Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce

Encouraging diversity within organisations is widely accepted not only as the right thing to do, but also commercially beneficial. Yet, while much time is given to encouraging diversity across certain protected characteristics, there is little attention to the benefits and challenges of a multi-generational workforce.

I was delighted to accept an invitation to an event hosted by Open Blend, where I got to meet and listen to Dee Murphy, an Organisational Psychologist and Head of People at Propel. It got me thinking about the challenges that many of our clients face.

Last year we saw Generation Z join the labour market after years of Generations X and Y not working well together. Indeed, this is the first time that many companies span four generations – in some organisations there are even five!

At Russam we are about to take on our first graduate trainee in his twenties, joining a team where at least two colleagues are in their mid-seventies; there will be half a century between them. My older colleagues fall into ‘Baby Boomers’ and the preceding generation, often known as Traditionalists.

Generational characteristics

It is important to understand some broad characteristics and values for the different generations. I have taken much of this from Dee’s presentation:

GEN X (1960 – 81) – see work as servitude, tend to be loyal, education is seen as a luxury. Face to face communication, loyalty and stability are important. Rule abiding, conformist, struggle with change.

GEN Y (1982 – 1994) – sometimes described as the ‘Millennials’, grew up during a time of economic growth and revolution. Saw the creation of the digital and technological age.  Often children of divorce where both parents work long hours. Change-centred and entrepreneurial – many fancy themselves as CEO and don’t lack confidence. Want to be heard; their voice matters. More self-centred, educated to a higher level, creating job hoppers who prefer informal, flat structures.

GEN Z (1995 – to date) – ‘digi-natives’ – while GEN X were tech pioneers, technology to GEN Z is as natural as breathing air. They are always online (with three children from 11 to 17 I have some expertise in this area!).  Patience is low, dislike red tape, assimilate information quickly via lots of channels. Genuine multi-taskers who live online – but are rarely fully in the game because their attention span is short. Having witnessed recession and terror they see the world similarly to GEN X and are therefore more interested in stability, commitment and hard work. Yet they dislike process and procedure. Friendships are international and online. GEN Z really values diversity in all its forms.

There are perhaps more similarities between GEN X and GEN Z: they are pragmatic and discerning, appreciate commitment and a work ethic; they care about social change.

The implications for leaders

If you are a leader of any organisation, it is important to understand these differences. Our values define our behaviour, and so working with people who hold different values can be a real challenge. We know from the management guru Mintzberg that while it is impossible to change values, you can try and change behaviours.

What happens when GEN Y, the Millennials, start taking the senior leadership roles in companies? The clash of values could create rebellion within GEN Z.

Whilst there are no fixed answers, all new employees should be tested at interview to assess how comfortable they feel working across the generations and, indeed, interviews should ideally be held with a cross section of generations.

Promoting a culture of collaboration between employees of different generations is clearly a sensible pursuit: and everyone will learn through the process. Good luck!

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Call us on 07930 356305 or email HQ@russam.co.uk

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