making today’s workforce the most diverse in age ever witnessed [3].
These groups are broadly defined as:
  • The Silent Generation: born 1928-1945
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964
  • Generation X: born 1965-1980
  • Millennials: born 1981-1996
  • Generation Z: born 1997-2012

Are there benefits to a multi-generational workforce?

Diverse teams, including those with a variety of ages and lived experience, can yield tangible benefits for organisations. Create an environment in which accrued knowledge intersects with energy, and creativity and innovation will often emerge.
Companies that embrace mixed-age teams see increased knowledge sharing [4] (which prompted better problem-solving and decision-making). However, we’re also witnessing a rise in intergenerational conflict, as workers resort to harmful stereotypes when they can’t find common ground. 
But these generational classifications are ‘the most popular, enduring and often socially accepted misconceptions in the workplace.’ [5] 
How can organisations overcome this? Here’s our top tips for those leading a multi-generational workforce:

1. Shift attention from generational divides and focus on life stages.

Our initial piece of advice for managing a multi-generational workforce? Discard the pre-determined assumptions when it comes to differing generations.
Organisations should instead prioritise shaping a culture that acknowledges and supports a broader spectrum of personal and professional needs, as rising life expectancy will mean workers experience a greater number of lifecycle stages throughout their career.
Jon Mannall, EMEA Managing Director for Enterprise Solutions at Hays added: “There is enormous value in breaking down the stereotypes or biases that accompany rigid generational structures. When we shift from numbers to names, we put people back at the heart of every action and decision an organisation makes.
“Naturally, this makes things more complex. The generational ‘buckets’ we have relied on for so long make it easy to assume needs and challenges, but the reality is they are no longer fit for purpose”.
The encouraging news for employers is that there seems to be more that unites than divides us. Workers of all age groups are looking for many of the same things at work – and largely resign from current positions, or start somewhere new, for comparable reasons [6]. Both ‘Gen Zers’ and ‘boomers’, for example, cited lack of career development and advancement as a top reason for leaving their current position.
Focus on the factors of significance across all ages and shape your value proposition – for both contingent workers and full-time employees – around these key ‘pull’ factors. The most effective talent strategies involve both hygiene factors such as competitive pay, and motivating factors such as meaningful work.
Compensation, career development, flexibility and purpose are integral to any modern talent attraction, development and retention strategy.

2. Enable psychological safety in your teams.

Respect and trust are the foundation of any effective team dynamic. In an increasingly diverse workforce, not just across ages but also gender, race, religion, location and terms of engagement (e.g. platform workers and agency staff), it’s vital to ensure you are actively fostering a sense of psychological safety.
Diverse teams have repeatedly been associated with enhanced innovation and improved performance. However, research shows [7] that heterogenous teams often underperform relative to their homogenous counterparts. This can be attributed to the fact that people with similar backgrounds share norms and assumptions about how to behave, how to set priorities and at what pace to do the work.
Here’s a few tips for building trust:
Foster an environment for diverse perspectives: Many formerly taboo topics such as mental wellbeing and women’s health, are the cornerstones of discussion in today’s workforces. While generational groupings don’t always dictate attitudes, it’s important to acknowledge that some workers have entered the workforce discussing their experiences as the norm, while others have had to grow accustomed to the practice of bringing their ‘whole self’ to work.
This may have an effect on how comfortable different people are talking about these topics at work. Encourage your team to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, creating a safe space in which they can challenge their unconscious biases and explore beliefs that differ from their own.
Improve and maintain communication: Utilise your onboarding experience to survey your incoming workers to ensure you understand the communication preferences and expectations of your teams – and then honour these decisions.
Use this data to challenge your own unconscious biases. We often assume that younger members of the workforce prefer ‘digital first’ communications such as instant messaging apps and quick-fire emails. But in an era of information overload, some may appreciate the opportunity to interact with colleagues via a call or face-to-face meeting, seeking out opportunities for greater collaboration or knowledge-sharing.
Celebrate achievements: Take more time to celebrate the success of your teams. As we recognise the cross-functional collaborations that enable us to achieve our goals, consider highlighting the specific benefits that diversity of age brought to the table.
Were there moments when differing life experiences helped you better understand the challenges your customer faced? Or perhaps a tried-and-tested method was enhanced or evolved with the disruptive thinking layered in by your newest team member? Share these stories and highlight the ‘big wins’ from your diverse teams.

3. Provide training across your workforce, regardless of stage.

Within high-performing teams, knowledge should flow in multiple directions. Leaders need to actively create opportunities for information to be shared across their workforce, including differing age dynamics.
This might involve more informal knowledge-sharing via a mentoring, or even reverse-mentoring program, in which individuals from different lifecycle stages are paired up and encouraged to share their insights on specific areas of expertise. This could encompass technical skills, such as navigating new technologies, or the ‘softer’ skills needed to progress their career goals, such as managing the expectations of senior stakeholders.
Don’t forget that learning needs to happen across various stages of the lifecycle. As technology continues to evolve at an astounding pace and the shelf-life of many skills contracts significantly, workers are increasingly under pressure to reskill and upskill to tackle growing talent shortages.
There is good news though. Research suggests [8] that age does not impact employees’ willingness to undergo training to reskill. How you approach and implement training opportunities however, will impact appetite for learning.
In response, a growing number of organisations are turning to more formalised learning and development programs, including the ‘Hire-Train-Deploy' (HTD) model.
HTD sees candidates recruited based on skills, rather than previous work experience. These individuals receive a salary to undergo a structured training and assessment program, before joining an employer on a predetermined contract period.
Although Hire-Train-Deploy models have largely been associated with harnessing the potential of younger members of the workforce, the structure and stability provided could also prove attractive to individuals approaching the end of their career.
The ‘employer down’ rather than ‘education up’ [8] model means that individuals are trained for a defined job function, offering a greater guarantee of employment at what could be considered a more vulnerable time in their career.

Connecting the generational gap

With talent shortages persisting and productivity challenges across the globe, leaders face growing pressure to get the most out of their teams. Central to this will be a talent strategy that harnesses the differing experiences that today’s workforce shares.
Nigel Kirkham, CEO of Enterprise Solutions at Hays, added: “Workers today are much more interested in the projects they’ll be involved in, and the knowledge they’ll accrue from these experiences. Organisations cannot rely on their brand presence alone; they’ll need to show the value-add available to prospective talent.”


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