We have entered an era where we now have four generations with significant populations in the workforce. The newest generation, Gen Z, is very different from the most experienced generation, Baby Boomers. And with Millennials and Gen X between the two, companies that figure out how to capitalize on the diversity of ideas and thinking will be well-positioned to outperform companies that struggle with generational divides.
Generational divides are always present. But when a new generation is entering the workforce in large numbers while the older generation is still engaged, the dynamic is even more apparent. The changes brought about by the pandemic have exacerbated the differences, like the predilection for remote work from Gen Z.
According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, “Bringing together different age cohorts fosters a shared sense of purpose in a company, as well as better business outcomes. Companies that capitalize on friction between generations and use it to spark creativity flourish by instilling a sense of purpose across their whole employee base, innovating faster, and forging stronger bonds with their customers.”
The article notes that because generational differences are so visible to everyone, they can promote us versus them mindsets. Executive leadership should proactively take steps to understand generational differences and then work to ensure everyone develops, understands, and adopts the company’s culture.
The differences in how each generation approaches work should be embraced. According to the article, “Investing in understanding others’ different points of view creates common knowledge, which is the cornerstone of effective collaboration: It gives a group a frame of reference, allows them to interpret situations and decisions correctly, helps people understand one another better, and greatly increases efficiency.” The article promotes three ways to support your employees in understanding the value of a multi-generational workforce.
Build and Capitalize on a Shared Sense of Purpose
Millennials and GenZ are more inclined than previous generations to look for purpose in their professional lives and expect their companies to participate in corporate social responsibility initiatives actively.
Leadership that proactively works with employees to understand and appreciate their differences can build a cohesive and engaged workforce. One suggestion is to conduct town hall meetings with employees from each generation in each group. As you might expect, when people share and listen to one another, they realize they have more in common than they thought. This can help with employee retention and productivity.
Use Team Launches to Highlight How Differences Matter
Conversely, there are opportunities to take advantage of the differences between generations. One such example is when a new team is put together. Per the article, “The best teams have a mandatory kickoff meeting for every project, even if team members have already worked together. This way, they can get on the same page about each person’s expertise, including the advantages they offer as a result of their age, tenure at the company, and life and professional experiences. For teams that don’t do project-based work, leaders should find time to periodically hold “re-kick” meetings. Triggers might be the new budget season, an annual strategy review, or when new people join the team.”
And it shouldn’t stop with the kick-off meeting. To keep this momentum going, ask the most trusted person in the group to be the project coordinator. This person will capitalize on each team member’s strengths, facilitate collaboration, and help with challenges. If done correctly, the result could be increased revenues and profits, better employee engagement, and improved customer satisfaction.
Launch and Sustain a Reverse Mentoring Program
This idea may sound foreign to most executive leaders, but it can tremendously impact team building. When both employees indicate their interest in participating, younger employees mentoring more senior employees on topics like technology and collaboration can help generations understand each other and their different work approaches.
Generational differences provide opportunities for companies. By embracing their differences and creating a shared sense of purpose, leadership can harness innovative thinking and use it as a competitive advantage.