A new diversity concept can blend a multi-generational workforce

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As global HR leaders and numerous studies will tell you, diversity is the cornerstone to a strong professional team. Yet, contrary to popular belief, how we label generations in the workplace is actually creating segregation, not inclusion.

If employees see themselves as being on the same team, they can begin to see their differences as remarkable strengths. The concept of “new diversity” is about understanding the unconscious biases we have created through categorizing generational workers and working together to change the way that we, as a society, think about specific age groups and how to leverage technology to close the gap to generational differences rather than widen the gap.

We have five generations currently working in the same offices. Each has their own views about what makes the best employee and differing expectations for their employment experience.

It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and affirm negative generalizations, but this can be damaging when it comes to building an inclusive team.

Categorizing and making assumptions about groups is actually promoting generational segregation, which creates unconscious biases and contributes to less inclusion.

The rapid pace of technology advancements is what differentiates generations and makes the business world buzz with labels such as millennials and baby boomers. Depending on our age and the use of technology, we seem to have differing perspectives of the workplace, which is driving many of the unconscious biases in today’s organizations. In order for companies to truly progress, it is important to eliminate the use of labels to stereotype generations and to embrace how technology can actually close the generational gap that it created.

As an example, let’s assume you have an older team member named Larry, who is a strong salesperson. The rest of the team is a bit younger and gets annoyed that Larry prefers conversations over the phone or in person, rather than text, instant message, video conference or even e-mail.

Because of this, Larry gets labeled as “out of touch” and is purposely kept out of conversations and new projects. Unless this is properly addressed, the team will not be working together well, which could have a significant impact on morale and productivity.

What the younger workers may be missing by alienating Larry is how he approaches customer relationships and cultivates loyalty through the interpersonal relationships he builds with verbal communication.

As the Larry scenario illustrates, one might assume that an employee over the age of 50 can’t communicate effectively using technology. But a recent study by Pew Research proved that 85% of Gen Xers and 67% of Baby Boomers have embraced digital life. The fact that older generations have the versatility to communicate effectively on and off technology is an incredible strength.

Here’s another example. It’s a common stereotype that millennials are lazy and want a trophy for simply showing up to work. If this were true, the Forbes 30 Under 30 would not exist. A more likely story is that millennials grew up with technology such as playing video games and adopted the gaming methods for advancement. Gaming is about problem-solving and being resourceful. Millennials play level 1, master its skills, and want to move up to level 2 quickly to continue to challenge themselves.

Smart managers and progressive HR professionals should see this as a positive characteristic in an employee because it means they are engaged, results oriented and want to make a difference.

Leaders and HR professionals must take on new tactics

Because most of the corporate world still buys into generational stereotypes, traditional management practices are not meeting the needs of the new diversity workplace. So, it’s time to change the way HR professionals and leadership think about people management practices.

For example, take how the generation labeled “millennials” are presumed to have a need for consistent feedback, which again is being driven from how they interface with technology. Receiving likes on social media has become a cultural phenomenon of social approval. If workers are now asking for timely, regular feedback, it’s best to assume there’s a good reason for it. Millennials in general feel more challenged and engaged when they have consistent benchmarks and feedback; accommodating this desire will help them perform better.

Most companies are sticking to the way they’ve always done it and keeping their 12-month review cycles and missing opportunities to provide timely, “InstaFeedback.”

By not listening to the needs of their employees and switching to an “InstaFeedback” model, it’s quite possible they’ll see lower engagement levels and lose some of their best people.

We need to do away with traditional job leveling and promotion practices of needing to be in position for years before being considered promotion ready and see how engagement can be increased significantly by implementing incremental movements over a three to six month period. Incremental job movements will send a clear message to employees that the organization is committed to both their bottom line results and personal growth.

Stop the labeling

What leaders need to realize is that there have always been varying generations in the workplace. Why it seems so impactful now is the rapid pace of technological changes. The first step to uniting a generationally diverse team is by blowing stereotypes out of the water. The second step is to change our people practices by leveraging technology to close the generation gap that it actually created. Once we have innovative people processes that incorporate generations’ familiarity with technology, leaders can begin to meet the new information age employees’ expectations of work.

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Diversity and equality Employee engagement Workforce management