In today's modern workplaces, diversity takes on many dimensions. One crucial aspect is the multi-generational workforce. As organizations strive to harness the full potential of their employees, they face the challenge of navigating generational differences. A stark statistic from Deloitte Workplace Insights in 2020 revealed that merely 6% of organizations believed their leaders were adequately equipped to lead a multi-generational workforce. This number highlights the significant room for improvement and the tremendous opportunity at hand, according to Megan Gerhardt, Ph.D., a professor of management and leadership at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University.
Gerhardt recently presented on an NBOA webinar on the concept of "gentelligence,” a framework for navigating intergenerational dynamics in the workplace and promoting a more inclusive and productive environment. Gentelligence centers around normalizing the idea that every generation has something valuable to learn and something to teach. By embracing this perspective, organizations can transform the dynamics of their workplaces. “Imagine a world where younger employees are welcomed as experts in their own right, and older employees feel valued and appreciated for their knowledge without fearing they are lecturing to others,” said Gerhardt. This shift in mindset offers a unique lens through which school leaders can view generational diversity. The webinar was part of NBOA’s Silver Learning Series to celebrate NBOA’s 25th anniversary.
To understand the dynamics of generational differences better, it's essential to consider the concept of generational identity. Research suggests that our most formative phase of life occurs between ages five and 20, during which our brains are more plastic and open to forming new neural connections. Events and experiences during this period significantly influence our attitudes, beliefs and perspectives. For instance, individuals who experienced significant events during this formative period, like the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to have long-term impacts on their views on safety, risk and career, as compared to those who came of age during other periods.
However, generational identity is just one layer of our overall identity, explained Gerhardt. Beyond age, other factors such as gender, race, upbringing and socioeconomic status also shape our perspectives. Understanding this multi-dimensional aspect of identity is crucial for fostering effective intergenerational relationships.
Today's workplaces are unique in that they house five different generations, making it more vital than ever to bridge the generational gap effectively. Each generation has its own narrative and understanding of what constitutes success and work values. For instance, baby boomers, who grew up during a time of post-war prosperity, often associate success with wealth, stability and climbing the corporate ladder. This perspective led to the normalization of long work hours and the term "workaholic." Millennials, on the other hand, were raised with the promise of greater opportunities, and found themselves facing resistance when they entered the workforce and sought to make their voices heard. This generational mismatch in expectations created tension and hindered the utilization of the skills and potential these younger employees brought with them.
One critical issue organizations face is transferring knowledge from retiring or departing older employees to the younger workforce. Only 21% of baby boomers reported being asked to share their wealth of knowledge with their organizations. This knowledge gap can lead to significant problems and inefficiencies within organizations.
Moreover, the failure to understand the distinct needs and norms of different generations can result in turnover issues, with younger employees feeling undervalued and older employees feeling marginalized. To address these challenges and foster productive intergenerational dynamics, Gerhardt offered four actionable practices.
Dispelling stereotypes and challenging assumptions about employees' skills and abilities is paramount to creating an inclusive and innovative environment. For instance, a common misconception is that older employees struggle with technology. However, research shows that older individuals can use technology effectively. The key difference lies in their motivation and willingness to engage with new tech. To overcome these stereotypes, organizations should challenge assumptions and provide opportunities for all employees to adapt to new technologies.
Adjust the Lens
Just as when interacting with individuals from different cultures, it's essential to approach intergenerational interactions with curiosity rather than judgment, said Gerhardt. By adjusting the lens, individuals can foster understanding and open dialogue, ultimately leading to more harmonious working relationships.
Organizations must convey that every employee, regardless of age, shares a common goal of contributing to the organization's success. Encouraging open communication and creating an environment where everyone feels valued can help bridge generational trust gaps.
Expand the Pie
The final practice revolves around recognizing that opportunities for respect, engagement and influence are not finite resources. By embracing collaboration and seeking input from individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences, organizations can enhance their overall performance and innovation.
In conclusion, the multi-generational workforce offers immense potential for organizations willing to embrace gentelligence. By challenging assumptions, adjusting perspectives, building trust, and expanding opportunities, organizations can bridge the generational gap and unlock the full potential of their diverse workforce. As the workplace continues to evolve, embracing these practices becomes increasingly essential for success in the modern world of work.
NBOA members can view this webinar recording and all webinar recordings, on a range of subjects, from technical to leadership issues. The final Silver Series webinar, in celebration of NBOA’s 25th anniversary this year, is The Power of Paradox. Learn more and register here.