Generational Puzzle In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly created International Youth Day to be celebrated every August 12th to draw attention to youth issues world-wide, “pointing out that while engagement and participation of youth is essential to the achievement of sustainable human development, that opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are often low or non-existent.”(1) In honor of this day, we are looking at how we can encourage and empower youth and recent graduates as they enter the workforce by creating initiatives that connect multiple generations in the workplace, while also looking at the “the creative force and the innovative impetus that young people bring to the workforce and society as a whole.”(2)

This year the Millennial generation surpassed Baby Boomers in the U.S. both in population size as well as with their presence in the workforce. In addition to this current demographic shift, many people are working later in life and delaying retirement. As a result, we now have five generations working together for the first time in history. As a result we are seeing a new focus on “multigenerational diversity” and creating more inclusive workspaces, where every generation is given the opportunity to participate to their fullest potential. Each of the five generations whether it be the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (also known as Millennials), or Generation Z, “all bring with them their own unique life experiences that influence both their values as well as their work preferences”. This has many business leaders wondering how organizations will adapt to this “5G” workplace,” (3) thus creating a greater urgency to focus more attention on not only retaining this amalgamated workforce but also on keeping them actively engaged.”(4)

Multigenerational workplaces can create unique challenges, while at the same time creating opportunities for employers who are able to leverage each generation’s talents and strengths to benefit their organization.” (5) So the question becomes; what can companies do both vertically as well as horizontally to develop effective protocols and guidelines that can make communication and collaboration easier when dealing with multiple generations, while keeping in mind that people from different generations tend to approach work differently?

Research has shown that “by bridging significant differences between the generations with successful workplace strategies we are able to create more successful organizations, employees who are happier, healthier and more productive, and organizations that are more competitive, and as a result are able to improve their bottom line”. (6) In order to be more effective managers and leaders it is essential that we get to know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various generations in the workplace, in order to create a more cohesive work experience for everyone involved. One way to get employees and leaders alike fully engaged, while at the same time transferring knowledge “cross-generationally,” is through mentoring as well as reverse mentoring. “Reverse or reciprocal mentoring programs pair younger workers with seasoned executives to work on specific business objectives, while more experienced employees are able to share their institutional knowledge with younger workers. Mixed-age work teams are another way to promote cross-generational mentoring, while studies show that colleagues tend to learn more from each other than they do from formal training, making it very beneficial to establish a culture of coaching across different age groups.”(7)

With International Youth Day in mind, we can use these types of mentoring programs to help us focus on the skills and talent of our youth. This allows us the opportunity to learn from them while at the same time offering effective programs that can assist them in becoming better team players and potential leaders in the future.” (8) And what a bright future we can create when we take the time to discover the positive attributes that youth and recent graduates can bring to organizations. We can see this with generations Y and Z and their tendency to “identify with being both volunteers as well as activists, making them a very engaged group of civic minded individuals. With this being said , today’s youth really are committed to a variety of local and international issues and believe that they have the individual and the collective responsibility to do good and create positive change.”(9) With their great emphasis on giving back to the community, corporate social responsibility will surely become a big focus in future business as younger generations continue to take their place in the workforce.

By understanding the different generations and “what motivates them, we can help to develop strategies that are more relevant and appealing to each cohort. At the same time it is important to mention that no two individuals are the same, and many times members of the same generation may have very different life experiences, shaping different attitudes and behaviors. Therefore there is a fine line between appreciating unique characteristics of different generations and perpetuating stereotypes of the generations.”(10) It is always better to try and focus on the similarities between generations rather than the differences and that now more than ever, “the key to a competitive and successful organization is to properly understand and manage diversity on every level.”(11)

We leave you with a few pointers from The Kenan-Flagler Business School on what organizations can do to help multiple generations work more effectively together:

  1. Communicate appropriately, gearing messages for generational preferences. For example, Generation X wants information delivered informally and effectively. Millennials, on the other hand, want opportunities to provide feedback and to receive positive reinforcement.
  2. Create programs that encourage generations to work together and to share knowledge. Baby Boomers and Traditionalist, for example, are used to a more “siloed” knowledge sharing experience. Generations X and Y, however, want information shared freely and transparently across the organization. Encourage generations to work together and let Baby Boomers and Traditionalists know that it is not just okay to share their knowledge—it is vital to staunch knowledge loss when they eventually leave the workplace.
  3. Build diverse teams of all ages, gender, and cultures. These teams will learn to value and trust each other.
  4. Encourage business leaders at all levels to be flexible in their management styles. Some generations want hands-off leaders, others want a more involved management style. (12)

Breanna Rothe

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