What Are The Implications Of a Multigenerational Workforce?

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In today’s job market, we are seeing changes occur at an ever-increasing rate. Change can be quite exciting, of course. But it also comes with a certain level of anxiety, fear, and apprehension.

When we are faced with change, we are also faced with an opportunity to interpret that change as either positive or negative.

And how we chose to interpret the change, and the actions we take to embrace it, adapt to it, or fight it, will ultimately determine whether we experience the change as positive or negative.

Among the changes in the workplace we have been experiencing at a greater rate in recent years, we can mention developments in technology, the growth of globalization, and an increased emphasis on inclusion and diversity.

These changes are all interrelated, meaning an increase in one spurs an increase in the others. They are, at the same time, changes and factors for change.

In this short article, we are going to be taking a closer look at diversity and inclusion in the workforce – specifically, as it pertains to diversity in age.

What are the implications? What are the benefits and potential pitfalls? What other areas are affected because of this change?

What it means to have a multigenerational workforce

When we are in our formative years, we spend a large portion of our time at school surrounded by people our own age who are more or less at the same point in their professional journey.

What Are the Implications of a Multigenerational Workforce

However, once we leave school and enter the workforce, we no longer find ourselves surrounded exclusively by people from our own generation

Instead, we are put in a position to interact with people from several different generations, each with their own quirks and specificities.

A multigenerational workforce is said to occur when the personnel in a given company include people from different generations: baby boomers, gen X, gen Z, and Millenials.

A multigenerational workforce is, thus, inevitable. And there is nothing new about recent graduates working in a structure with seasoned veterans. However, the weight of the word “multigenerational” has changed significantly in recent years. 

Furthermore, traditional workplace hierarchy has been increasingly challenged such that what is considered a multigenerational workforce has taken on a slightly different meaning than it had for previous generations of workers.

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation

Each generation is known for a specific trait or a specific event (or series of events) that defines them. But has that always been the case?

If we consider Millennials, Gen Z, Gen X, and Baby Boomers, we would probably have a relatively easy time reaching a consensus as to what each generation is known for and what stereotypes separate them from other generations

However, if we were to keep going back in time – The Silent Generation, The Greatest Generation, The Lost Generation – we would find an understanding and a consensus far more difficult to reach.

The fact that defining each generation with a reductive series of stereotypes and “common characteristics” is a relatively new phenomenon. And its “importance” has grown over the years.

This is due mainly to the increasing speed and ground-breaking nature of technological advancements.

It has come to a point where each generation is the first to come of age with a certain ubiquitous technology – the automobile, radio, television, home computers, the internet, smartphones, social media, etc. 

A business's responsiveness is key to its viability

Changes occur in the workplace, in the job market, and in the global economy. The typical consumer changes the way they make decisions, how they make purchases, and on what set of criteria. This is not new. This has always been the case. 

A business's responsiveness is key to its viability

For a business to thrive, the business must be able to quickly react to these changes, assimilate to the “new normal”, and even anticipate it.

The fact that changes are occurring at a faster rate has revealed a greater importance of a business’s ability to respond. Traditional, rigid hierarchal structures are cumbersome.

They have proven ill-equipped to respond to shifting market demands. This realization has birthed a variety of experiments in company hierarchy dating back to the 1970s and increasing in popularity ever since.

As the 2016 study – put out by Judith Heerwagen, Ph.D., J.H. Heerwagen & Associates Kevin Kelly and Kevin Kampschroer, US General Services Administration – states: 

“As organizations become more laterally structured, boundaries begin to break down as different parts of the organization need to work more effectively together. Boundaries between departments as well as between job categories (manager, professional, technical) become looser, and there is a greater need for task and knowledge sharing.”

The result of these changes in company hierarchy (or, as the study puts it: the disintegration of company hierarchy) means that workforces are less frequently divided in terms of age:

Instead, it is increasingly common to see people of varying ages – from varying generations – working side by side within the same department

Other factors contributing to the trend

  • An increased lifespan

A longer lifespan means more years spent on the job market. It used to be standard fare to leave the workforce once you’ve reached the age of 65. This is becoming less and less the case.

  • A decrease in ageism

Senior citizens are seen as valuable members of the community who can still make a significant contribution. On the other side of the coin, the boom in entrepreneurialism has also meant that we are seeing people access high levels of the business community right out of university - with some business owners even choosing not to go to university. The contributions we’ve been seeing from both young and old mean that it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold onto archaic biases based on someone’s age.

  • Greater career mobility

People are moving from job to job and from sector to sector at a greater frequency than ever before. Even making a career change at 40 (something unheard of twenty or thirty years ago) is not stigmatized and instead remains a viable option for many – as do side hustles while continuing to work full-time. The result of this increase in mobility means that seeing seasoned professionals working alongside recent graduates in the same positions is not as rare as it once was.

Positive effects of this trend

Variety is the spice of life. And nobody wants to be stuck in a bland work environment.

Positive effects of this trend

When we acknowledge the benefits of workplace diversity, it’s important that we bear in mind that diversity is not limited to gender, race, and sexual orientation. Diversity also includes age.

Being surrounded and influenced by people of several different generations can have many significant advantages:

  • Broadening your horizons
  • Seeing problems and solutions from a different perspective
  • Understanding your target audience or target customer better
  • Improving your ability to adapt and change

Pitfalls to avoid

Naturally, while having a more diverse workforce - one with more generations represented - comes with obvious benefits, there are still some traps that you could easily fall into if you don’t have the right frame of mind.

Pitfalls to avoid
  • Be wary of relying on stereotypes

We often tend to group people together under one label and attach all kinds of meanings about them accordingly. Painting with such a broad brush will not give you a very accurate picture. Gen Xers have often been referred to as “slackers.” While this may hold true for many individual members of Generation X, there are just as many for whom that moniker is completely inaccurate. Additionally, often the stereotypes contradict each other. For example, only millennials know how to make money online without previous experience. Yet, they are also stereotyped as not being hard workers. Which one is it? The answer: none of the above.

  • Be careful not to form cliques

There is a natural tendency to want to stay close to “your kind.” But this is not the best way to grow or to get the most out of any given experience. If employees only interact with those they are similar to, what is the point of having diversity in the workplace? How are the employees going to benefit from the diversity they are surrounded with if they chose to only interact with “their kind”, which includes coworkers of the same generation?

Furthermore, it could lead to self-segregation in the workplace. Be careful, and be on the lookout for the formation of cliques. And, above all, be ready to take action to make sure your workplace doesn’t fall into this trap.

The bottom line

In today’s workplace, there is greater diversity than ever before. One area where this diversity can be seen is in the ages of the people working in a given department at a given company.

This diversity of ages (diversity of generations represented in the workplace) can be of great benefit to both the company as a whole and to its individual employees. 

Diversity provides us with opportunities to expand our horizons, learn about others, and discover new ways to look at problems, both old and new

Like all opportunities, the benefits of a multigenerational workforce are only as strong as our willingness to take advantage of them.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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