Embrace generational differences in the workplace

Profile picture for user Mandy Jeffery By Mandy Jeffery January 22, 2020
With up to five generations co-existing in the modern workplace, it's vital to nurture a culture that embraces difference, writes Workday's Mandy Jeffery

Seasoned blue collar worker instructs younger man on factory floor © Matva - shutterstock

HR teams have been playing the ‘generation game’ since the dawn of ‘office culture’. Generation splits continuously cause the biggest shifts in workplace norms and environment. Indeed, when you look around the office today, you can see up to five generations all coexisting. There are Traditionalists (born before 1946) through to Generation Z employees who are just joining the workforce as young as sixteen, plus everyone in between.

It’s important for HR, and the wider company, to focus on how to address the needs of all generations, as the most valuable asset a company has is its people. Our recent report on ‘Engaging the Workforce Across Generations’, highlights the rise of millennial employees progressing into leadership roles, and the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce. To respond to this change, and in order to achieve a balanced and respectful status quo, it’s vital that all generations understand each other's unique perspectives and needs. Traditional approaches to leadership, learning, and workplace culture should continually grow and adapt to incorporate all of the values of our changing workforce.

Shared experiences are empowering

The report found that millennials will make up three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025, with many in leadership roles. In preparation, leaders of growing global organizations such as Amazon and ASOS need to consider questions such as, ‘What are the values held by most millennials?’, ‘How do our teams like to learn?’ and ‘How should we help them progress?’.

The answers to these questions will help businesses to streamline the way they manage each generation, ensuring that employees are properly supported. For example, our report highlights how millennials want to work somewhere that has a high level of transparency and respect for opinions across age groups – but this isn’t exclusive to millennials alone. A thriving organisation should be treating employees equally across all departments and levels of seniority, and it must democratize the use of technology and decision making if it’s to achieve this. It improves communication across the business, generates more creative ideas and increases loyalty – which of course has a positive impact on the overall business.

Mentoring for growth

Mentorship programmes can be a powerful tool for businesses hoping to bridge the generation gap. When it comes to learning how to carry out new tasks, ‘just Google it’ has become the go-to response among the millennial workforce, but search engines can’t teach you how to become a great leader. While empowering individuals to find their own answers has its benefits, leaders should also focus on passing on the soft skills that require experience and a human touch, such as developing managerial skills and effective communication.

Empowering employees to share their knowledge and learn from each other through mentorship programs, societies or regular meetings will create an environment where curiosity is encouraged, and learning and development opportunities follow. It reaffirms the need to connect with each other as people, who are much more than just skill sets.

Strength in numbers

Differences aren’t a bad thing. In fact, different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds coming together often spark real innovation. One way to build stronger relationships between employees across all generations is to incorporate the celebration of ‘moments that matter’ to each employee into company culture. Use this as an opportunity to find common interests.

Impact projects are just one way to unite people across the workforce, and across generations. For example, at Workday employees come up with a range of projects, many of which benefit the community. We’ve organized a used book swap, with the unused books being donated to a local library. Creating projects that connect our teams through common interests, particularly those that involve giving back to the community, has helped to improve communications, as well as nurture a supportive environment for each other.

While it is important to understand the differences between generations in the workplace, the most important thing is to treat people as individuals – from Traditionalists to Generation Z. This is attainable by paying attention to the blended workforce’s wants and needs and using data from employee surveys to develop programs in a way that allows them to flex to the unique needs of each team. This way we can celebrate our differences and build towards a better workplace for everyone.