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The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that there are five generations “working side by side in the workforce” today for the first time in history.
This is another important type of diversity that drives innovation. Just as we talk about ethnic, gender and experience diversity, each generation brings its own perspectives to the table that are valuable and spark creative solutions.
It’s that nature versus nurture thing. We are influenced as much by the environment, culture and values we were raised in, as we are by our DNA. I realize as I travel across the country and the world, what a difference the values, culture and opportunities around us make in our behavior, choices and, in many cases, our opportunities and language.
People are working longer while new generations enter the workforce every year, and each generation brings something unique to the workforce. They also bring their own conditioning about women’s roles in the workplace and what constitutes appropriate workplace attire, behavior, composure and culture. Yet, we all share a common humanity.
So, how do we manage a multi-generational workforce? How do we maximize it, especially to drive innovation and creativity?
I spoke with Mary Lee Gannon, who has been a CEO for about 20 years, currently as CEO of a $24 million healthcare foundation, is also a certified executive coach, and has written about these issues, including in two books.
Here are eight suggestions from our discussion:
- Park your assumptions outside the door: It’s easy to make assumptions about people based on their age or culture, for example, but it’s more important to let people unfold before you with an open mind. Let them surprise you.
- Let people show you how adaptable they are: We can assume that people are set in their ways or have cultural orientations that drive them toward certain behaviors – such as being more or less proactive, or more or less up-to-date – yet we all bring value to the table. Let them show you what they know.
- Listen to the entertainment of other generations in your workplace: If you’re a Millennial working with Baby Boomers, or vice versa, ask them what kind of music and movies they like and listen to and watch those to better understand them.
- Listen to your self-talk: Are you telling yourself you’re “not hip enough” or “too old” or “too young” or such? That’s just in your way, so notice it and pivot your self-talk by remembering the value you bring, and demonstrating it.
- Embrace the diversity of ideas from the different perspectives and values: Each of us brings unique life and work experiences that cause us to connect dots differently, leading to different ways to come up with ideas. Those sparks can be magic, if you embrace them.
- Be prepared: When you are prepared, your confidence increases, your presence is stronger, and your communication is more fluid, because you know your material. This includes coming prepared for tough questions.
- Use examples from different cultures and generational references: Paying attention to the cultures of the generations in your workplace and learning about the ones that are new to you, will teach you examples you can use as analogies or metaphors in your meetings or workplace discussions. Don’t fake it, though. Just try to bridge the gap.
- See everyone as a peer: When you inherently see each person as a peer – regardless of their “level” in the workplace – you naturally treat them with the respect every human being deserves, and you are more open to their ideas and perspectives.
Each generation has treated “working” differently, especially for women. When you remember that people in your workplace may have been raised with different messages about women in the workplace, about various types of work, and about expectations of the workplace, it’s easier to tap into the potential of this unique 21st century diversity for the benefit of the organization – and of each person in it who wants to thrive by being who they are.
“Every generation wants to know that the work they’re doing is purposeful and makes a difference, no matter how old they are, what ethnicity, race, male or female,” Gannon explained. They want to be challenged and have autonomy too.
“So we must create a workplace culture where people feel they are accepted, can do meaningful work and can thrive.”
February 28, 2019 at 10:57PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs