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How to Design a Generationally Diverse Workforce


By 2030, little more than a decade from now, the global economy will likely be in the midst of a major transformation. Companies and investors grapple with constantly changing conditions, but according to Bain & Company, research points to an unusual level of volatility in the decades ahead. To understand why, let’s look at the three major forces that will shape the 2020’s: demographics, automation, and inequality. These forces are already in motion.

The majority of the world’s workforce is aging quickly. Bains & Company forecasts US labor force growth, for instance, will slow to 0.4% per year in the 2020’s. That major demographic shift is bringing an end to the abundance of top talent that has fueled economic growth since the 1970’s. Thanks to living longer and healthier lives, many people are working well into their 60’s and beyond, but the trend toward a later retirement is not likely to offset the negative effects of aging populations.

As the total size of the labor force either stays level or declines in many markets, the momentum for economic growth is projected to slow down. If it does, governments will face major challenges including skyrocketing healthcare costs, old-age pensions and high debt levels.

The next phase of automation has begun, and it will accelerate in the years ahead. Faced with a rising scarcity of top talent, organizations and investors are more likely to draw increasingly on automation technologies, which in turn would boost productivity. In order to grow economies, we need demand to match rising output. It is forecasted the rapid spread of automation may eliminate as many as 20% to 25% of current jobs—equivalent to 40 million displaced workers and depress wage growth for many more to come.

The U.S. is headed for a potentially dangerous social rift, this time between Millennials and Baby Boomers, each wrestling for diminishing jobs and shrinking government assistance or as an example, Gen Xers and Millennials share many similar needs, expectations such as innovative workplace, flexible schedule, inclusion and leaders who can also be a mentor.

In the next decade or so, automation and demographics will become a new dimension to the economic and social pressures already concerning the U.S. and societies around the world, according to Bain & Company. This conflict is not new, but it will pit Millennial workers displaced by machines against Baby Boomers living on Social Security and Medicare.

It is important for leaders to be aware of and understand the different attitudes and expectations of an intergenerational workforce and how to manage them effectively and to manage the potential collision points that may arise such as work ethic and managing change, etc. Best practices such as good communication with flexible leadership styles will increase your opportunity of successfully managing a productive workforce and meet the expectations and needs of your cross generational workforce.

For example, Gen Xers and Millennials share similar needs and expectations such as an innovative workplace, flexible schedule, diversity and inclusion, and leaders who walk the talk. Millennials are more interested in hearing that organizations are willing to train them as part of their “role, they aren’t looking for just a “JOB.” Consequently, they expect more choices and freedom to pursue their career development. They even require a new type of leadership and coaching style with immediate, ongoing feedback. Armed with the knowledge of this generation's specific needs and developing training opportunities to increase their career growth will enhance their productivity and support internal retention programs.

The best organizations to work for must be sensitive and embrace the unique needs of each generation and what the individuals are looking for, such as what makes their work rewarding, which environment is most productive, and what types of workloads, schedules, and policies contribute to a workplace that attracts and retains top talent.

Smart leaders have learned to leverage the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skills of their employees and use their differences to maximize the organization’s overall mission and goals.

The strategies shared below are key to creating a successful, generationally diverse workforce:

Accommodate employee’s differences: This means treating employees as they do their customers. Leaders identify and try to serve their employees’ preferences such as life-work balance, flextime, and scheduling options to accommodate a diverse workforce.

Create workplace choices: Allow the workplace to shape itself around the work being done, customers being served, and people who do the work. This translates to decreased bureaucracy, casual dress code, short chain of command, a relaxed and informal environment where coming to work is fun.

Operate from an informed leadership style: Leaders must be direct but truthful, and effectively communicate the organization's larger vision, specific goals, and measurements. They provide autonomy to do the work and reward performance in a manner that is meaningful.

Respect competence and initiative: They assume the best of their people. Organizations hire carefully to ensure a good match between the person and the role.

Promote retention: They are concerned and focused on retention, offering a variety of training, one-to-one coaching, and management opportunities.

Leadership Styles Across Generations

It is proven that organizations that embrace flexible leadership styles to effectively address the needs and expectations of multiple generations will have a competitive advantage in today’s war for top talent.

The following are best practices for each generation:

Traditionalists:

  • Create positive working relationships by gaining trust and respecting their experience without being intimidated by it.

  • Gain their confidence by demonstrating compassion and understanding.

  • Show them they matter.

Baby Boomers:

  • Preferred leadership style is collegial and consensual.

  • Gain their confidence by asking them if they need support and not assume they do.

  • Approach them with respect for their achievements.

  • Involve them in participating in the organization's direction and implementation of change initiatives.Share with them, they are an important part of the solution.

  • Challenge them to contribute as part of a team to solve organizational problems.

Gen Xers:

  • Respect the experiences that have shaped their beliefs and understanding.

  • Tell them the truth, especially when it’s hard.

  • Honor their sense of life/work balance and need for flexibility.

  • Offer mentoring programs.

Millennials:

  • Respect their experiences that have shaped their beliefs and thinking regarding work and life.

  • Invite them to be part of a team that exposes them to new areas of the organization

  • Provide them with clear expectations and long-term goals.

Strategies for Successful Communication:

  • Delegate work in a way that involves the strengths of each generation (develop a cross-generational team) that allows for everyone’s input.

  • Hold fewer and shorter meetings for Gen Xers and Millennials, they prefer short and concise meetings with a purpose.

  • Customize educational programs that package the content in a meaningful manner that all generations can relate to.

Best Practices for Leading a Multi-Generational Team:

  • Study generational composition; use the information in your HR strategies.

  • Educate employees about the generations, using a variety of formats.

  • Match workforce to customer base.

  • Include all generations on boards and councils both internally and externally.

  • Support continuation education (lifelong learning, tuition reimbursement, coaching, etc.)

  • Reward leaders for retention and engagement of their team.

  • Reward performance and productivity without regard to age.

  • Offer horizontal movement (to gain experience and break down silos).

  • Plan for succession, ensure you have talented and engaged Millennials and Gen Xers to fill the roles as Baby Boomers retire.

  • Offer mentoring programs (to transfer knowledge between junior and senior employees).

  • Offer flexible scheduling (part-time work, contract, job sharing, tele-commuting.

  • Offer a wide variety of benefit options to attract members of each generation (auto, life, and health insurance, 401(k) matches, alumni groups, etc.)

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO of Generational Guru is an award-winning speaker, professional business consultant, and published author who energetically engages international audiences with her practical strategies for attracting, growing, and retaining top talent and loyal customers from every generation. Sherri brings over twenty years of hands-on experience to support you in designing generational solutions that address:

  • Cross-Generational Leadership Challenges

  • Generational Blind Spots in Sales

  • Effective Recruitment and Retention

  • Marketing to Millennials

For more information, please contact Sherri via email at sher@generationalguru.com or text/call her at 469-971-3663.


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