Promoting Generational Diversity in the Workplace

By Keshia Harris

Today, unlike any other time in history, there are five generations in the workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. As older professionals continue to work beyond their traditional retirement years, younger workers step into leadership roles early in their careers, and a dynamic job market presents more opportunity and flexibility than ever before, it is important for organizations and leaders to understand the impacts of generational diversity – to consider the challenges it presents and the value it can add to any team or organization.

Challenges of multigenerational workplaces include differences in communication styles and preferences, inherent biases of individuals of all generations, and varying expectations about the value of work. In terms of benefits, age diversity adds to the richness of experience for all employees and can benefit morale and productivity.

Today, less than 10% of organizations include age in their diversity strategy. Whether someone is entry level, an up-and-comer, mid-careerist or seasoned executive, they can benefit from generational diversity in the workplace. Multigenerational teams result in better collaboration, improved problem solving and better, more innovative solutions.

Executives I speak with often tell me that they wrestle with how to integrate teams and staff across generations, to build unity, improve communication and promote individual growth. These leaders frequently comment on the need to retain older, experienced professionals while also tapping into younger talent for long-term succession planning and leadership development. Through my work, I have found that leaders understand the importance and need for generational diversity within their teams but fall short in the retention of generationally diverse talent, especially in areas such as nursing and finance.

To improve retention and reap the benefits of multigenerational diversity, it is important for organizations to build and promote a culture that allows different generations to interact and effectively collaborate with one another. The following are ways that leaders can promote generational diversity in the workplace.

1.   Prioritize Training, Coaching and Mentoring

Regardless of age, experience level and background, employees want opportunities to further develop and refine their skills. This leads to a great opportunity to embrace the generational diversity of the team through cross-training, coaching and mentorship. Leaders must first evaluate their teams to understand the individual strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Once those areas are identified, managers can leverage the strengths of each team member to train and mentor others regardless of experience level or job title.

By providing a multitude of choices for types of coaching and mentoring – one-to-one pairs, reverse mentoring, group mentoring and more – employees can decide for themselves what form of mentoring will work for them. These options are a great opportunity to promote teamwork, collaboration and learning within the team across generations. Cross-mentoring and training also allow leaders to understand the bench strength of the team as it relates to future hiring decisions and promotional opportunities.

2.   In Hiring, Focus Less on Years of Experience and More on Accomplishments and Growth

One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make when hiring is focusing too much on the number of years of experience to be considered for a role. When hiring authorities focus on the years on a candidate’s resume, it diminishes the importance of other, more critical factors: the size and complexity of organizations they have been with, the teams they have led, the increase in scale or scope of their responsibilities, or the major accomplishments they have achieved.

Years of experience also does not take into account individuals who may have entered into a second career or made an industry change. These individuals tend to have strong leadership skills and the ability to think outside of the box, which is needed to be successful in today’s workforce. On the other hand, individuals who have made career changes may have decades of expertise but still require development within their new industry and position. The key here: Focus on relevant skills and experiences rather than a person’s career tenure.

According to Harvard Business Review, the years of experience listed on an individual’s resume do not correlate to  future performance or quality of work. As a search consultant, I have these conversations often with hiring leaders and advise that they focus on career progression rather than years of experience. Career progression provides greater insight into transferrable skills and performance. Prior to the recruitment process, hiring authorities need to understand the goals and priorities of the role and hire based on those needs. When making hiring decisions, leaders should focus more on a candidate’s accomplishments, career advancement, leadership skills and increased responsibility and growth.   

3.   Diversify Project Teams and Committees

Project teams and committees, both internal and external, provide an excellent opportunity to promote generational diversity across an organization and provide individuals with exposure to different areas of the business and people they may have never worked with in their normal day-to-day activities. Teaming allows leaders to bring together diverse groups of people with different experiences and experience levels, ranging from entry-level staff to senior executives. When leaders are inclusive and strategic about teaming, they encourage interaction across generations.

Within these teams, it is important to encourage and promote diversity of thought to ensure all members are empowered and have a voice, regardless of seniority or job title. This also gives all members of the team more exposure and visibility across the organization regardless of role, tenure or experience level. One simple suggestion: Ask all team members to submit input and opinions in writing so that the more experienced voices don’t dominate conversations.

4.   Understand What Matters Most to Your Employees

Many studies have shown that, although compensation is important to employees, it is not the most important thing when it comes to accepting a new role or long-term job satisfaction. Job benefits, perks, organizational culture and flexible work schedules are becoming more important across the generational spectrum. Generalizations such as “younger workers only care about money” or “older workers only care about medical or retirement benefits” are often inaccurate.

The pandemic has ushered in a new era of working. With a global workforce and technological advances, more people are able to work from anywhere at any given time as long as they have an internet connection. In my executive search work, candidates across generations are asking more questions about hybrid or remote work environments. They are also asking about the possibility of commuting during the week rather than fully relocating to certain areas. According to a recent study by LiveCareer, Millennials (38%), Gen Xers (33%) and Baby Boomers (32%) selected flexible working options as their most valued benefit. Generation Z workers (26%) ranked flexible working options as their second most valued benefit. Employees across all generations value job security, career development and work/life balance.

Leaders should regularly engage their teams to understand what is most important to them. Through engagement surveys, focus groups, town halls and performance reviews, organizations have many ways to check in with their staff and seek feedback. It is important for organizations and hiring managers to understand how to best motivate their teams to attract diverse, multigenerational talent and achieve high engagement of all staff.

5.   Reject Stereotypes and Bias

Now, more than ever, it is important that organizations educate their leaders on age discrimination. Leaders must in turn educate their teams to reject generational stereotypes and bias. A great example of such bias involves the stereotype that Millennials and Generation Z are tech-savvy. Despite growing up with an abundance of technology, recent research by Worklife shows that younger employees experience more “tech shame” when experiencing workplace technical issues. According to Worklife, one in five 18-29 year-olds polled felt judged when experiencing technical issues, compared to one in 25 aged 40 years and over.

Vital to Success

As organizations continue to place diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of organizational strategy and culture, they must prioritize generational diversity within their broader diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. As generational diversity continues to increase in the workplace, the ability to seamlessly collaborate across generations will become even more vital to organizations’ long-term success and sustainability.