A multigenerational workforce is beneficial to employers for a number of reasons. Studies indicate that diverse organizations are more creative, innovative and profitable. But these benefits can only accrue if the organization’s culture is inclusive and supportive.
Unfortunately, many stereotypes about each generation persist and can negatively affect the individual, team and organizational performance. And when used against people over the age of 40, these ideas can result in legal action under the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Workplaces that prioritize age inclusion not only avoid legal action, but are able to reap the benefits of diversity of perspective.
Busting Generational Stereotypes
Let’s take a look at common stereotypes for each age group working today and a more realistic view of each:
Traditionalists, born before 1946
Stereotypes: unable/unwilling to learn new things, afraid of technology, rigid
Facts: Research shows that older workers value the opportunity to learn new technology and information. Many work out of necessity or because they find it meaningful. They are engaged and want to keep their minds active.
Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
Stereotypes: privileged, self-righteous, materialistic, collecting a check until retirement, resistant to change
Facts: Baby Boomers are retiring later but not just to amass cash; they believe they still have something to contribute. Studies by the U.S. Department of Labor Aging Worker Initiative confirm that workers 50 and older have a “strong capacity and willingness to learn new tasks, processes and technologies.”
Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980
Stereotypes: skeptical, cynical, disaffected
Facts: These employees are strong independent workers who push for new perspectives and flexibility. They are evaluative thinkers who are technologically agile.
Generation Y/Millennials, born between 1981 and 1994
Stereotypes: entitled, self-centered, demanding, job-hoppers, hypersensitive
Facts: Studies have found that Millennials stay with employers as long as Gen Xers at the same age. Their perceived oversensitivity is more often a desire for equity and inclusion, good values that contribute to customer loyalty and higher sales.
Generation Z, born after 1995
Stereotypes: always on devices, no interpersonal skills, spoiled, unmotivated/lazy
Facts: The youngest cohort is motivated to discover how to work smarter using technology. They excel at processing rafts of information and are mobilizers and organizers.
Building an Inclusive Workplace Culture
Here are four ways to promote a more age-inclusive workforce:
- Evaluate your culture. Assess the ways various generations interact with each other and set goals for an inclusive supportive environment for all employees. Provide anti-bias training across the organization, if necessary.
- Invest in D & I. Promote conversations and understanding between age groups, including employee resource groups and a diversity and inclusion task force. It’s critical for these initiatives to have an executive sponsor and allotted budget for them to succeed. Show how each employee’s work contributes to the mission and goals of the enterprise. Share research that verifies how multigenerational workforces improve organizational performance.
- Uncover shared values and goals. Provide opportunities for employees to share values and goals through anonymous surveys, small group discussion or town halls. Share results to illustrate that different generations want many of the same things (which, according to academic research, includes meaningful tasks, flexible schedules, learning opportunities, compassionate managers and fair compensation and advancement).
- Draft age-inclusive HR practices. Review recruiting materials and job descriptions for ageist language. Delete requirements for graduation or birth dates. Avoid making assumptions about roles and responsibilities based on age.
- Leverage mentoring and reverse-mentoring. AARP data show that older workers with mentoring experience are more inclined to believe younger workers are creative, can help them learn new skills and open their eyes to new perspectives. Younger workers are more likely to say that older workers make the workplace more productive, can teach them new skills and even make the work environment more fun.
Learn more about creating a more age-diverse workforce and capitalizing on the benefits of a multi-generational business.