Bridging the Generation Gap: How to make the most of everyone’s experience

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

In the past few weeks, we’ve been considering how the landscape of Diversity in the workplace has evolved, as part of the run up to our Conference and Awards celebration on 8 February.  These changes have informed the panel topics for our conference and have also shaped some predictions for the next decade in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) that we will share on the day. Our final panel of the day will discuss how the intergenerational mix in the workplace has shifted over the years and how companies are bridging the differences between them.

The way it was
When I first set up Voice At The Table, the prevailing winds of leadership and culture in organisations were blowing from my own generation – the Gen X era (1965-1980).

But even then, organisations were already attuned to the fact that, before too long, the mix of five generations in the workplace will make it more difficult to attract, retain, engage and empower talent in the same way it’s been done for decades before. Demands to tweak working culture became more and more forceful, with a growing number of employees requesting (even expecting) the ability to work more flexibly, be led in a more empathetic, invested fashion, and be developed by sophisticated, knowledgeable managers.

Where we are now
Fast forward 10 years and the intergenerational landscape has become even more complicated, with a large proportion of employees (up to ¾ of the global workforce) belonging to the Gen Y group (more commonly known as the millennials, those born between 1982 and 1996).  Add to the mix a growing ageing employee population and a robust representation of Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012), and you have a cocktail of challenges around motivation, organisation and even leadership. Stereotypes about each generation abound (Gen Z always glued to their phone, Gen Y are entitled, even the term Boomers being used as an insult), so finding a way to bridge and even leverage these differences has become a topic of great interest.

The good news
While the conversation so far has focused on the differences between expectations and values, we are seeing evidence of these differences being bridged by recognising and acknowledging the strengths that each generation adds to the mix – from experience in stressful work scenarios to the natural use of technology, people are valuing the input and experience offered by the various age groups. Even more promising is the fact than, putting difference aside, people are starting to see more commonalities between the generations than they had expected to see before. While it may have been the millennials who insisted on ‘purpose-driven’ work, for instance, it became apparent that everyone cares about purpose and motivation, not just the millennials. Beyond purpose, all generations also share a desire for respect, growth and development opportunities, meaning in their work, flexibility and financial reward.

The most common thread to it all, then, is the fact that focusing on Inclusion – listening to individuals, challenging one’s assumptions and not stereotyping – will make it easier to make everyone feel a sense of belonging at work, regardless of which letter follows their Generation.