Nowadays, it’s common for companies to be composed of people heralding from different generations. Despite this range, other traits such as race, ethnicity, and gender often take center stage in discussions of workplace diversity, leaving multigenerational workforce considerations out in the cold. Like generation, age is an important and positive trait of an organization’s members.
Just what is generational diversity? Simply put, generational diversity means having various age groups represented in the workplace. A workplace that celebrates generational diversity ensures that all employees, regardless of age, have the opportunity to advance in their careers and have their concerns heard.
How can you embrace age diversity as part of company culture? Understanding each generation is the first step toward fostering intergenerational communication in the workplace and making it work for your company.
Generational Workplace Culture Expectations and Preferences
Each generation has its own cultural expectations and preferences that they bring to the workforce, from baby boomers to Generation Z.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
The concept of corporate culture started changing the office scene when baby boomers first entered the workforce—particularly during the 1980s. However, this generation is often characterized as being resistant to change unless they see its benefits. They may also lean toward a hierarchical structure, with authority often dependent on job seniority.
Since technology wasn’t as advanced during their younger years, baby boomers may prefer working or communicating in person or through phones. However, many can also use computers, though they may not learn as quickly as younger generations do.
Boomers can be highly competitive and may work overtime to prove their dedication to their employer. As such, they’ll want regular feedback on their performance and recognition for their accomplishments. They may also better appreciate conventional rewards such as a promotion or a better office space.
Generation X (1965-1980)
In contrast to boomers, Generation X employees usually strive for a work-life balance. They’d rather work smarter than longer and may prefer less supervision as long as they’re given direction. Growing up during the 1980s recessions also made them flexible with their work.
Many Gen Xers grew up as personal computers evolved, making them comfortable with both digital and in-person communication. Because of their “work smart” mindset, Gen Xers may focus on getting more skills and work experience rather than gaining seniority. The more they know, the better they get paid. They still appreciate awards and benefits that support their work-life balance, such as vacation packages and gift cards.
Like Gen Xers, many millennials want to achieve a work-life balance. They grew up during tough economic periods in the early 2000s. Many started working in the 2007-2009 recession. This made them willing to work smart and be flexible with work arrangements.
The bumpy early years of their careers also make many millennials focused on career development and chances to earn more. They’ll be more motivated to work for companies with development opportunities. It also means they’re focused on results and may want frequent feedback. If recognized, they may prefer rewards that they can put to use, such as monetary gifts.
Millennials grew up alongside the internet. They may be more comfortable communicating online than in person. Having online access has also introduced them to societal issues like race or gender inclusivity. They may be more concerned with company ethics than older generations.
Generation Z (after 1997)
Gen Z also grew up in economic crises, making them more concerned about a stable job and workplace flexibility. Instead of promotions, they’ll likely concentrate on training first and may seek opportunities to grow and learn at work.
Many of them are fresh out of college or still studying, which means they could have student debt issues. They may prefer financial rewards such as tuition reimbursement and debt assistance.
The tech-savvy Gen Zers grew up with smartphones and the internet. As such, they don’t have a problem communicating digitally. They may also be more motivated at jobs that use new technology. Gen Zers are used to receiving likes and comments on social media, which could translate to a need for constant feedback.
Do keep in mind that not everyone in an age group follows the same mindset. Your millennial or Gen Z employee might be tired of communicating online and prefer in-person discussions. Meanwhile, a boomer could be interested in learning new technologies. It’s your duty as a good leader to understand your employees on an individual level and recognize whether they fit the norm or not.
Why Embrace Generational Diversity in the Workplace?
It might not be clear to some employers why generational diversity in the workplace matters. However, it generally has a positive effect on the work environment, making for a stronger team and an even more profitable business.
Share Skills and Knowledge
Each generation has its own sets of skills that they can offer the rest of the workforce. Years of working in teams or handling customers may have given your baby boomer better interpersonal skills than Gen Z employees. They could provide practical tips for the younger staff members who struggle with communicating. Meanwhile, your younger employees could teach boomers how to use the company’s software or fix technical problems.
By encouraging intergenerational communication in the workplace, you also encourage employees to become more well-rounded individuals.
Gain Different Perspectives
Every generation has different life experiences, which can also result in unique perspectives. This can prove helpful in problem-solving or brainstorming sessions. When team members have conflicting ideas, they have to weigh their options more carefully before making the best-informed choice. If everyone at work thought similarly, they’d come to a decision more quickly. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the best one.
Age diversity can also help you understand your audiences better. A millennial employee could give you insights on engaging with millennials on social media or why your advertisements don’t work on them.
Keys to Fostering Intergenerational Workplace Culture
A thriving, positive workplace culture is one of the best ways to bring employees together, but how do you appeal to a multigenerational workforce? Once you develop an understanding of your team’s generational diversity, the best way to bring them all together is to invest in strategies that communicate and reinforce workplace culture regardless of generational differences. Here are five ways your company can do just that.
1. Get Over the Assumptions
Generational stereotypes are alive and well in the workplace. Gen Xers might think millennials are too tech-obsessed or entitled, while millennials might think of baby boomers as too set in their ways and reluctant to try new approaches.
The best way for companies and managers to combat these stereotypes is to avoid making generalizations themselves and start seeing the strengths that each generation can bring to the team. Not every Gen Z or millennial is obsessed with social media, and not all baby boomers are inflexible to change. Rigidly believing these assumptions can hurt your working relationship with your employees, especially if you’re vocal about it.
While generational differences in the workplace will always exist, it’s possible to make them work in your favor. According to our latest Global Culture Report, every generation wants the same things out of their workplace:
• A sense of purpose
• Connection with others
• Recognition for their work
Providing all of these can help employees set conflicts aside to reach your shared goals.
Seb O’Connel, an executive at Cielo, believes that generational differences can actually be great for growth. He says, “Younger workers’ enthusiasm for trying new things could be used to encourage a culture of innovation, while older workers can leverage their experience and broad perspective to help millennials understand some of the costs and risks associated with their ideas.”
2. Create Traditions
Maybe the word “tradition” is a little grand to use in the workplace, but the concept is easy. Create traditions that reflect your company culture and support ways for employees to build bridges across the generational divide.
For instance, you can make it a monthly or quarterly tradition to have mentorship programs at the workplace. Older generations can share their skills and experiences with younger employees. This helps younger employees get ready for when they take over more responsibilities in the future. You could even turn it into a contest and award the most improved mentor-trainee duo.
Traditions have the power to bring communities of all backgrounds together, and that power can be harnessed for the workplace. As Christopher Kelly of Sentry Conference Centers writes, “Look for opportunities to create ‘rites of passage’ for new employees, stimulate healthy competition, award prizes and celebrate major accomplishments. These things all give your company personality and are what people go home talking about.”
3. Connect During Meetings
One of the ways to improve workplace culture is by opening up communication. However, employees often only engage with others they easily relate to—like people within their age group.
Try working team-building exercises into your daily meetings. As your team members are assembling to touch base on project goals and challenges, it’s possible to use their time together to focus on more than just numbers and deadlines.
Model communication by asking your employees how they’ve been or what they’re interested in lately. If you have a pet-friendly workplace or are hosting a Zoom meeting, break the ice by inviting their pets too. You could use a poll after the meeting so that everyone helps make a decision. Or you could turn your presentation into a game that helps encourage others to participate more often and have their voices heard.
If you and other team leaders can invest some time and effort into making standup meetings more personal and invigorating, your team members will find their common ground regardless of generation.
Try following the example of Derek Flanzraich of Greatist: “Each morning, we get together for the only mandatory part of our schedule: the morning meeting. We go around answering first, what we’re most excited about doing that day and then second, a silly question. (Examples include favorite children’s book, first pet’s name and No. 1 Thanksgiving dinner staple.) It’s a refreshing way to start the day and laugh a lot (one of our core values).”
4. Communicate Appreciation
Whether you have a baby boomer who is the early bird at his desk or the connected millennial working from home, make it a point to communicate appreciation for their hard work. Employees of all ages value their work being noticed, no matter if it’s face-to-face, email, or a short message on Slack.
You could also give them something more substantial. For example, why not give the Gen Xer a day off to spend with their family, or give the Gen Zer some extra cash for their exceptionally good work? Or you could treat the whole office to some pizza from their favorite places.
Brent Beshore of AdVentures offers some great ideas. “I make a point of walking around the office every day and thanking people for their contributions. It could be something as small as, “I really appreciated the email announcement you crafted,” or something more substantive like, “Thanks for handling that tough situation a few days ago.” Thanking them reminds them to thank others and be appreciative of what we have.”
You can also build intergenerational camaraderie by having other employees recognize their peers. Instead of having the managers select the Employee of the Month, the staff can vote for who they think performed the best. This will help them develop a healthy appreciation for their hard-working colleagues, no matter their age. It also lets said colleagues know that they bring value to the team. It may even spur some healthy and productive competition throughout the workplace.
5. Be Flexible and Open
Take a look at what your workers of all ages prefer. It makes it easier to communicate job expectations, offer the right type of training, or make adjustments that will boost a team’s performance. Be flexible and open so you invite different ways of thinking.
For instance, baby boomers might not be comfortable with a work-from-home arrangement, while Gen X and millennials are. To help employees work in the way that’s best for them, you can have the workplace open for those who want to come, while others can still telecommute.
Amy Casciotti of TechSmith Corporation believes that “different generations tend to value different communication styles, team structures and job perks,” and that “we should all seek out other perspectives [and] ways of thinking, and that includes others from different age groups.”
It won’t be long before Generation Z will start entering the workforce, and companies should prioritize their communication strategies to adapt for the long run. Make it a point to adapt to these communication methods and culture reinforcement so transitioning the next generation into the workforce will be seamless and positive.
Challenges in Building Intergenerational Communication in the Workplace
While intergenerational communication in the workplace brings a host of benefits for both employees and the company, there are several challenges employers will have to help their workforce navigate.
Many workplaces now use project management software to assign tasks and communicate with team members. They may also use social media messengers or apps like Teams.
Younger generations likely won’t take issue with this, but older employees may struggle and prefer phone calls or emails instead. They may feel alienated for constantly missing out on important updates since they don’t normally use these channels.
Unless company rules require the use of official communication channels, you could encourage teams to decide on a system that works for everyone. But if you’re communicating with employees individually, simply ask them what their preferred method is.
Lack of Interest in Interacting
Even if leaders don’t generalize and communicate with all age groups, employees themselves might still only mingle with others they relate to—which will likely be other members of their generation. This can happen even during company events where everybody’s together.
One way to break down these barriers is by having an age-diverse team work on a task. This can prompt them to talk and collaborate with each other when they normally wouldn’t.
And instead of just giving younger employees the chance to learn, you can also give all the workers equal access to skills training or career development programs. It lets others know that you’re building a culture that recognizes everyone’s need for improvement, regardless of age.
These training opportunities can also serve as another avenue for your employees to communicate with each other. The more time spent together, the more chances for team members to build rapport, talk about themselves, and grow to trust each other. It can also provide an opening for them to share their skills and knowledge with one another.
While it’s important to stay flexible and open, you can’t always please everyone. Suppose that Gen Z employees or applicants might want student debt assistance benefits. However, your company might not be able to afford it right now.
Being a leader also means knowing when and how to say no. If you always bend to what others want out of you, it might harm the company in the long run. Sure, you could provide that debt assistance, but what if drains your company’s funds dry?
You still need to explain to your team why you can’t give them what they want for now and remind them that you’re not completely opposed to it. Simply shutting them down without any explanation can build resentment.
Learn More about Workplace Culture
Building workplace culture without any help is challenging enough, much less embracing diversity and generational differences in the workplace. If you need more help understanding workplace culture, check out our handy company culture guide with all the related terms and questions. Learn more about different workplace cultures and the companies that get them right, and use them as examples for developing yours.