Our workforce is made up of employees from multiple generations, each with varied work habits, preferences, and communication styles. Employers who can tap into the strengths of their multigenerational workforce—their aspirations, ideals, concerns, and more—and honor autonomy and flexibility will ultimately reap benefits of a balanced and respectful workforce.
When the pandemic turned just about everything on its head, including how we work, the barriers between home life and work life quickly became blurred and we could no longer untangle who we are at work from who we are in life. Suddenly, with Zoom meetings becoming the norm, we were inviting our coworkers into our homes for an intimate view into our lives.
In the face of these major transitions, it’s important for leaders to recognize the implications the pandemic has had on employees at different life stages—some with small children suddenly being virtually home schooled; others with elderly parents to care for—and learn to connect with every generation as they find their footing in this rapidly changing world. Taking a look at generational theory helps: rooted in sociology, the area of study explores how events and conditions during formative years impact how a new generation makes sense of the world around them. In turn, these generational trends impact how people show up at work.
M Booth recently connected with Kim Lear, founder of Inlay Insights and an expert in generation theory, to talk about building a strong multigenerational workforce, the pandemic’s impact on employees of different generations, and what she expects for the future of work. Here are the highlights from the conversation.
Leveraging the Strengths of a Multi-Generational Workforce
M Booth: What is the key to success when leading a multi-generational workforce?
Kim: One word: respect. Simply asking yourself the question “If I were born into a different generation, would I see this differently?” can give leaders the ability to see the world through the eyes of someone else. Blending the wisdom of experience and the fearlessness of naivete is the key to creating an innovative company and fostering a respectful workplace.
For Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1979), the greatest gift you can give people in this stage is their time back: write clear and concise emails, be intentional about what requires a meeting versus what can be accomplished through email.
M Booth: What do you expect the implications of the pandemic to be on the workforce behaviors across generations?
Kim: I think for all generations, the “pandemic pause” had people reevaluating where they lived, what they valued, and what they wanted to prioritize going forward.
For Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), some are retiring earlier than expected. Many have been isolated from their children and grandchildren, and there will be mental health implications as they grapple with aging in the time of Covid. But on the flip side, the era of social distancing has allowed them to quickly adapt to new technology, empowering them with new skills they can take into the workplace. So from a leadership perspective, ageist stereotypes will greatly hinder organizations’ abilities to meet the demands of today’s marketplace.
As more Millennials (born between 1980-1995) step into management roles, it can be beneficial to have conversations around boundary setting—particularly in this remote workforce where things might seem more casual over video calls. In my research, finding the line between friend and friendly can be tricky for a generation who entered the workforce during the “bring your whole self to work” era.
Overall, I expect the future of work is more flexible, optimized, and less micromanaged—a direction we were heading in with or without the pandemic.
M Booth: What do you see as the biggest priorities of employees currently and the biggest shifts in employee behavior going forward?
Kim Lear: Each generation is experiencing a unique shift in their positions. A new era of workplace trust, efficiency, and autonomy will be ushered in as the C-suite goes through a generational changing of the guard and Gen X leaders step into those positions.
Meanwhile, Gen Z (born between 1996-2010) and Millennials, who were hit hardest by the Covid-related job losses, will largely rethink what their career paths mean to them. The role of work will shift as younger people enter the workforce. The conversation will change from “do I want that job?” to “do I want that life?”