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May 3, 2022

It’s not surprising HR leadership struggles with inter-generational differences in communication styles, preferences, and expectations.

Or should I say perceived differences between Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen X employees?

For it’s my belief all of these people are unfairly labeled and it is leading to a disconnect between management and employees. Not only is it a disconnect that can adversely affect a company’s bottom line, but it also breaks down an organization’s culture that will have long-term ramifications.

What we need instead is a new understanding about what the generational differences really are, and what they are not.

HR management needs to implement a new approach that will disrupt the way we think about generations to attract, engage, and retain all employees. A toolkit for facilitating inter-generational understanding at all levels of the organization is necessary to see past preconceived notions of age groups. It will serve as an agent for change within your organization. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Remove mixed signals on generations

Reading many of the books and articles in peer-reviewed journals on generational issues made me realize how much nonsense there is on the subject. One book states Millennials are ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers. Another book makes the argument that Generation Xers think outside the box. Not a single article or book that I read, by the way, said Baby Boomers thought outside the box. Never mind that they are the generation that landed on the moon and created the Internet.

The fact is, there are so many contradictions and anecdotal statements in those books and journals. No wonder it’s difficult for HR leaders to get a firm handle on generations’ opinions, feelings, and preferences.

But that’s not the only reason HR management needs to rethink these generational stereotypes. HR professionals – more than anybody – ought to know that organizations cannot stereotype. There is so much emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) but it typically focuses on race and gender. Few are talking about it in the context of age. We’ve normalized use of generational stereotypes. It’s really age discrimination hiding behind a generational label.

Overcome generational stereotypes

Organizations need to overcome creating generational stereotypes in the first place. The presence of it causes management to have perceived differences in employees, even though they don’t exist – at least as it relates to age. Breaking this habit requires considerable cultural transformative work. It’s necessary, though, to establish an intentional culture that will resonate with employees regardless of age.

Here’s a real-world example of how a perceived generational traits hurt management. An organization that worked closely with state government hired me as a consultant. The new CEO came from the corporate world. He brought many new concepts to the organization, including generational stereotypes that influenced a new office renovation. The CEO wanted to create a “cool” environment that he believed would attract new Millennial employees and retain those already on staff. It proved to be a big mistake and not just in expenses. The new look didn’t appeal to the entire staff, who felt disconnected from management. In fact, employees determined that the new CEO “doesn’t get us.”

Change the unconscious bias

Generational stereotypes can fall under unconscious bias due to perceptions created by society and the media. Having such an unconscious bias doesn’t make us bad people. It simply proves we are human. These unconscious biases affect our behavior, but they can be overcome.

You might ask, “How can I change something that is unconscious?” Well, it’s not easy, but it is essential. Ultimately, HR and corporate management want to understand what drives their employees. It helps enhance each employee’s individual work experience, rather than trying to appeal to all the Millennials or Gen Xers on staff.

Implementing solutions to bridge the gap between all generations in the workplace is vital for an organization to achieve success. After all, most companies have Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and possibly even Gen Z working side-by-side.

Measure employee experience – across generations

One method to accomplish the goal is to utilize a real-time automated employee experience solution that captures each moment as it occurs. Because data can be gathered anonymously, age bias is eliminated. Plus, the approach helps drive an organization’s culture in such a way that employees feel engaged and involved. Management discovers what specific processes are working and those that are not. More intelligent decisions can be made based upon specific employee feedback that will have real positive impact on the bottom line and employee experience.

It’s a more strategic approach than trying to decipher the various inconsistent notions made about generations that is more discriminatory than effective. And it will help retain employees and improve ROI.

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