You may not have heard the term generational diversity before, but that only emphasizes how important it is to discuss it. Generational diversity is defined as the presence and inclusion of individuals belonging to all generations. When discussing generational diversity, there is often confusion around what exactly defines a generation. According to the Pew Research Center, the main generations in America are the Silent Generation (those born between 1920-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1996), and Generation Z (1997-2012). These are not universally agreed-upon boundaries, but they should provide you with an idea of who belongs in each generation.
So, why does generational diversity matter? In the context of DEI, it is an often overlooked, yet vital, aspect of corporate diversity and inclusion. Nearly every workplace has an extensive range of ages and experiences, so ensuring that communication across generations is respectful and clear is vital to a company’s success. People of each generation have distinct differences in their experiences, which influences their values and viewpoints. The different world views a Baby Boomer and Millennial may hold can be an excellent tool for innovation, but it can also lead to communication issues and varying priorities. When a company has a diverse, respectful attitude towards generational diversity, the different skill sets of varying generations can lead to a more flexible, agile, and adaptable workplace.
To harness the power of generational diversity, it’s essential to understand the two main roadblocks that can hinder inter-generational success. The first of these potential barriers is communication. Over the past few centuries, communication has constantly been evolving, bringing with it new ideas and attitudes about proper communication etiquette and usage. Some older generations may prefer phone calls and face-to-face meetings, while younger employees may prefer emails and messaging apps, for example. Similarly, individuals in different generations may have varying preferences about the frequency or formality of communication. While there is no singular “right way” to communicate, every employee must be able to communicate with each other freely. By holding open, honest conversations around communication preferences and using a mix of different communication channels, companies can limit misunderstandings and ensure that all employees feel included in the workplace conversation.
The second roadblock that can arise in intergenerational spaces is differing expectations. This can be especially insidious, as expectations are rarely stated explicitly yet can lead to miscommunications and conflicts when not addressed. Many older employees emphasize loyalty to a company, while younger individuals might prefer to “try on” several companies before finding a good fit. These diverging attitudes can reflect different motivations, leading to misunderstandings between employees who don’t understand each other’s expectations and views. Like communication, differences in expectations are best remedied by open channels of discussion that allow employees to understand each other’s motivations. Once a shared understanding is present, employees can harness their knowledge of each person’s expectations to prevent future misunderstandings.
While addressing communication and differences in expectations is vital, you can also start your personal generational diversity journey today. When trying to understand your possible misconceptions about other generations, think about what attributes and stereotypes people mistakenly assign to your generation. Using your own experiences as a lens can help boost your empathy and give you a clearer picture of the biases that other generations may face. Finally, it’s important to remember that while there are differences across generations, the truth is that individuals of all generations are more alike than different. By recognizing our similarities, we can forge stronger cross-generational relationships and create a more inclusive culture for all.