Generational diversity: three reasons why getting it right matters

Generational diversity might not sound like the trendiest of terms, but as business owners, it’s critical to know.

In simple terms, generational diversity means having people of a wide range of different ages represented in the workplace. However, in reality, it’s not about just the representation per se, but having an understanding of the concept. Why? Because it’s behind the concept where both risk and reward lie for business.

Our global workforce consists of five generations:  Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. The majority workforce (circa 65 per cent) are millennials and Gen Z.

On one hand, this wealth of diversity in skills and experience offers workplaces huge value. On the other, it can present as problematic. While no business likes to waste potential, the pain points that can arise due to lack of understanding can cripple a business. Managerial pain points like underperformance, mismatched expectations, and problematic attitudes. Business pain points like workplace conflict, high employee turnover, and difficulty with attracting talent.

Getting it right means understanding that each generation has different workplace expectations. Understanding the concept means businesses can leverage the benefits, such as the following:

It creates a framework for understanding and builds morale  

When workplaces understand that there are generational specific traits, behaviours, attitudes, and values it reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding. Including projecting our own expectations, preconceived notions, or unconscious biases toward colleagues.

It supports communication and workplace relationships

“Why does my manager expect me to spend five years working toward a promotion?”

“Why does my manager still expect me to show up in a physical office and report in at 9am?”

“Why can’t my employee get things done in 9-5 business hours?”

“Why won’t my employee just get on with doing what I ask, rather than push back?” 

When we understand what’s “behind” these views, preferences, or values we are more able and willing to shift perspective. In turn, improving communication and our working relationships with each other.   

It mitigates risks to retention    

While retention may not be a one-size-fits-all model, there are elements of generational diversity that are applicable. Namely, when it comes to understanding values. For example, older workers may be more comfortable with traditional working hours (e.g. 9-5 pm), whereas younger gens prefer more flexibility. If employees are forced into ways of working that don’t align with their values, they’re at a high risk of leaving. 

There’s a saying that knowledge is power. And when it comes to the workplace there can’t be enough knowledge. Workplaces and managers should have an obligation to understand their people. Being aware of the characteristics of workplace generations is one way to do that.