Creating a Diverse Culture of Talent in a Multigenerational Workforce

Kim Davis, EVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, NFP
Kim Davis, EVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, NFP

Kim Davis, EVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, NFP

The rules for business are changing rapidly. With the constant advances in technology and the growing divide in the generations of people engaged in the workplace, we need to find ways to allow this multigenerational workforce to come together using their very different behaviors, work styles and expectations to drive collaboration and change into the business.

​ A successful leader needs to know what behaviors and work styles employees normally possess  

According to expert data sources, today’s generational divide encompasses four different groups of people:

• Traditionalists (Silents) (Born between 1925 and 1946)
• Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964)
• Generation Xers (Born between 1965 and 1980)
• Generation Ys or Millennials (Born after 1980) starting into a fifth generation called Gen Z

While not everyone will ever fall specifically into one generational divide or the other, there are patterns and findings from years of expert research and assessments that find more similarities within certain generational divides than without. These diverse sets of employees experience the workplace with different expectations and needs. They also desire different “engagement factors” from generational group to group.

Employees want their employer to have a value proposition and an employment brand. That takes a call to action for employers to transform the workplace from what was a “command and controlled” hierarchical organization to a “learning and coaching” organization that meets people where they are and provides interaction and learning in a multidirectional style. Today, a successful leader needs to know what behaviors and work styles employees “normally” possess, and then learn how to “flex” their own behaviors and styles in a way that allows for each individual they lead to be their best self at work. Below are three important areas where leaders can find success in “flexing” their leadership styles to the needs and expectations of their employees.

Feedback & Communication Styles

Traditionalists respect rules and authority as it comes down the ladder and may want to be told what the priorities and needs are so they can complete them. Baby boomers can be uncomfortable sharing and following information flows that don’t come directly from a manger. Helping them find comfort in a workplace where information can and should flow in many directions to allow innovative thinking and problem solving can be an empowering lesson, especially if managers provide context and understanding about this kind of communications change. Gen X and GenY/ Millennials tend to take information from wherever it comes and will be more willing to apply it quickly. The feedback for this group might be to find a balance between confirmation and validation of data with speed and agility that could have the wrong assumptions baked in. These lessons can help leaders engage the workforce in collaboration and self-growth.

Work Processes & Technology Focus

Traditionalists and baby boomers are normally fluent with basics such as email, but some still have difficulty (or refuse) learning and adapting to newer technologies. Project management systems that allow multiple users and immediate feedback, platforms for data sharing and social media applications in the workplace can really help change the speed of work. In many instances, this is a great opportunity for a leader to introduce a collaborative learning style where the younger generational group become reverse mentors and coaches in helping to teach others how to best utilize these tools, building the knowledge base and the relationships between these groups of employees.

Work Motivation & Rewards

Traditionalists and baby boomers may have a more deep-rooted sense of duty and a feeling that “your pay is your reward.” They potentially aren’t as tuned into the need for a lot of recognition or “pats on the back.”The younger generational groups have grown up in a world that reinforces immediate and social recognition and may desire that kind of recognition to feel engaged and appreciated. Regardless of what might be the preferred recognition offerings, everyone likes to know that they’ve done a good job and that their work is appreciated and makes a difference in the success of the company; a leader’s ability to understand that can go a long way in the engagement of the workforce. The very face of work – where, how and when – is changing, as is the “why,” which is moving to more of a purpose-driven culture that reflects the values of the employee.

Leaders should look to understand the work motivation and rewards of each of their employees and flex their style in how they deliver these rewards to benefit the person, the team and the company.

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