Managing Workforce Diversity
Introduction: Defining Generations
For the first time in US history, our society is experiencing a phenomenon of five generations working together, often side-by-side, due to longer life expectancy rates and uncertainties about retirement. Generational differences create challenges for employers who strive to effectively manage employee diversity. Who are these groups whose value differences, ethics, mind-sets and world views seem foreign because they defy tradition?
Identifying Generations: Defining Values and Mind-Sets
Workplace values, ethics, and respect for authority vary among generations. It is important to acknowledge diversity among members of the same group, and to remember that the following categories and descriptions are not applicable to every group member.
The Senior (or World War II) Generation (1915 – 35): ultra conservative and conscientious; grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression; high work ethic, strong brand loyalty and eager to save for the future;
The Forgotten (or Silent) Generation (1936 – 45): so-called because of it's small size; possess high work ethic and strong independence;
Baby Boomers (1946 – 64): largest generation ever; more that 15 percent of today's employees are under 25 and three-fifths are under 45 yet, Baby Boomers dominate top management; they are rebellious against convention; want respect from younger orkers and flexible routes into semi-retirement; value civic loyalty, show duty, and respect for authority;
Generation X – (1965 – 76): brought up on TV, Atari 2600's and PC's; are part of the “me” generation; sometimes called Echo Boomers, Nexters, Millennials or Internet Generation); grew up during a prosperous economy; pampered by parents, possess a sense of entitlement and place more value upon balanced work and life schedules than loyalty to the organization;
Generation Y (1977 – 94): college educated, ambitious and unafraid to leave a company for a better job; considered a “second wave” of Boomers; competitive, self-absorbed, fiercely independent; enjoying life comes before work; they tend to seek self-happiness – will self-sacrifice but definitely not for the company.
According to Dittman, managers and supervisors can create inclusive environments by “learning and sending effective messages”. An effective message from team members for traditionalists might be Dittman (2005): “Your experience is respected .
. . Baby Boomers may need to hear “You are valuable . . . or . . . your contribution is unique and important. “Generation Xers may need to hear . . . “Let's explore some options outside of the box” - Millennials may need to hear messages such as “You will be collaborating with other bright creative people”. Among several recommendations according to Buccigrossi and Robinson (2003), dominant workplace group members can “ . . . speak up when the value of younger and/or older workers is undermined or underutilized.” Conversely, subordinate group members can “ . . . purposely engage middle-age workers to fully contribute [ their] value to organizational objectives.”
“Having difficulty understanding the perspective, work habits and communication styles of those in another age group is common in the workplace”. (Sago 2000). The best managers build teams that support all employees as individuals, develop the potential of each employee, and provide a sense of belonging.
Today's multigenerational workplace is a complex and dynamic organism that requires flexibility and skill from everyone “…People of all ages who can work side-by-side and draw from the rich mixture of skill and experience that diversity brings are encouraged to develop and contribute their best work . . . ” towards the achievement of UMDNJ goals.
Tips for Managers
In today's workplace, diversity has many faces, and younger employees often have sharply different values and goals than preceding generations. The following tips are offered as management strategies for embracing awareness and applying knowledge to bridge intergenerational challenges.
Develop and maintain a supportive environment for older employees, and consider retraining where appropriate, as an investment. Older workers add value to an organization.
Understand the changing view of loyalty. Often, younger generation members may not value organizational loyalty but loyalty to their bosses. Many will often try to follow a respected boss when they move to another organization.
Current findings suggest that age is not necessarily a determinant of a person's capacity to do well in a job. Working from assumptions and stereotypes about a group is one of the root causes for discrimination and bias. Remember that young adults are not immune to the bias of age discrimination.
Managers who operate on the basis of stereotypes bring out the worst in every group; for example: Older workers are slow, resistant to change, and have reoccurring health issues. Younger workers are aggressive and unreliable.
Be an ally to younger and older workers, and value and support their contributions of talent and ability to achieve organizational objectives.
Dittman, M. (2005). Generational Differences at Work. Monitor on Psychology . Vol. 36, No. 6, June 2005.
Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 1/3/06 at www.apa.org/monitor/june05/generational.html
DiversityInc. Making Efforts to Retain Older Workers , 12/1/05.
Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 12/5/05, at: www.diversityinc.com
Harris, Paul. (2005). Boomer vs. Echo Boomers.
ASTD Training and Development. p ps. 45 – 48.
Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 12/7/05, at: management-issues.com
Schiff, Debra. (12/7/05). Mind the Gap . Spectrum Careers . Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 12/7/05, at www.spectrum.ieee.org/careers