Multigenerational Diversity

Why It’s Smart to Mix Up X, Y, and Z in Your Workforce

It is common in today’s workforce to find multiple generations working alongside each other. While to some extent this has always been the case, the shape of society itself has changed, with our potential workforce able to offer businesses productive contributions more flexibly and for far longer. Yet, innovative practices for how we organize work and our workforce are seemingly changing more slowly.

Multigenerational diversity provides a landscape for varied backgrounds, experiences, and values, which, if creatively embraced, will lead to rich discussions and multifaceted approaches for accomplishing goals. Managing a varied workforce also presents people-based challenges, including accommodating preferences for work approaches, communication styles, and interpersonal clashes. Additionally, ethical considerations exist around overcoming biases and stereotypical attitudes toward different age groups in the workforce that need to be addressed and overcome with internal controls, education, and empathy. In this piece, we will explore the considerations of working with multi-generational teams.

Elizabeth Kittner

I have had the privilege of working with people decades older than me in most of my organizational roles and some volunteer ones, too. I have also shouldered the responsibility of serving in people operations where I have advocated for the importance of keeping older generations in the employee pool. Several of my past colleagues have been close to retirement while also expressing they feel the most disposable based on their age or pay. It is important to work with people regarding their retirement goals and help bridge a transition plan for them. Working with people to reach their goals helps them feel valued and creates a positive working environment.

I also have advocated for younger generations to have a seat at the table to solicit their input, observe how meetings are run, and analyze how decisions are made. Involving younger team members early will help them feel valued and better prepared for higher responsibility within the organization.

Let’s also think about the challenges some of our mid-career workers encounter, such as time needed for childcare and elder care. Many people, especially women, leave the workforce in their 40s and 50s when faced with some of the flexibility needed in their schedules. As an employer, you can talk to each person to understand their needs and determine a plan that will work to help retain them.

One of the most significant benefits I have experienced in multigenerational workforces is the skills diversity it brings. There is an opportunity for older generations and younger generations to share their knowledge with each other. We can learn from each person in our workforce, and creating the opportunities to listen and learn are valuable for the organization. Likewise, a multigenerational workforce is poised to better support and connect with a multigenerational customer base. The organization will be more relatable to more people and be able to communicate better and with more depth of understanding.

Regardless of where someone is in their career and lifetime, they will have goals and requests for their careers and schedules. Practicing empathy and supporting people uniquely for where they are will lead to more engaged individuals, teams, and customers.

Gill Reindl

In my varied career, I have worked with many aspirational young graduates looking to take their first step on the career ladder, as well as with middle and more senior leaders seeking to enhance their professional skills. I have also traveled through these life stages myself, allowing me to draw on these experiences and head towards the “traditional” retirement end of the ladder. As such, I feel ever more passionate about this topic.

Business is fast-paced, and change is continuous. Organizations increasingly need to innovate, to become more agile to embrace opportunity and bring on board creative, adaptable, and resilient individuals to help them in this endeavor. Innovation comes in many forms, and in this instance, we are looking towards innovative hiring strategies. How to shape the organization differently, mixing contractors with employees, creating part roles, working with multigenerational teams, and bravely looking outside traditional structures and boxes. Portfolio careers are becoming a new norm, and fractional, multigenerational talent pools can benefit both organizations and individuals, bringing diversity in the form of new ideas and experiences.

Gen-Z are broadly known to be values-led and seek meaningful roles where they can contribute to a bigger picture, beyond feeling like an anonymous cog in a big wheel. They often bring passion, energy, and new ideas, and I concur with Elizabeth’s sentiment that building a culture that includes and supports younger team members in organizational decision making will engage them, retain them, and better prepare them for their future.

Contractors are generally juggling several independent projects and work streams. Therefore, hiring and working with them is more akin to a B2B relationship than that of a traditional employee. Taking account of this different form of relationship and adopting a flatter matrix-like project reporting structure can challenge commonly adopted hierarchical leadership and management styles and offers opportunity for a more modern shared and leadership approach. There is a role for leadership development that embraces and evolves new styles and possibilities.

People are living longer and can and often wish to engage productively for longer and healthy economies will need them to do so. Organizations surprisingly still struggle to engage and work effectively with this mature talent pool who still have a passion for work, yet often seek greater flexibility and control of their own destiny; flat out and wrung out in the desire to climb the greasy pole, generally holds less appeal during this life stage. This does not mean hard won skills and wisdom cannot add value to organizations and to those on the upwards trajectory, just that organizations must consider how to shape opportunities to take advantage of the skills on offer. There are now many initiatives evolving that aim to re-engage the mature workforce, some great part time roles, project work and job share schemes amongst others, yet employers often underutilize the contractor route as a more flexible option to deliver projects and mentor developing talent.

At GigaOm, several of our experienced practitioner analysts are more mature and as a result they have built years of technical expertise, often deployed in senior leadership roles within the sector. This rounded knowledge and wisdom is invaluable to our business and our clients.

It is an exciting time to start thinking seriously and innovatively about the opportunities and possibilities multigenerational talent can offer and how to gain best value from such a team.

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About the Authors

Gill Reindl
An organizational development consultant with 35 years’ experience gained across a variety of commercial sectors including senior leadership roles in UK higher education. An experienced researcher and project manager in areas of organizational culture, leadership development, the future of education and work. Gill has worked on several projects with GigaOm.

Elizabeth Kittner
A finance and accounting guru with a technology focus who has a passion for elevating individuals and building healthy cultures in the organizations she serves. Elizabeth is a member of GigaOm’s executive team and oversees finance and people operations. She is also an author and speaker in the areas of ethics, communication, and leadership.