As we edge towards 2020, this will be the first time in modern history where there will be five distinguishable generations working along side each other.
According to a recent report from Maritz Motivation, as each age group holds a different set of values, motivations and knowledge, the main challenge lies in how we will create an engaged and inclusive workforce and benefit from this demographic transition.
Younger generations with different priorities threaten the validity of many traditional business processes.
The rapidly changing working demographic
Maritz forecasts between 2015 and 2020 there will be dramatic declines in the number of workers born before 1964 and marked increases in the number born later than 1980. Nearly 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring in the US every day over this period, and Generation Y, better known as Millennials, will grow to make up more than half of the working population by 2020.
The elderly (older than 70 years of age) currently make up around three per cent of the working population, but this is expected to decline to less than one per cent. Alternatively, Generation Z is predicted to increase from one per cent to seven, while Generation X will barely adjust.
These changes may seem relatively small, but they depict a major change in our demographic makeup. Many organisations, employers and leaders, especially in industries that rely heavily on baby boomers, may face potential skills shortages, while an influx of younger generations with different priorities into the workforce threatens the security and even validity of many traditional business processes.
For instance, baby boomers are enticed by more money and professional status and are motivated by professional development. Whereas Generation Y and Z are resistant to traditional power structures and working arrangements, and ultimately desire responsibility and meaning from their work rather than a high pay packet. Finding a way to incite engagement and inclusivity with such a seemingly incompatible workforce will be a major challenge for many organisations now, but more so as we head into the future. Remaining competitive as employees demand more from their employers will mean finding innovative solutions that do not alienate any workers.
Engaging a multi-generational workforce
The Sloan Center on Aging & Work published a study that examined how managers and supervisors can engage employees from different age groups and generations. In general, older or healthier workers tend to be more engaged, but other manageable factors also impacted positively. For instance, adequate training, effective development and rewards programs, and a team-based culture had a positive cross-generational effect on engagement, but the differences between what each group desires means a "one size fits all" approach will not work.
Training, development, rewards and a team-based culture have a positive cross-generational effect on engagement.
Thinking outside the box can offer some novel solutions. For instance, researchers Karen Bolser and Rachel Gosciej contemplated how we can utilise rather than merely overcome these generational differences by using a model of reverse mentoring in a paper published in the Journal of Practical Consulting.
Traditionally, mentoring puts together someone with experience and organisational knowledge to prime a much younger novice. However, for organisations to capitalise on digital natives and diverse worldviews, blurring the lines between mentor and novice can help mitigate knowledge gaps between both generations and create a culture of collaboration and respect.
In a multi-generational workforce, the researchers argue, the value of each social exchange is imperative. Relationships will emerge and be nurtured based on how participants perceive the benefits against costs. Therefore, understanding what each generation has to offer each other and strategically using differences to your advantage, is essential to foster an inclusive and engaged workforce.
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