According to the OECD, the workforce is becoming increasingly age diverse. Factors such as population ageing, social progress and changing work-life patterns have resulted in people delaying retirement and staying in work for longer. As with any significant demographic change, greater age diversity will inevitably have an impact on workplace cultures and environments. But what does this look like, and how can organisations manage this shift?
What does the so-called generation gap really look like?
Unprecedented levels of labour market volatility have been present across all industries in recent years. For instance, in September 2021, job vacancies in the UK topped one million for the first time. Recent rises in inflation rates have further impacted recruitment, with ‘real wages’ set to fall to the lowest rate since 2006. Organisations have certainly become habituated to a more regular frequency of personnel change, a phenomenon that coexists with rising age diversity in the workforce.
As the labour market becomes more flexible, some data has pointed to a divergence in activity between younger and older generations. Figures from LinkedIn show that members of Gen Z are switching jobs at a staggering 134 per cent higher rate than before the pandemic, compared to 24 per cent more for millennials. While this data certainly highlights a divergence in habits between the two groups, this does not necessarily mean they are at odds with each other.
Simultaneously, recent insights from CoachHub’s digital coaching platform reveal that, as an average, employees in every age group globally are making conflict management the top priority in their coaching sessions. Other topics such as communication, emotional regulation and resilience are part of the top five topics across every age group. Although the different generations may have different habits in their working lives, there are a lot of similarities in the challenges they are facing.
Embracing generational diversity
Organisations should celebrate the value of diversity within their workforce, rather than focusing on generational difference as a divide or gap. Positioning age diversity as a gap between generations may risk harming the workforce’s collective development, when, in reality, the two groups are likely to benefit from working together towards some of their shared goals. When companies encourage their managers to lead with the benefits of diversity in mind, both the business and the people within it can grow together as a result.
For instance, age diversity can result in stronger on-the-job learning, as older workers can impart their career expertise while younger workers can offer new skills. Encouraging collaboration between generations can even go as far as impacting the business’ bottom line, with almost half (43 per cent) of businesses with diverse management teams reporting higher profits. Generational variance certainly isn’t something to be feared – it’s something to be celebrated.
Strong multi-generational management
Some of the best practices of multi-generational management include:
Adapting communication methods to avoid difficulties in understanding each other. Managers need to create open channels of communication where employees can connect with each other and raise any concerns. It is especially important in an age-diverse workforce to encourage collaboration and relationship building between those of different ages, as this can alleviate potential conflict and promote knowledge sharing.
Treating every employee as an individual, and not making assumptions about them. This may seem basic, but it can be easy to do so unconsciously when it comes to age, with assumptions such as older people having fewer digital skills being so commonplace. Managers should judge each individual’s skills and weaknesses based upon who they are as a person, rather than an assumption based upon their age.
Creating a team spirit by mobilising the team towards a common goal through cohesion and collective intelligence. Managers should always remember that regardless of seniority or experience, every colleague is ultimately working towards the same goal. Achieving this goal will always happen more effectively and quickly when everyone works together as a team.
Regularly engaging in personal development while encouraging the development of the wider team. Managers can consider engaging in a digital coaching programme, which will allow them to target the specific areas of their management style that they want to develop. When combined with regular learning and other development activities, managers will be in good stead to manage diverse teams, regardless of their demographic.
Ultimately, managing a multi-generational team is all about nurturing intergenerational relationships and ensuring that everyone has the tools they personally need to thrive. The workforce is definitely becoming more age diverse, but this doesn’t mean that there has to be a gap or conflict between different generations. When organisations celebrate the value of diversity within their workforce they enjoy faster growth, greater collaboration, and a quicker route to their objectives.
Juliane Sterzl is senior vice president for EMEA at CoachHub