Generational gaps

By Justin Bodill – 

For the first time in history, we have 5 different generations reflected in the global workforce. Namely:

  • Traditionalists: born 1945 and before
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1976
  • Millennials, aka Generation Y: born 1977 to 1995
  • iGeneration, aka Generation Z: born 1996 and after

This is an incredible statistic, and certainly a very relevant fact for any business today. The burning question is, what impact is it having in our workplace?

Well there is a wealth of research out there detailing each generation and their characteristics. This is certainly a very important place to start, but more so I feel that companies need to take a broader view, and to think about the implications of multi-generations on various talent management practices. I have listed a few below:

Diversity

Overall, the broad impact is that there is now more ‘diversity’ and complexity in workforce demographics than ever before. Companies have to manage the expectations and interpersonal relationships of workers who have been raised in vastly different times, and whose characteristics, needs and wants are oftentimes very different. This has lead to interesting dynamics in the workplace, and has seen an increase in interpersonal training interventions, soft skills courses for Millenials in particular, and a focus on communication to help bridge the gaps.

Pay and benefits

The different needs of each generation, has also brought with it changing demands on employers. Gone are the days of a standard pay and benefits structure. Now, employees want choice, and flexibility. They want a range of options as part of an overall package, that they can then select from, in line with what is most important to them at each stage of their lives. In the book – The Workforce of One, two Accenture leaders detail this very idea. Workforce segmentation, and modular choices will become essential (if they have not already).

Recruitment

The impact on recruitment practices has probably seen the most change. For example, anyone working in the graduate recruitment space will know that there is indeed a war for talent, and that the pressure to attract the millennial generation has brought new challenges. This generation are looking for purpose, rapid development, clear progression paths and a company that trades ethically and is environmentally conscious (to name a few things). This scrutiny has pushed companies to focus on their image and talent management practises more than ever. It has also brought real change to recruitment teams, who now need to build relationships with various talent pools, create and promote their company’s EVP (Employer Value Proposition), operate digitally and communicate socially.

Training and development

Development is a crucial selling point for any company and has become more important with the demands of different generations. The need for technology based learning is a must for the younger generations, and aspects like gamification and even virtual reality are becoming common trends globally. It has meant that training departments now have to cater for a variety of learning styles and to offer blended learning in all its forms. Coupled with this, is the need for strong change management and an increased focus on adoption and retention of knowledge, to ensure that all employees are benefiting from the courses on offer, no matter their age or learning preferences.

This list is not exhaustive and certainly there are a myriad of other aspects to mention, like culture and even office space design.

Key takeout’s:

  • Firstly, to align relevant practices or policies to your employees, you need to understand them. Do some research and gain some clarity on the various generations.

Note: While there are some distinct differences, as I alluded to above, be aware not to assume, or stereotype, as you might find that there are greater similarities than you first expected. For example, a 2009 Harvard Business Review article (How Gen Y & Boomers Will Reshape Your Agenda), reported on a study of two large surveys of college graduates, which revealed remarkable similarities in workplace preferences between Baby Boomers and Generation Y – the oldest and youngest groups in the emerging workforce. This is but one such study. Then look internally, and understand your own company demographics and the preferences of your people.

  • Take a broad view, and think about the key talent management functions that need to adapt or change fundamentally to offer the scope to meet the needs of all generations.
  • Focus on bridging the gaps and harnessing the positives that comes from the diversity on offer. For example, a younger tech savvy generation could play a crucial role in embracing new technology or systems, while these same young employees could benefit greatly from mentoring and coaching offered by senior members of staff. This has been well researched and reported on, and could become a crucial cog in the retention of young talent, and also lead to an increased feeling of job satisfaction for experienced managers.
  • Focus on corporate culture and values. This is something that all employees can have in common, and can be a crucial point of stability in the workplace.
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Justin works as a Learning and Development Programme Manager and has spent the last 10 years in the corporate world of L&D. He holds an Honours Degree in Organisational Psychology from UCT, and is also a qualified Integral Coach (ACC). He has a passion for how people identify and develop their talents, and is particularly interested in leadership development.

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