Furthermore, Birkman conducted an interesting study in which it states that although companies spend time and resources on creating a diverse workplace, many limit their definition of diversity to gender and ethnicity. Most importantly, one of the most daunting diversity challenges – generational diversity – often goes overlooked and unaddressed.
Thus, a lot of employers have not yet accepted that generational diversity is the key to a balanced workforce that reflects the varying ages of customers and society.
Generational Diversity in Australia
The complexity of Australia’s changing age structure in the workforce is affirmed by recent ABS statistics: the proportion of the population aged under 15 years is projected to fall from 20% today to around 14% by 2051.
Furthermore, the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over will double, increasing from 14% today to more than 28% in 2051 (Birkman).
In Australia’s growing economy there is a need to both fill the ongoing labour demands as well as replace retiring or downshifting staff. And at the strategic level, there is the need to ensure that the knowledge and leadership of the Baby Boomers is effectively transferred to the emerging Generation X managers and Millennial employees.
With all these generations mixing in the workforce at all levels, there is a need to understand the generational differences and get the most out of this age diversity. Indeed, having a mix of generations in the workplace is nothing new, but traditionally the different age groups have been stratified with the older people in the senior managerial positions while the younger people were at the front desk, on the factory floor, or out in the field. Not so today.
According to McCrindle research, the new reality is one where teams of diverse ages work on a project, where older leaders manage across several generations, or increasingly where young graduates manage older workers.
What does this mean for employers?
The research has uncovered that while 27% of people aged under 26 stated that they preferred working with colleagues of a similar age, 32.7% said that a mix of different ages was better for overall workplace success. Therefore, employers should try to create a workplace where interactions between the different ages can take place, and where inter-generational perspectives are shared.
Employers should also remember that the generation gaps need to be bridged from both sides. While Baby Boomers and Generation X employees must better understand and engage with the emerging Generation Y’s, it is fundamental that Millennials are facilitated to better connect with the older staff and customers.
Young workers appreciate and want diversity
Deloitte recently published findings from a study which showed that 69% of employees who believe their senior management teams are diverse, would also describe their working environments as motivating and stimulating (compared to 43% of younger workers who don’t perceive their leadership teams as diverse). And 78% of Millennials who say their management teams are diverse report their companies perform strongly in generating profits.
Millennials and Gen Z both correlate diversity with a forward-thinking mindset and view diversity as a tool for boosting both business and professional performance, especially when diversity is embedded in the senior management teams.
Respondents who perceive their company and senior management teams to be diverse say their employers can help employees be more attuned to ethics, be more creative, develop talent more effectively and nurture emotional intelligence.
However, the study found that both millennials and Gen Z respondents believe most business leaders are not truly committed to creating diverse workplaces. In fact, roughly two-thirds of respondents from both generations not only believe leaders simply pay “lip service” to diversity, but they also believe that only formal legislation can adequately advance workplace diversity.
To conclude, Australian employers should strive to create a diverse team of different ages. Leveraging the unique strengths of each generation and enabling them to learn from each other creates a more collaborative, engaged and learned environment. And when employees have more opportunities to learn at work, their engagement, productivity, and overall happiness increases.
But happiness isn’t always present in multi-generational workplaces and employers must be aware of this. Indeed, it is true that people from different generations can grow and learn from one another as they are exposed to one another’s ideas and experiences. The new perspectives they gain can spark new ideas and prompt new ways of working. But the potential for conflict and misunderstanding is also very real and inter-generational conflict within the workplace is a growing issue.
For example, different generations can struggle to understand one another’s values and working styles. Working together and sharing power can be problematic. And as more people delay their retirement, younger generations can feel that their opportunities for career advancement are being restricted.
The bottom line is, all employees want to feel valued and respected for their talent, skills, and unique experiences. By considering the influences and attributes of each generation, there can be better alignment of worker strengths with the company’s goals. And by employer’s gaining an understanding of generational differences and helping their team work together towards a common goal, individuals may realize that they have more in common with their workplace peers than they have differences.