Generational Leadership for Diversity and Inclusion

With the influx of Gen-Zs, the workplace comprises at least four generations. A diverse talent pool then brings about varied needs and wants. Bridging intergenerational conflict is then a leadership imperative and vital to building high-performing cultures. As each generation has unique values, beliefs, and practices, misunderstanding can easily lead to tension. Leaders must construct an inclusive culture by advancing generational leadership.

In this blog, we will explore how generation stereotypes can lead to conflict and how leaders can use leadership development to bridge the gap between generations by leveraging each generation’s strengths.

Diverse Talent: Understanding the Four Generations in the Workplace

Here are the four generations that will mostly comprise most companies and the stereotypes associated with each of them.

How Managers can Bridge Intergenerational Conflict

1. Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964

Stereotypes: The more seasoned workers are known as loyal employees who show commitment to their company. They are also ladder climbers who believe they can benefit from success if they put in long hours at the office or exhibit other forms of dedication to the job. It is believed that baby boomers resist adopting new technologies and ideas as they are not tech-savvy. 

Fact: Although it may be a common belief that older employees dislike technology, this is not the case for all. These same individuals feel as if they are finally catching up to current technological advancements, with 36% feeling confident in using new technology, according to a dataset by GWI USA.

2. Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980

Stereotypes: Gen Xers are stereotyped as cynical, slackers, and detached from leadership authority, making it difficult to manage them effectively. Additionally, Gen Xers usually don’t care about moving up the corporate ladder; something that frustrates managers because they cannot motivate them easily.

Facts: The idea that Gen Xers are slackers is flawed. In fact, 62% of business leaders are members of Gen X, according to Global Leadership Forecast 2021. Contrary to the stereotype that Gen Xers are mediocre performers, they are actually taking leadership roles.

3. Millennials: born between 1981 and 2000

Millennials will make up half of the global workforce by 2050, so they are an important group that leaders need to pay close attention to.

Stereotypes: They are often characterized as having a strong sense of entitlement and being job-hoppers who lack loyalty. They require constant praise and immediate rewards and expect a trophy to keep them engaged. They are not loyal and would jump ship at the first opportunity. According to a Deloitte survey, two of every three millennials hope to move on from their current employer by 2020.

Facts: Although commonly misunderstood, millennials aren’t looking to switch jobs frequently; they’re merely seeking more beneficial positions that align with their life goals; a Gallup study stated that what Millenials want is a job that feels worthwhile.

4. Generation Z: born between 2001 and 2020

Stereotypes: Gen-Zs are raised in a world where technology is ubiquitous, and access to information is available at the touch of a button. They grew up with social media and have been exposed to the world through it. Hence, the stereotype that they are obsessed with social media, job-hoppers, and have poor interpersonal skills.

Facts: According to Stanford scholar Roberta Katz who has been researching Gen Z to better understand them. Gen-Z’s are highly collaborative and have a pragmatic attitude. They care about non-hierarchal leadership. They are indeed tech-savvy, but the result of the research showed that their favorite form of communication is “in person.”

 “The greatest fear in my work is that people will try to shortcut by using the categories rather than the conversations.”

Haydn Shaw, author of Sticking Points:
How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart

Stereotyping Gap

Ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, and gender diversity are not the only challenge that leadership and management face when it comes to conflict in organizations. Generational stereotyping is another common cause.

Generational stereotypes, while common, are unfair and unconstructive. The reality is that each generation has unique characteristics that influence how they work and interact with others. The leaders will have to develop different strategies to ensure the success of each group, as they all have diverse backgrounds and behaviors deeply entrenched due to their diverse upbringing.

In multi-generational workplaces, generational differences aren’t necessarily the problem; stereotyping is. The difference between the generations is not just about age but also experiences, principles, and goals. And it’s crucial to keep in mind that stereotyping leads to discrimination. The key is to treat people as equals but not necessarily the same. This allows you to get a better understanding of each person, along with their strengths and weaknesses.

Get insights on learning from other generations from Christian Kastner here.

Consequently, generational leadership plays a huge role in the success of any organization. A generational leader respects organizational values, eliminates unconscious biases, and creates an environment where people feel they have equal access.

Although it can be challenging, adopting an intergenerational approach has a plethora of benefits, such as greater diversity, more collaboration, and improved organizational performance.

“What might really matter at work are not actual differences between generations, but people’s beliefs that these differences exist. These beliefs can get in the way of how people collaborate with their colleagues and have troubling implications for how we people are managed and trained.”

Eden King, Lisa Finkelstein, Courtney Thomas, and Abby Corrington, Harvard Business Review 

Common Conflict Between Diverse Employee Resource Groups

With more workplaces having employees spanning multiple generations, managers face the challenge of dealing with potential conflicts between these groups.

 Conflict in Value System

Our value system deeply affects how we see life and work. If we can’t wrap our heads around where a person’s values come from, it’ll be tough to get along with them. Different values can trigger disagreements between employees of varying age groups.

For example, Boomers usually believe that working hard is important, while Generation Xers often think having versatility in their job duties is key. Gen Zers are more open and willing to discuss mental health than any other generation, while Millennials are often highly driven by a sense of purpose.

To sum up, managers have to foster an inclusive workplace in which every value system is respected.

Conflict in Communication Style

Since people of different generations often communicate differently, it may lead to misunderstandings and arguments.

For example, Generation X is more comfortable using informal language and speaking openly about personal matters at work. On the contrary, Baby Boomers prefer formal language that is clear and concise. Furthermore, Millennials and Generation Z would rather communicate through technology than face-to-face because they feel more inclined to communicate through text messaging or social media platforms.

Ultimately, encourage an inclusive culture where there is not just one method of communication and caters to all generations.

Peg Buchenroth, senior vice president of HR at staffing and recruitment firm Addison Group in Chicago, stated that “some candidates aren’t able to easily travel due to any number of circumstances, and virtual interviews allow them a level of flexibility.” However, recently in Singapore, a hiring manager cancelled an interview because the candidate requested a virtual interview, indicating a difference in expectations.

in Singapore, a hiring manager canceled an interview because the candidate requested a virtual interview, indicating a difference in expectations.

Conflict in Perspective

Different generations naturally have diverse perspectives regarding the workplace, which will, at times, lead to conflict. Let’s say younger workers may be more lenient regarding things like gender roles and diversity, while older workforce members tend to hold more traditional practices and beliefs. Although there are obvious disagreements between different generational views, disparities also exist within each generation on topics such as technological advancement or how productivity ought to be gauged. It is vital that you understand each generation’s perspective; from there, you will know what to do next.

The key to bridging these generational gaps is to attempt to understand where each person is coming from and find common ground on which to build relationships based on respect and trust.

The 5 As How Managers Can Bridge the Intergenerational Conflict to Create an Inclusive Workplace

The importance of generational leadership is unquestionable. Generational leaders must identify, address, and resolve generational differences in the work environment.

A company with a generational leadership style encourages open dialogue among the generations, which can lead to improved collaboration in organizations, increased commitment and motivation among team members, and more innovative solutions.

1 Acknowledge

How can leaders and managers execute properly if they don’t acknowledge that there is a problem, to begin with? They need to understand where each side is coming from to gauge expectations. Furthermore, they should try to understand what both sides want from one another through active listening. Leadership development is necessary.

For instance, if you’re struggling to understand why your younger employees aren’t taking the initiative, set up a meeting with them to discuss how their generation differs from yours. You may find out that they value different things than you did at their age—maybe they don’t feel like they need to take charge or be assertive to get ahead in their career because of technology or social media. You can use this knowledge to help guide your management style and lead by example.

2 Address

Addressing the conflict between different generations in the organization is one way to manage it. And one of the most difficult challenges managers face is getting employees from diverse age groups to communicate effectively with each other, which can lead to misunderstanding and resentment. By recognizing how communication style differs between generations, managers can assist their teams when conflicts inevitably arise.

For instance, boomers tend to prefer face-to-face communication over social media platforms like Facebook Messenger or Slack; however, millennials prefer communicating via text message because it allows them to multitask while communicating with someone else at work or home.

3 Appreciate

Building a positive work culture comes from recognizing the individual strengths of each generation in your workforce. You can show appreciation for all employees by allowing them to use their unique strengths.

For instance, more seasoned workers might find it helpful to have someone around who understands technology better, while millennials may want to take advantage of boomers’ life experiences. Gen Zers might appreciate being able to take on leadership roles and teach others their own organizational skills. And those belonging to Gen X are often known for having a relaxed management style–something that could be good news for younger employees who value freedom when it comes time to get creative.

4 Activate

Let’s say, for instance, a millennial is more passionate about working on projects with a social impact while boomers might instead prefer to work on long-term strategy.

To take advantage of the strengths of every generation, managers should assign tasks aligned with each generation’s interests.

Another way of approaching this situation is by allowing each generation to play to its strengths. So if you have an employee who has been around for longer and has more experience, letting them take charge in certain scenarios can be beneficial.

5 Actualize

When resolving workplace conflict between different generations, the best course of action is to make a plan and then stick to it. This will help you choose the option that will be most successful. If you can design a positive environment, then you can work towards resolving the issue.

For instance, encouraging an open-door policy enables direct reports to bring concerns to you directly. You can also foster a collaborative environment by encouraging your employees to share ideas with one another. By allowing each generation to contribute, managers can foster an atmosphere of collaboration and understanding that will benefit everyone.

Overall, bridging the gap between different generations in the organization can be a complicated process. It requires generational leadership where managers give importance to the interest of each group, ensure everyone’s treated fairly, and create an environment that allows everyone to work together without friction.

If companies want to be successful and truly promote inclusivity, they must focus on reaping new insights and being proactive about inclusion efforts.

Generational leadership is also about understanding the generational differences among employees and recognizing their individual needs, strengths, and abilities. By acknowledging generational differences and encouraging collaboration, managers can help build above-average profitability, succession planning, and next-generation leadership. With the right approach, managers can cultivate a company culture of respect and understanding that encourages each generation to maximize its organizational potential. 

Did you know our best-selling program, CliftonStrengths for Maximum Impact, is excellent for bridging the generational gap?
Check it out here.

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