With five generations of employees, are stereotypical notions holding back growth?

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Radhika Panjwani is a former Toronto journalist and blogger.

Many workplaces today have five generations of workers, but are we letting our stereotypical notions of cohorts keep us from leveraging each other’s strengths?

“To me, these so-called ‘generational differences’ are just a conversation we’ve failed miserably to have,” says British Columbia author and researcher Olivia McIvor. “When rephrased, ‘generational difference’ actually means ‘different from us’ and there can be nothing wrong with that maxim. Frankly, it’s not our age differences that divide us, rather it’s the judgments we make about each other that create conflict and break collegial relationships.

In a historic first, five generations rub shoulders at work: veterans or traditionalists (76 to 99 years old), baby boomers (57 to 75), Gen Xers (41 to 56), millennials (26 to 40) and Gen Z (25 years and under).

And since Canada abolished mandatory retirement, more and more people continue to work for economic or social reasons. However, not everyone works for a traditional salary. Some are clients, others serve on boards or are volunteers, but regardless, we all surround each other in this shared space, says Ms. McIvor.

Ms. McIvor’s book, “Four Generations One Workplace: Sharing in the Information Age” (a revised edition, “Five Generations One Workplace”, is due out in 2023), explores how organizations can grow, collaborate and engage with each generation and create a respectful work environment conducive to recruitment and retention.

The generational imprint

“On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at school with my classmates. I expect to graduate from college with $40,000 in student debt and then return home to live with my parents. For me and the other 80 million Americans born between 1982 and 2000, these experiences are the norm. We are the “permanent kids,” the 9/11 generation — or the “screw generation” — but we much prefer to be called the millennial generation,” Darrin J. DeChane writes in a blog post.

Mr. DeChane graduated from Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain in 2017. His reflections highlight how generational imprints inform and educate people’s attitude, perception and work ethic.

Ms. McIvor explains that each of the five generations is linked by shared life experiences such as historical events, heroes, revolutions, inventions and challenges, which shape the view of work and the world in general. These generational imprints are seminal and significant and have both positive and negative impact. Examples include the rise of rock ‘n’ roll; the economic recession of the 1980s; September 11th ; The Black Lives Matter movement and a global pandemic.

And, there are three basic patterns that emerge from the footprints: a generation’s approach to life; the creed or philosophy of work and the most important need of the generation to be met at work.

“When defining the merits of a generation, one typically looks for common influences that have shaped how that cohort specifically views the world,” Ms McIvor says. These views influence behaviors, including what motivates them intrinsically and extrinsically. Once you get them, you can start to appreciate diversity and be more inclusive in learning from each other.

Work-life and other issues

As Head of Professional Services at Avanade, a global technology company employing more than 55,000 professionals in 26 countries, Karen McAteer often oversees projects involving a team of 30 or more multi-generational professionals.

Working alongside five generations of professionals means Ms. McAteer, a baby boomer, has insight into each cohort’s different communication styles and attitude towards money, work-life balance and working for her. -same.

For example, Ms. McAteer says that while she would prefer to work in the office, she accepts that others may not want to. During week-long business trips, Ms McAteer says her routine would be to have a beer or dinner with colleagues after work, then retire to her room and continue working for a few more hours. His younger colleagues, meanwhile, prefer a more structured 9 to 5 and unwind from work by participating in leisure activities.

And, while some of the “younger” workers choose messaging apps like Slack or Teams to communicate at work, some like Ms. McAteer prefer face-to-face interactions.

“It all comes down to communication and respecting each other’s strengths,” she says. “To get everyone productive and working together, we need to adjust our own expectations and communicate clearly around deliverables.”

Ms. McAteer says organizations can leverage the skills and abilities of multigenerational employees through a two-way mentoring system that will not only allow a seasoned worker to mentor a new employee, but also knowledgeable Gen Z workers. of digital technology to guide older colleagues.

Ms. McIvor’s advice for multi-generational teams:

  1. Avoid symbolism
  2. Be curious and ask thoughtful questions
  3. Never accuse, be dismissive or condescending about another cohort and what they value
  4. Know that one generation is not superior to another
  5. Embed generational learning in your culture
  6. Know that all generations want the same three things: trust, appreciation and presence.
  7. Consciously create group activities/teams that are cross-generational
  8. Tap into the wisdom of each cohort through cross-mentoring
  9. Prioritize meeting the “demand” of each generation in your environment
  10. Appreciate the gifts rather than the differences

What I read on the web

  • Since 1950, the US working-age population has grown by about five million people every five years. That trend has now changed, says Microsoft President Brad Smith. From the period between 2016 and 2020, growth slowed to two million. The current trend where companies are under pressure to offer high salaries to attract talent could become the norm. In this story, Mr. Smith also discusses how low population growth, government stimulus measures during the pandemic and other factors are now contributing to labor shortages.
  • Ten years ago, two friends, Jacob Goodman and Josh Arbit, bought Fresh Prints, a struggling clothing company that sold fraternity, sorority and college merchandise with bar mitzvah money from Mr. Arbit ($16,000). The first month the new owners got ripped off. Then they realized they owed $25,000 for licensing royalties. Today, Fresh Prints employs 290 full-time employees and boasts an annual turnover of $40 million.
  • This story from the World Economic Forum indicates that the next phase of remote working will dramatically transform labor economies. In this article, Adam Ozimek, labor economist at Upwork, a freelance work platform, argues that the pandemic-spurred transition to remote work will be nothing compared to what’s to come. According to Ozimek, new asynchronous working models will allow remote workers to work wherever they want, whether in their hometown or at ski resorts.

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Michael A. Bynum