The Challenges of a Multi-Generational Workforce
For the first time in history, four generations are present side by side in the workplace. A great grandmother in her 70s can be working alongside the grandchild of a neighbour. Multi-generational workforce dynamics are becoming more complicated with longevity increasing and retirement being delayed – there are many aspects of working with people from other generations that are fun and refreshing, but there are also some potential challenges and pitfalls to keep in mind.
These four generations are defined based on the year people were born. The Silent Generation (1926-1945), Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Generation Y or Millennials (after 1980). Each group has different work styles, values, and communication preferences. They are all motivated by different things.
The big challenge is how to achieve harmony in the workplace between these different age groups. This can be done by embracing flexibility, understanding and collaboration. It’s not as easy as it sounds! Recent research by Deloitte says that two-thirds of HR professionals report some level of conflict between generations at work.
This is because each generation is a product of the time in history when they were raised and the technology and tools available to them as they developed their skills and experience. These generational characteristics are insightful but should be taken with a grain of salt – not everyone from every generation shares all of the same perspectives, biases, work styles and preferences! But in a way, every different generation acts kind of like its own unique “culture” or “subculture” based on their shared experiences and sense of identity.
The Silent Generation tends to place a high value on hard work, loyalty, and respect rules. They prefer making phone calls rather than sending e-mails.
Boomers are optimistic team players who value personal growth and prefer in-person meetings.
Members of Generation X are self-reliant, informal and like fast communication.
Millennials are confident, assertive, and challenge authority. They were raised on technology and believe in self-assertive leadership and communicate by text.
When asked, most women in the Sixty and Me Community say that they love working with younger people because it keeps them feeling alive and energized. I worked in Fortune 50 companies myself for almost 30 years, and generally my colleagues were 20 years younger than me. The only challenges I ever experienced in a multi-generational workplace were different communication styles, but I think that this reflects human values and experience and was not related to our age.
Understanding different generations’ typical preferences, cultural perspectives and work styles is particularly relevant when hiring and promotion decisions are made. Women over 60 are often compared to younger candidates, and sometimes there are stereotypes that make people less likely to hire or promote women over 60.
For example, managers are often afraid of hiring an older woman because they don’t think we are comfortable with technology or that we won’t get along well with younger colleagues. This can be perceived as age discrimination when it is really a misunderstanding of styles. So it’s important when applying for a job or hiring staff for a new business, that you have awareness and sensitivity to the needs and personality characteristics of the different generations in the workplace.
Have you worked in a situation where you had colleagues who were much younger or older than you? Please join the conversation.
Watch my interview with Kerry Hannon for specific career advice for women over 50.