This article was updated on July 24, 2018.
Multigenerational workforces in large organizations are the new normal. The Q4 2015 ADP Workforce Vitality Report (WVR) reflected measurable growth in wages for both the youngest category of workers and the oldest. For example, by tracking the same worker from a year ago, wage growth for job holders was 2.4 percent for workers 55 and older, 3.9 percent for workers between 34 and 54, 6.8 percent for workers between 25 and 34 and 8.6 percent for workers 25 and under.
Boomers vs. Millennials
The biggest difference in wage growth is seen between the oldest and youngest workers. This makes sense — older workers are already earning much higher salaries than workers who are just starting their careers, so their percentage growth will be much lower than a millennial worker just starting to climb up the ladder.
Turnover rate highlights another stark contrast between the generations, with the turnover rate for the 16–24 segment at 59.4 percent and the 55+ segment at a mere 9.8 percent. This nearly 50 percent difference between the generations reflects the significant cultural differences each generation has experienced. Older workers were born in an era when it was expected they would try to start and end their careers with the same organization — therefore, they place great value on loyalty. On the other hand, millennials have no such expectation and are typically more than willing to jump at opportunities they find satisfying.
Accommodating an age-diverse group of talent on both the younger end (under 35) and older end (over 55) of the age spectrum should be a primary focus as HR leadership seeks to navigate the difficult position of engaging four generations of workers.
The following are three major challenges and some possible solutions to them:
1. Differences Create Conflict (or Opportunity)
Each workplace generation offers unique strengths and specific challenges. Workers over 55 years old — who are nearing retirement age — may have lengthy experience and institutional memory, while employees under 35 may be tech-savvy and eager to prove themselves.
"To be highly effective in today's world, [HR] leaders need to learn the propensities of each generation and employ strategies for engaging them in ways that reflect their expectations, style and priorities," Michael Boyes wrote in an article for AIG.
To minimize generational conflict, it's important to facilitate an ongoing organizational discussion about differences and how to best accommodate them. Instead of treating differences as a problem, HR leaders can use them as an opportunity to unite the organization through community and education. By establishing trust through a formalized mentorship program through which older and younger employees get together to exchange ideas, they can work together to accomplish collective goals and discuss the varied ways each generation would address problems that occur daily.
2. Communication and Working Styles
Methods of working and communicating can vary depending on generational differences. Older employees may prefer a lot of autonomy, while younger employees may look for collaboration opportunities or seek continuous feedback on their performance. According to CIO, there may also be generational differences regarding preferred channels of communication. Older workers might prefer using the telephone and email, while younger workers may use SMS and social media. The key to bridging these differences is leadership communication that accommodates age and working-style diversity.
"Older workers can convey wisdom gained from decades of experience. Younger ones have fresh ideas and technical skills," according to The Denver Post. "Yet the two groups often don't coalesce for the benefit of themselves and their employers."
Therefore, it is HR leadership's responsibility to understand these differences and use an inclusive, cross-generational approach to ensure initiatives are accessible and digestible regardless of age bracket.
3. Expectations From Benefits, Training and Development
One size does not fit all when it comes to offering benefits, training and development opportunities. For instance, millennials tend to prioritize flexibility and work-life balance, while older employees may seek financial incentives above all. Being flexible on benefits offered will be important as well, especially since millennials prioritize choice, according to Forbes. As employees near retirement, they will obviously focus on their pension, while younger employees are likely looking to grow their skillsets.
HR can cater to these disparate needs by surveying employees and then analyzing that data to decide which benefits and training are necessary to satisfy each generation. Although organizations cannot offer everything each group deems important, an understanding of each group's must-haves can inform strategies and guide organizations toward a compromise all employees can get behind.
As multigenerational workforces in large organizations become the new normal, accommodating age diversity will be a major focus. HR leaders should be catalysts for important conversations within their organizations and lead efforts to ensure the flexibility needed to suit differing generational expectations. While far from easy, such conversations are the key to understanding and managing the growing age diversity found in the U.S. workplace.
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