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Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Myths and Realities

Posted By Sharon Lewis, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017

Time Flies

Did I Act that way at the age of 22?  —– YES, you did!

Human tendency looks at each new generation and sees radically different behaviors than those which they themselves expressed. Wharton Business School Professor Peter Cappelli says that “many managers overemphasize the generational differences, in part, because they forget what it was like to be young themselves.” Is this a true or cynical comment?”

A multi-generational workplace is not a new phenomenon. So what, if anything, is different today?

NYHRPS Forum participants gathered to explore this question on the morning of July 14, 2015, when they gathered, under the facilitation of Bo Young Lee, Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader for Marsh LLC.

Across the generations, we hold many common human values and goals. Yet, we view others through a lens that says “what experiences have we shared” and in turn, we apply judgements that are often broad brushed and untrue when we see behaviors that appear unfamiliar to us. As a group, the NYHRPS participants agreed that regardless of the common values and goals shared by the five generations living in the 21st Century, the digital natives, born after 1980, is behaviorally different. Technology has allowed them to connect in ways never before experienced and to work fluidly across borders and boundaries to gain access to information in real time to make decisions. Rather than focusing on the wonderful impacts of technology into their/our lives, we focus on the behavioral differences that this younger generation exhibits. Perhaps, we need to take a breath and say “Enough!"

 

What should HR leaders be doing to create a workplace that supports open communications and understanding across all ages, and builds on the unique values and strengths of each generation?

Bringing diverse groups of people together is not the same as making the individuals feel included. Forum members were asked to consider the way traditional Diversity programs address, or fail to address, the multi-dimensional backgrounds of the individual. Progressive teams are using an intersectional approach which demands that we shift the conversation away from distinct labels and categories to a broader view of the person.

Impact: Workforce estimates by 2020 show millennials comprising over 50% of the population, with a profile that includes nearly 40 percent non-white race or ethnicity. Traditional labels no longer apply, and many millennials frown on labeling anyway. (Pew Research in the Deloitte University Press)

Radical Transparency, a concept where there are zero hidden agendas and information is made available to everyone, has become a norm for Millennials

Impact: With unprecedented access to information, and growing up in a networked world where you can establish a relationship without ever meeting someone, millennials take an approach to trust that differs from previous generations.

Millennials are radically transparent because they want to create a level playing field and trust people intrinsically. They embrace an egalitarian approach to work. Likewise, with this plethora of information available to them, they want to be heard and they want their opinions to be considered — in spite of the years of experience they have yet to live.

Command and Control Organizational Structure vs. Collaborative Structure: Today’s hierarchical pyramid structures are less likely to work for the senior leaders of 2030. How should HR leaders be redefining the way we develop tomorrows’ leaders, given the increasingly diverse global environment?

Impact: Millennials have been brought up in a structured world with hyper scheduled programming. However, within that construct of scheduling and structure, the millennials’ schedule was based on their individual dreams and aspirations. Contrast this with boomers who were raised with a pre-determined structure. (Think daily print newspapers vs real time, self-defined news feeds)

Does one structure have more accountability? Yes and No. Understanding the specific business line is important as highly regulated industries must include a series of imposed operational requirements to remain in business. That being said, many of today’s most successful initiatives have been exponentially enhanced through collaborative environments where intrinsic motivations, as compared to imposed motivations, lead the business process.

O tempora o mores (Oh the times! Oh the customs!)”, an age-old colloquialism from Cicero criticizes present day attitudes and trends. As leaders, we will do ourselves and those from other generations justice with an attitude that displays more flexibility toward those we work with. Let patience and learning prevail.

___________________________

About Sharon Lewis

Sharon Lewis is an independent consultant specializing in branding and communications strategies. Sharon sits on the Marketing Committee of NYHRPS and has an appointment on the Executive Council of AARPNY. Follow her @sharonlewisnyc.

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