This article was updated on July 25, 2018.
Generational differences based on stereotypes don't reflect the realities of today's multigenerational workforce, especially when it comes to intergenerational employees. Those employees, especially the ones who fall between millennials and the somewhat older Generation X, can serve to enhance intergenerational connections. They can understand where both millennials and Gen Xers are coming from, but don't necessarily identify with one or the other's way of thinking.
"Though it is clear that employees from different generations and life stages bring varied mindsets, preferences, and work styles to organizations, when managers view differences as strengths, the potential for collaboration is powerful, especially when fostered in inclusive workplace environments," reports Customer Experience Report.
Here are three areas in which your intergenerational employees can help your organization bridge the generational gap and what you need to do to focus on similarities, rather than differences, to keep employees of any age engaged and happy.
There are major differences in the lived experiences of millennials and Gen Xers, and those differences are embodied by your intergenerational employees. For example, millennials tend to be digital natives and thus have been filtering the world through digital technology since they were kids, according to Pew Research Center. Gen Xers, however, might not be digital natives but may possess equally high demands for technology in the workplace. You don't need to be a millennial, for example, to understand the clear value of predictive analytics or cloud-based computing.
You can look to your intergenerational employees, therefore, to try to find that technology sweet spot and add or pull back where necessary.
2. Information Access
Millennials have an obsession with sharing information and an antipathy toward silos. Older generations, including Gen Xers, may have learned to respect hierarchies and silos as controllers of access to information, but millennials prefer data to be transparent and accessible (and even free). They are even comfortable sharing personal information with marketers, according to marketing agency Mintel. Intergenerational employees may both respect hierarchies that control information while understanding the necessity to smash silos that "control" data.
Technology is making data access ever-more possible across multiple platforms and devices. Leaning on the measured opinion of intergenerational employees can help you recognize when you may need data sharing and transparency or if your initiatives are too siloed.
The social contract between employees and employers has become looser and looser, far in advance of millennials becoming the most represented generation in today's multigenerational workplace. Outsourcing, technology, the rise of independent contractors and "gig" work, as well as automation, have been altering the employment landscape for decades, and millennials have understood those changes better than anyone.
As employers have sought to reduce costs by modifying employment relationships, millennials have responded by showing a willingness to switch jobs when they need to, according to Gallup. Not because they aren't loyal, but because they don't have families or other responsibilities to consider. Unlike baby boomers, for example, who may look for stability in a long-term position.
Intergenerational employees have a foot in each camp, recognizing when loyalty may sometimes be called for if an organization values its employees, but still being flexible enough to make a move should they feel undervalued. Recognizing intergenerational employees as a barometer for how well your organization is performing in talent management, may give you a better read on your workforce turnover and ways to fix it, if necessary.
What the Generations Have in Common: A Lot
Harvard Business Review makes the case that the four generations in today's workforce share far more in common than what divides them. The article relates that leaders do the generations a disservice when they fixate on small differences and fail "to appreciate the similarities among employees of different ages." Nearly all research on the multigenerational workforce has shown "only slight differences in job attitudes and values of millennials and members of older generations."
Instead of seeing differences, HR leaders should focus on shared values. For example, flexibility has often been viewed as a key driver of engagement for millennials. And it's true, but millennials and Gen Xers value flexibility at about the same rate, according to PwC. Like technology, the need for flexibility isn't about one workplace generation, rather it cuts across the generations.
While valid generational differences do exist, what unites the generations should be just as important as what separates them. Intergenerational employees are your window into these commonalities and should be key figures to help guide you to formulate HCM strategy that is beneficial to employees no matter their age.