Generational diversity: An inclusive people strategy

Generational diversity an inclusive people strategy

It’s unfortunate that age-related diversity is often overlooked in business metrics.

Generational diversity not only combats age discrimination, but it’s also good for your organization.

One study found 86% of workers prefer working on a multigenerational team, and 86% also said multigenerational teams enable them to come up with innovative ideas and solutions.[1]

We need a strong focus on incorporating different generations in one workplace, especially since we now have five different generations in the workforce.

This means we need to concentrate on creating an inclusive culture, overcoming communication barriers, and recognizing differences in how we work.

In this blog, we discuss the range of generations now in the workforce, their main differences, and the top eight strategies to bring every generation together at work.

Table of contents

What is generational diversity?

Generational diversity is the concept of having multiple generations working together, such as Millennials, Gen Zers, and Baby Boomers.

Age and generation diversity has always been essential to a healthy workplace, but it’s more important than ever because of two major points:

  1. Five different generations are currently in the workforce
  2. The population is aging, with the percentage of older workers rising each year

Reaping the benefits of generational diversity in the workplace is crucial, which means your HR department must learn how to embrace an age-diverse workforce.

Why is generational diversity in the workplace important?

Fostering generational diversity is imperative to the health and productivity of your workplace, especially now.

We currently have an unprecedented five generations in the workforce, which means a huge range of beliefs, work styles, and needs.

Those generations are:

  • Traditionalists born between 1922 – 1945
  • Baby Boomers born between 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X born between 1965 – 1980
  • Millennials born between 1981 – 1996
  • Generation Z born between 1997 – 2012
five generations in the workforce

Working with such a wide variety of people means generation diversity is vital to the modern workplace. Its importance is here to stay; most countries are experiencing an aging population, with older generations staying in the workforce longer.

Research shows one in eight Americans were over 65 in the year 2000, but experts predict that will change to one in five by 2024.

Number of older Americans 1960-2040

Source

A separate study found the average age of retirement rose by three years over the past three decades.

It’s also worth noting generational differences are more drastic than they used to be. Due to rapid technological and social changes, there are wide gaps in generational beliefs and work styles.

Let’s quickly go over the main differences between these five generations.

Traditionalists

Traditionalists, also called the “Silent Generation,” are those born from 1922 to 1945. They lived through hard times like the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Here are the top distinguishing features of the Traditionalist generation:

  • Values teamwork
  • Prioritizes loyalty
  • “Doing more with less” mindset
  • Prioritizes task orientation
  • Respects authority
  • Carefully follows directions
  • Prefers to communicate face to face

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 to 1964. They adopted many of their Traditionalist parents’ values and were raised during a time of economic growth and prosperity.

Here are the top distinguishing features of the Baby Boomer generation:

  • Values long-term relationships
  • Future-minded
  • Goal-focused
  • Prizes autonomy
  • Committed to structure
  • Team-oriented
  • Prefers to communicate face to face, through phone, and by email

Generation X

Generation X was born between 1965 to 1980. Due to the structure of the generations before them, they adopted a more independent mindset.

It’s possibly due to this independence that Generation X is the most likely to be a work leader, with Generation X accounting for 51% of leadership roles globally.[2]

Here are the top distinguishing features of Generation X:

  • Credited as creating the concept of work-life balance
  • Independent and self-sufficient
  • Values freedom and autonomy
  • Shuns micromanagement
  • As tech-savvy as Millennials
  • More loyal than Millennials
  • Prefers to communicate through email and text message

Millennials

Millennials, also called Generation Y, are those born between 1981 to 1996. They grew up around a huge technological boom and many societal upheavals.

These upheavals helped to build the unflattering stereotype that Millennials are “job-hoppers.” Jumping from job to job is largely a necessity for Millennials because the era they came of age made it difficult to pay basic bills and to pay off student debt.

Here are the top distinguishing features of the Millennial generation:

  • Tech-savvy
  • Driven by goals and career growth
  • Driven by feedback
  • Family-centric
  • Prioritizes flexibility
  • Prone to job-hopping
  • Prefers to communicate through most online and mobile methods

Generation Z

Generation Z, the newest additions to the workforce, are those born between 1997 to 2012.

This generation is defined as “digital natives” because they were born into a world filled with technological advancements and have never known a time without them.

Here are the top distinguishing features of Generation Z:

  • Salary is a top priority
  • Diversity and inclusion are top priorities
  • Prioritizes values and mission
  • Incredibly tech-savvy
  • Creative and innovative
  • Prioritizes flexibility
  • Prefers to communicate through texting and video calls

The benefits of generational diversity in the workplace

Nurturing generational diversity isn’t only a necessity for modern organizations. It carries many advantages, from innovation to a healthier culture.

Let’s discuss the benefits of generational diversity in the workplace for employees and employers.

The benefits for employers

First, let’s cover the benefits on the employers’ side.

  1. Knowledge sharing
  2. Wider talent pools
  3. More inclusive company culture
  4. Increased innovation and creative problem-solving
  5. Better succession planning and better retention
Benefits of generational diversity in the workplace for employers

1. Knowledge sharing

Knowledge sharing is important for improved innovation and problem-solving, and it happens in two directions with a multigenerational workforce:

  1. Younger generations inform older ones about current trends and what engages younger people
  2. Older generations pass on years of experience to their younger colleagues

This helps companies stay on top of current events, trends, and demands while benefiting from older generations’ years of experience. 

This is especially valuable when many workers from older generations, such as Baby Boomers and Traditionalists, will retire in the coming decade.

2. Wider talent pools

Welcoming more generational diversity into your workforce means a wider talent pool and better access to diverse talent.

Companies that specifically hire for a certain age, such as companies that describe themselves as “youthful and energetic” and want “like-minded digital natives,” are missing out on top talent from an older generation.

The same can be said of organizations that only hire older workers because of bias toward “reckless young workers.”

3. More inclusive company culture

Greater age diversity leads to a more inclusive, positive culture, which improves employee morale and satisfaction.

A study by Gartner found a highly inclusive environment can improve team performance by up to 30%.[3]

A more inclusive culture makes employees feel comfortable at work, and inclusivity is all about making every worker feel accepted and equal.

This is why a solid company culture is one of the top job satisfaction factors.

4. Increased innovation and creative problem-solving

Generational diversity leads to unique perspectives and a diverse range of thought, which leads to increased creativity and innovation.

Consider the different work styles and beliefs we described above. Each generation holds different methods of solving problems, working through conflict, and improving processes. 

This is why diverse teams hold the key to increased innovation and productivity. The more diverse range of lifestyles and life experiences, the more creativity.

5. Better succession planning and better retention

A wide range of generations in your workforce means you can better plan for the future.

Generational diversity helps you plan for your workers’ career path when team members retire, and this succession planning helps you create an internal talent pipeline. 

At the same time, helping employees grow in their careers increases retention because of the modern demand for learning opportunities.

Upskilling and reskilling are cornerstones of the modern organization’s ability to retain current talent and attract shuffling talent.

The benefits for employees

Now, let’s cover the benefits on the employees’ side.

  1. More learning and development opportunities
  2. Better working environment
  3. Less discrimination and bullying
benefits of generational diversity in the workplace for employees

1. More learning and development opportunities

Greater generational diversity in the workplace creates more opportunities for employees to learn and grow. 

More value can be gained from mentoring, shadowing, and coaching when employees can benefit from their coworkers’ years of experience and different perspectives.

And from the perspective of older workers, being enrolled in mentorship programs is a way to gain skills and grow in your career without leaving your role and industry. 

2. Better working environment

Age and generation diversity nurtures a more inclusive, diverse environment.

When employees have to question whether their age makes them unsuitable for a team, it creates feelings of unease or resentment.

But an age-diverse workplace supports inclusivity and focuses more on the capabilities of its people.

An atmosphere like this is better for employees’ mental health and makes a more reliable, safer workplace.

3. Less discrimination and bullying

Generational diversity reduces bias, judgment, and stereotypes regarding age because employees gain real-life experience working alongside older and younger teammates.

This inclusive culture means employees endure less discrimination and are accepted for who they are.

Generational diversity in the workplace helps employees feel safe. Workers don’t have to worry about being judged for being “too old,” “too young,” or not the right “fit” if the team includes colleagues of all ages and backgrounds.

The challenges of generational diversity in the workplace

One of the top reasons companies struggle with generational diversity in the workplace is due to inter-generational conflict.

Let’s take a look at the most common challenges of generational diversity.

ChallengeDescription
Combatting age stereotypes and mythsDamaging myths and stereotypes may lead colleagues to think an old employee has poor health or a young worker is a “partier”. Many of these myths can be self-fulfilling prophecies,for example, the more a Baby Boomer employee hears they won’t be able to understand new technology, the more likely they are to struggle with it
Different prioritiesDifferent generations value different things, such as Traditionalists valuing authority and Millennials being viewed as “selfish” for focusing more personally
Different working stylesEmployees from different generations may have different ways to get work done, such as Baby Boomers preferring a more hierarchical team structure and many Gen Xers preferring autonomy
Struggling to report to a younger managerWhen an older worker has to report to a younger manager, it can make them feel awkward or even demeaned
Struggling to report to an older managerWhen a younger worker has to report to a manager who’s much older, they may feel like their leader doesn’t “know how the world works now”
Different communication stylesDepending on the employee, some workers prefer face-to-face communication, and some prefer email, text, or even video conferences
Struggling to accept feedback from another generationWhen an employee receives feedback from a worker in a different generation, it can cause mixed feelings (see below)

This last point is particularly difficult. Giving and receiving feedback can be hard in general, but it’s even trickier across generations. 

For example, if a younger employee questions a group of older peers about something they’ve been doing for years, they may see the questioner as arrogant. But the opposite, an older employee questioning younger ones, may be seen as trying to assert their rank.

These challenges can make things tough, but it’s natural for people who were born in such different times to experience workplace conflict.

What matters is how we handle this workplace conflict.

How to embrace generational diversity: 8 best practices

It’s time to overcome the challenges and truly embrace generational diversity in the workplace.

Follow these best practices to nurture a healthy, inclusive culture where all ages and generations are welcome and accepted.

Embracing generational diversity best practices: A summary

Best practiceDescription
Turn to skills-based hiring to give unconscious bias the bootCombat harmful myths by reducing biases with skills-based hiring; Assess real skills and capabilities instead of relying on potentially biased resume-screening
Hire for culture add, not culture fitStop hiring for “culture fit,” a practice that perpetuates a homogenous workforce; Encourage a diverse workforce by hiring for “culture add,” which promotes diversity and alignment
Value flexibility to attract people of all agesAdopt flexible policies to attract and retain generation-diverse employees, including flexible hours, location, and benefits
Promote an inclusive company culture – and that includes inclusive leadershipEncourage an inclusive culture where every employee is accepted and welcomed; Ensure leadership is living these values and promoting inclusivity
Make sure there’s psychological safety in the workplace and encourage radical candorNurture psychological safety by ensuring employees can ask questions and innovate; Destigmatize failure and let employees know mistakes aren’t the end of the world
Train managers and workers on cross-generational communicationTrain employees how to communicate with different generations, such as teaching older workers how to use chat software; Keep several channels of communication available
Consciously assemble age-diverse project teamsBuild teams with teammates from different generations to encourage innovation; Promote intergenerational teams to build solid work relationships
Train managers and coaches on different feedback stylesTeach managers how to give feedback in ways different generations can understand and appreciate; Ensure managers aren’t using a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching

1. Turn to skills-based hiring to give unconscious bias the boot

Unfortunately, most of the issues surrounding generational diversity come down to biases and stereotypes.

Beliefs in untrue myths hurt real people, hold back thriving workplaces, and perpetuate age discrimination.

Age discrimination in the hiring process is much more prevalent than you might think. One study found a 28-year-old applicant is up to three times more likely to get an interview than a 50-year-old candidate.

A separate study found 53% of candidates have been asked to provide their birthdate on applications, and 47% have been asked to provide their date of graduation.

The best way to put an end to age discrimination and reduce these harmful biases is by adopting skills-based hiring.

Hiring managers can reduce age bias by evaluating talent through pre-employment testing. Skills-based hiring assesses real skills and capabilities instead of relying on work experience, education, resumes, and even biased applications.

We have an amazing example in Dawn Gilfillan, an SEO content writer from our content team.

Dawn faced unfortunate amounts of age discrimination during her last job search. When she never heard back from employers, she suspected it was her age that was to blame, so she stopped listing her age. She then started getting callbacks.

Dawn kept searching until she found TestGorilla. We assessed her capabilities with skills tests and saw the amazing writer she was – lucky us!

To read Dawn’s story and more, check out our 10 stories that demonstrate the power of skills-based hiring.

2. Hire for culture add, and not culture fit

“Culture fit” has been a part of the hiring process for a long time, but it’s on its way out.

Assessing candidates to see if they “fit” your culture is problematic, and it opens the door for harmful biases against race, gender, and age.

According to the BBC: “[W]hen companies reject applicants based on cultural fit, they are likely perpetuating racism, ageism, and sexism in the process.”

Don’t get us wrong – culture is important. But there’s a better way.

Culture add” is the concept of hiring a candidate whose values align with your organization’s while still valuing the diversity they bring to the table. This makes for a more inclusive system and creates a better work environment.

Hiring for culture fit perpetuates a company with primarily one or two different generations, but culture add promotes a workplace filled with generational diversity. It identifies what unites us, not what divides us.

Cultural fit is particularly problematic with companies that describe themselves as “youthful” and “energetic” because these terms can naturally steer older workers away before they’ve even applied.

Terminology is an important consideration when hiring, and the right words can make a big difference.

For more on this topic, check out our DEI glossary.

3. Value flexibility to attract people of all ages

Different generations have different working styles and preferences, and the best way to accommodate them is to be flexible yourself.

Flexibility comes in many types:

Flexibility helps satisfy a wide range of employees, no matter which generation they’re from. 

In fact, a demand for flexibility is driving the Great Reshuffle. That makes this strategy important regardless of the generations in your workforce.

Enabling worker flexibility is part of ensuring your employee experience is personalized for each worker – blanket policies don’t satisfy everyone.

A flexible work policy is particularly important. Different age groups call for different work schedules. For many workers, these schedules aren’t “nice-to-have” – they’re “must-have.”

For example, a Millennial who’s more family-minded may need to work remotely to care for their children, or a Gen Z worker who’s still in college may need to work around their study schedule.

4. Promote an inclusive company culture – and that includes inclusive leadership

Inclusivity is the key to nurturing healthy generational diversity.

This means companies need to provide equal opportunities for every employee, with every worker feeling accepted, welcomed, and appreciated.

Here are a few tips to boost inclusivity:

  • Reduce hiring bias
  • Survey employees to see how included they feel
  • Assess your employees’ access to training
  • Analyze hiring patterns and promotion patterns
  • Set inclusion as a primary business goal
  • Promote open expression and a psychologically safe workplace (more on this later)
  • Lead by example

This last point is crucial. Leaders need to believe in these values for them to work. They need to embody them, support them, and take them as seriously as any other business goal.

To maintain this healthy culture, it’s crucial to educate management on inclusivity and fair practices and hold them accountable to their goals.

5. Make sure there’s psychological safety in the workplace and encourage radical candor

Psychological safety is essential for every employee, employer, and workforce, but unfortunately, few people are familiar with the term.

Psychological safety is when employees feel safe being themselves, asking questions, and taking risks. This encourages employees to be themselves, which increases satisfaction and innovation and builds a healthier culture.

Here are a few tips for fostering a psychologically safe workplace:

  • Nurture and promote empathy
  • Encourage inclusivity and respect for differences
  • Allow your employees to experiment and make mistakes
  • Focus on your people’s skills over their connections
  • Practice honesty and radical candor

Let’s focus on the last point for a moment. An important part of psychological safety is radical candor

Essentially, this is simple honesty. It’s feedback that’s kind, clear, specific, and sincere. It’s about sharing opinions humbly but directly.

For in-depth insights on the subject, read our guide on psychological safety.

6. Train managers and workers on cross-generational communication

Yes, communication can be a barrier between generations, but we live in an advanced era.

You can tackle this issue with cross-generational communication training. Then give your workers several platforms to communicate.

Here are a few areas to train in your workers:

  • Younger employees can learn in-person communication skills
  • Older employees can learn texting and email
  • Promote openness to learning new trends and methods
  • Train people to be flexible in their communication depending on who they’re talking to

What about the different communication channels? Here are a few ideas:

  • Group chat software like Slack or Google Chat
  • Weekly huddles
  • 1:1 meetings
  • Email
  • Virtual water coolers

If employees have different communication styles, don’t go against the grain. Work with your employees to communicate with each other in ways you all find comfortable and simple.

7. Consciously assemble age-diverse project teams

Encourage age and generation diversity by consciously assembling teams with differently aged team members. 

Actively grouping employees together helps workers learn from each other and build better work relationships.

Assembling multigenerational teams accomplishes a lot:

  1. Encourages team members to learn different perspectives
  2. Gives a project a diverse range of innovation
  3. Helps employees build relationships with other generations and break down generational stereotypes
  4. Leverages the strengths of different generations

For example, a Gen Zer might have current knowledge on trends surrounding your project, but a Baby Boomer could have historical information on the industry.

Your projects benefit from this shared knowledge, but your team also gradually grows with each effort.

8. Train managers and coaches on different feedback styles

Feedback can be a difficult subject, but with the right approach, you can build an effective, healthy system.

Generational diversity training helps managers adopt various feedback styles that suit several generations and personal preferences. It also improves how employees receive feedback. 

This not only reduces conflict, but it also increases the likelihood that workers put that feedback into action.

Personalizing feedback is essential for nurturing generational diversity and is linked to the communication differences we just discussed – but it’s more than that.

Giving your people personalized feedback is a solid managerial practice that we recommend every manager adopt. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work – and ends up fitting no one.

Knowing how your people respond to feedback and how to deliver it is crucial to being an effective leader.

This is one of our top tips in our guide on how to be a good manager.

Adopt skills-based hiring to promote generational diversity

We need to be mindful and respectful of the five unique generations in today’s workforce, and that means learning how to handle generational diversity.

This strategy not only helps our current workforce but prepares us for the future, too.

We recommend healthy, inclusive cultures, training employees on a variety of communication styles, and focusing on skills over work history, resumes, and age.

Age-related diversity is an important part of the workforce, but it’s unfortunately underrated and ignored. For more on this topic, read our article on the problem with DE&I targets.

If you’d like to acquaint yourself with skills-based hiring, take a look at our test library and browse more than 300 skills tests.

Sources

  1. “Impact of a multi-generational workforce”. (2018). Workforce Insights. Retrieved April 27, 2023. https://workforceinsights.randstad.com/hr-research-reports-workmonitor-q22018
  1. “Global Leadership Forecast 2018”. (2018). DDI World. Retrieved April 27, 2023. https://www.ddiworld.com/research/global-leadership-forecast-2018 
  1. Kostoulas, John. (August 30, 2018). “Technologies Are Critical for Inclusion in the Workplace”. Gartner. Retrieved April 27, 2023.

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