< Back to Insights

Leveraging Generational Diversity as a DEIA Strategy

Tell me your generation without telling me your generation.

Do you miss the office, keep your camera on in Zoom meetings, and use your printer liberally? Are you in love with the flexibility of remote work and roll your eyes at authority?

Do you like a lot of feedback from your boss and bring your avocado toast to meetings?

Perhaps you plan to stay at your current job for 8 months, or until something better comes along?

You’ve likely formed mental images of each of these employees. You may even feel like you know these “people” and you’ve pegged their generations. But, no matter your generation, if you’ve read past the title of this post, you know these descriptions are based on stereotypes, not actual people, and you are committed to building mutual respect to connect better across generations in your workplace.  Read on for tips to help you do just that.

Addressing The Challenges of Four Generations at Work

Understanding What Shapes a Generation
To work nearly anywhere in 2024 is to work alongside four generations shaped by the social, political, and economic forces of their early days. The generational behaviors and mindsets we observe in our colleagues emerge from the values they formed mostly before the age of 15. Because each of us is shaped by the context of our early years, the first step to connecting intergenerationally at work is understanding those formative conditions.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Raised in a resource-limited environment after WWII, Boomers internalized frugality, “small-C” conservatism, and a wait-your-turn, pay-your-dues attitude toward work. With earned prosperity, they came to value material consumption and leaned into hierarchical leadership structures.

Generation X (born 1966-1980)
Gen X, the “latchkey” generation, adopted a “figure-it-out” mentality, which made them fiercely independent and resourceful. Consequently, Gen X prioritizes autonomy, flexibility, and informality at work. Eschewing hierarchical leadership structures, this generation prizes earned status.

Millennials (born 1981-1996)
Millennials, currently the largest generation, which makes up over a third of the workforce, watched a total digital transformation of the world, the horror of 9/11 and the 20 years of war that ensued. “Elder” Millennials graduated from college or came of age in and around the 2008 financial crisis, making them value experiences over material goods, and the life part of work-life balance over all else.

Generation Z (born 1997-2012)
Having never known a time without the internet or social media, the youngest generation at work, Gen Z,  are known as digital natives. This always-connected generation can access the whole world all day every day without leaving their homes. As a result, they value pluralism, authenticity, and free expression.  Gen Z employees want jobs that align with their social values and priorities and will push employers to see the value in those things, too.

Find Common Ground
Though each generation is uniquely shaped by its own historical moment, and “show up” differently at work as a result, employees of all generations share common challenges and needs. Take work-life balance as an example: Everyone wants and needs it. But people of different generations may have different ideas about what it looks like.

Boomers are known to enjoy their vacations and yet leave a lot of PTO on the table. For the Gen Xer, it might be work-life integration (think: emailing clients while watching travel soccer). For the Millennial or Gen Z colleague, perhaps it is flexible schedules and liberal work-from-home policies. The trick (which isn’t a trick at all!) is to ask: “What does work-life balance mean to you?” This is an essential conversation for any team that will surely surface both predictable differences and surprising commonality across the generations.

Communicate Early, Often, and Always
Which brings us to the key to multigenerational connection—really to any connection: Communicate! Take time to get to know your team as colleagues, and as people. Consider creating individual “user manuals” in which all team members can share their priorities, pet peeves, and communication preferences. You might ask what their priorities outside of work are, too, how they do and don’t live up to their generational stereotypes, and anything else that will help you connect as teammates, regardless of generation. Discuss the user manuals as a team; keep them in a shared drive; and use them to form a set of team norms for collaboration.

Practical Approaches
Once you’ve shifted your mindset away from generational stereotypes and started communicating with your team in rich ways, dig in and try some practical approaches:

—Promote Mentoring
Just yesterday, a client told me the reason she was serving for a third time as a mentor was for the cross-generational relationships she had formed, and for the learning she had gained along the way. Her younger mentees had taught her to use technology that made her life easier and their fresh perspectives on the work she’d done for years complemented her institutional knowledge. Win-win!

—Create Diverse Project Teams
Research shows that diverse teams—in all the ways we think about diversity – create better, smarter outcomes. That includes generational diversity. But we often assemble homogenous teams because they tend to get along better and, face it: it’s just easier. Sameness breeds harmony or the illusion of it. Diversity often produces disagreement. But disagreement, if managed deftly, is what leads to better decisions. Diverse teams have the dual benefit of exposing team members not only to diverse viewpoints which produce better results, but to diverse people, and that produces deeper understanding and stronger relationships.

—Facilitate Collaborative Learning
Regardless of generation, every employee wants and needs to grow. In the work we do, we have yet to meet a client or workshop participant who says, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t want to learn anything else.” On the one hand, professional development should not be one-size-fits-all. Training programs and other professional development opportunities must be attuned to the career stages of participants. On the other hand, creating multi-generational learning opportunities allows team members to learn with and from one another, leveraging each other’s unique skills, resources, and sensibilities. 

If you want to learn more strategies for leveraging generational diversity, or if your curious, multigenerational team would like to do some collaborative learning, please check out our course catalog. We’d love to work with you!

Find out more about generational impact in the workplace.

Click Here