As a talent management professional, I’ve spent most of my career managing wish lists and expectations for hundreds of hiring managers and job seekers. Based on my years of in-take meetings and interviews, it appears the perfect employee has roughly 10-20 years of relevant industry experience, excellent communication skills, a strong work ethic, is tech-savvy, and has the ability to flex their schedule to meet the demands of the job.
The perfect employer, on the other hand, is a stable, but fast-moving industry leader with an achievable career path to management through meaningful work. Flexible work hours are a must-have, and co-worker and management compatibility matters, too.
What I’ve described above is the sum of a multigenerational workforce — a culmination of the wants and needs of every employer and every employee currently occupying today’s workplace. For as long as we can remember, workplaces large and small have been, and will continue to be a diverse melting pot of social generations co-existing inside conference rooms and cubicles.
Until recently, the pipeline of incoming graduates-turned-professional balanced the outgoing retiring class, leaving ample opportunities for those in between to be promoted and step into leadership positions. In 2015, however, the result of longer life spans, higher costs of living and access to technology made it impossible to ignore the widening generational gap among paid workers. The increase in college graduates and a decrease in retirees has formed a workforce that, by 2020, will be fully occupied by five social generations including Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials/Gen Y, and Gen Z.
Our employment ecosystem is now bearing the weight of five different approaches to leadership and communication shaped by historical influences and life experiences in our formative years. Naturally, and over time, these stylistic differences develop into labels and stereotypes, further straying employees and employers away from their shared professional values and similarities.
Similarities among five social generations? Yes, it’s true. Research shows that all employees, 17 to 77, give priority ranking to a trusting relationship with their manager, the chance to be heard, a job with purpose and understanding the company’s big picture.
However, in my many years of interacting with employees of all ages, nothing ranks higher on the list than work/life integration, and yet for years, our pre-Gen X colleagues did not feel empowered to make the case for flexibility. Fast forward to 2018, thanks to the technology advancements and a couple of courageous conversations, the modern-day workplace has made significant progress by shifting the focus towards productivity – regardless of when or where it happens.
Work/life integration is just one common-sense example of how companies are evolving to meet the needs of all staff, but it is often mistaken as a forced reaction to the entitled demands of our young professionals. There is no denying our younger generations have given us a ton of material for witticisms, but the reality is these up-and-comers are our ticket to navigating the future workplace. Research shows this completely wireless generation already has a leg up on leaders who are not keeping up with new technology and workplace trends because a.) we don’t have time, b.) it’s over our heads, c.) we don’t think we need to know that stuff or d.) all of the above.
Considering the many dimensions of a multigenerational workforce, employers have a unique opportunity to construct strong, efficient and fulfilled teams and to leverage diverse talent as a competitive advantage. Here are a few ideas to get started:
1. Understand the benefits of a building a multigenerational team. By diversifying your workforce – whether by age, race, or gender – you can create multiple connection points between the customer and the company, which ultimately drives revenue and productivity.
2. Look at your workforce as many parts to one whole and refocus leadership’s attention on the common denominators. Understanding these similarities will catalyze collaboration and productivity among your teams and serve as the foundation for age diversity strategies to be built. Are there common goals that drive your teams? Build up from there.
3. Prompt established generations to form a mentorship program with Gen-Zers to share experience, offer perspective and develop leadership, and life skills that are not being taught in the college classroom. Strategically pair peers together can create healthy development opportunities and diverse thinking.
In the end, everyone in the workplace has a role to play in ensuring today’s multigenerational workforce continues to thrive. Despite the obvious differences, today’s workforce is full of professionals seeking similar employee experiences that satisfy the needs of today’s employee. Companies who leverage the uniqueness and commonalities of their multi-generational teams are well positioned for positive gain with their employees, consumers and their bottom line.