Today’s workforce is facing an unprecedented challenge. For the first time in history, employees span five different age groups, creating a climate where fresh-faced college grads are teamed with seasoned individuals old enough to be their grandparents. How can you effectively engage employees when they are so vastly different?
As employers focus on cultivating diversity in the workplace, age diversity is often overlooked. The fact is, employees are living and working longer. Employers with a cross-generational workforce may wonder how to deal with such a vast variety of needs. It may require some outside the box thinking, but employee engagement is possible and can bring astonishing success.
Here are four ways to embrace age diversity in your company.
Dismiss the Stereotypes There are some generational stereotypes that make it seem as though there is an uncrossable generation gap. However, a recent study by George Washington University revealed that for all of the hype about generaltional gaps, there aren’t significant characteristics that typify each generation. The core differences between generations can be attributed more to work style differences between older and younger generations than different values. Millennials are often depicted as transient and dissatisfied with their jobs, but comparative research shows that they change jobs less than older generations did at the same age. Older generations are typified by the mindset that they dislike change and are resistant to new methods, but their resistance is based on a lack of knowledge in using new technology more than an unwillingness to change. To successfully engage a diversified generational workforce, treat them as individuals. Rather than focusing on the demographic category your employees fall into, focus on the specific needs of your employees.
Embrace Diversity In nearly every situation, a diverse team can troubleshoot and develop solutions more productively and effectively due to the cross-section of viewpoints presence on the team. When on the same team, older workers bring attention to detail and quality assurance, while younger workers can bring innovation and enthusiasm to the project. The result? A powerful mix of qualities that can lead to success.
Use Mentorship Effectively Much is said about the power of mentoring in professional settings. The purposeful passing along of skills and knowledge to a younger generation is essential to a company’s growth. However, many companies miss the opportunity for ‘reverse mentorship’ where younger workers are given the opportunity to pass along what they know. When used correctly, reverse mentorship provides a chance for older workers to learn how to navigate new technologies while younger workers can benefit from forming a relationship with their more experienced coworkers.
Develop Broad Spectrum Workplace Perks Flexible work schedules are often an association with a ‘millennial mindset’. However, a study shows that while 74% of millennials prioritize a flexible schedule, 94% of baby boomers do as well. Older workers may jump at the chance to flex their work schedules. Rather than showy, fad-based perks (does your office really need a nap room?) look for meaningful ways to meet the needs and desires of all your employees.
Generational diversity can make managing a workforce more challenging. The woman facing retirement has different goals than the kid fresh out of college. Keeping them engaged at work, however, can be managed. Develop a culture where performance and knowledge are valued,and age is acknowledged but not prioritized. Look for meaningful ways to foster collaboration and communication across the generational divides. Your employees may discover they’re more alike than they realized.
Michele Bailey is president and CEO of Blazing Agency
and My Big Idea®
. These two lines of business work congruently to support her clients’ success.