Why a better understanding of the multigenerational workplace is a no-brainer.
The co-existence of different generations in the workplace is the reality of today’s workplace and has been a topic of interest and debates for several decades. A significant amount of research has been conducted by academics, researchers, practitioners and consultants to analyze this phenomenon. Much attention has been received on this particular topic as a multigenerational workplace is not only inevitable but comes with its many challenges and opportunities. In most Western economies, four generations are working side by side. Soon, there will be five generations sharing the workspace with a fifth generation entering the workforce in the near future. Various generations working together have created numerous conflicts but also new opportunities have emerged.
Different generations appear to have unique characteristics, sets of unique values and beliefs, different expectations and those differences impact every aspect of the workplace as a result of shared events and experiences. Hence it is key to first understand the essence of each generation: who they are, what their needs and wants are, and what motivates them. Getting a deep insight into each specific generation will allow managers to overcome issues related to a multigenerational workforce and seize opportunities to create a better, happier and sustainable workplace.
The impact of a multigenerational workforce is tremendous as it can impact on the performance and success of organizations. Failing to understand generational differences may affect an organization on many levels: lower performance, decreased motivation and job satisfaction, higher turnover rates or intentions to leave the company, loss of key human capital and the negative effects of conflicts. The task for Human Resources management will be increasingly complex as they will need to implement appropriate policies to attract, retain, motivate, and reward staff ensuring that they select the right incentives to target and interest the workers from each different generation.Generational differences may cause misunderstandings which can lead to conflicts among employees or with managers which may result in impacting the performance, productivity and job satisfaction of the workforce, as well as the performance of the organization.
However, different generations in a workforce can also bring new ideas and perspectives to an organization. This diversity has the potential to infuse creativity and result in the generation of innovative solutions to organizational issues and decision situations. Generational differences in the workplace can thus bring positives and negatives depending on how organizations acknowledge, understand and integrate these generational differences into their corporate policies and practices to bridge apparent generation gaps and create a workforce which enables the organization to perform successfully. A better understanding of each generation, its workplace needs and how each generation can effectively interact in the workplace can minimize some of the negative impacts on organizational performance. Whilst generational diversity in an organization presents management challenges, it can also equip the organisation with the capacity to address the generational diversity and range of preferences for each generation present in the organization’s customers and clients.
Finding ways that assist employees to understand and effectively communicate with other employees from different generations within the organization can provide benefits such as workplace commitment, harmony and loyalty.
This topic has gained further interest recently as the “war for talent” encourages companies to nurture their human capital by better understanding their workforce’s desires, needs, motivators, and expectations to make sure they don’t lose their human assets to competition and to ensure they continuously manage to attract and retain the best talents. As Tulgan (2004, p4) put it, as the workforce will shrink “every skilled worker of every age will be needed”. In addition, with declining birth rates and longer life expectancy in most industrialized nations, employees are remaining in the workplace longer: more generations are and will be sharing the workspace in the future. This is not a short-term phenomenon (Yu and Miller, 2005). Hence, the importance of examining thoroughly the multigenerational workplace, its characteristics and implications for employees and their interactions and its possible impact on organizational performance. This view is also supported by Mc Guire et al. (2007).
Although there has been discussion in the management literature on the general topic of the multigenerational workforce, its management challenges and its expected effect on organizational performance, the relationship between generational values and work related outcomes has not been fully established. The focus of existing literature is on describing the differences in values, beliefs and meanings for each generation in society and assuming that such differences with have similar effects when encountered in the workplace.
In order to effectively and strategically manage the performance of organizations there needs to be increased understanding of the differences in values, beliefs and meanings for each generation in an organizational workplace. A detailed understanding of the differences in values, beliefs and meanings for each generation in an organizational workplace through research and analysis should then provide a sound basis for the formulation of multigenerational management strategies and initiatives that address the needs of each generation in the workplace and contribute to organizational performance.
By Elodie Destruel
Mc Guire, D., By, R., and Hutchings, K. (2007). Towards a Model of Human Resources Solutions for Achieving Intergenerational Interaction in Organisations, Journal of European Industrial Training, 31, 8, 592-608.
Tulgan, B. (2004). Trends point to a dramatic generational shift in the future workforce, Employment Relations Today, 30, 4, 23-31.