Have you ever wondered about the difference between your own professional journey and that of your parents? Live on stage, Dr Eliza Filby, a generations expert, explains how organizations today can be inclusive of several generations and effectively adapt to age diversity.
Four generations at work
Dr Eliza Filby, a renowned generations expert, a writer, a speaker and a business consultant, wears many hats. She works with a diverse portfolio of businesses, from the beauty sector to private banks and government institutions, because leaders in all industries find themselves trying to manage a four-generational workforce and make sense of its multigenerational customer base. This topic has many layers, so Eliza is also writing a book on the history of generations.
On stage, at the Oslo Business Forum, Eliza shared a personal insight of her mother, who found that the biggest innovation was not the transition from typewriters to computers, which was a huge technological shift, but it was the day her company built female-only toilets. This highlights that the most powerful game changers may not be work-related at all.
Diversity is a common sticking point within businesses. There is a lot of debate on gender and ethnic diversity, but thinking about age diversity is also relevant right now. In fact, as Eliza points out, “we are seeing four generations in the professional workplace for the first time. All with different ways of communicating. All with different demands from leadership. All with different understandings of recruitment, promotion, retirement. How do we manage the generational gap in our workplaces?” Age diversity is multi-layered with different factors playing a role, not least cultural and social.
So, what are these four generations? Based on Eliza’s own research, they can be categorized as follows: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. People from these generations are dominating the business world, but how are Baby Boomers and Gen Z so different? The answer lies in adulthood.
There are five key markers of adulthood, according to Eliza: education, leaving home, financial independence, marriage and children. Eliza found that Baby Boomers met each marker at the approximate age of 26 years old. Whereas for a Millennial this will be closer to 37 years old. The extended adolescence for Millennials can be credited to the rightful focus on education and learning.
Reap the benefits
Despite the generational differences, Eliza sees a huge opportunity to have multi-generations at work, because it brings together experience and enthusiasm. This social change is happening around the world and women are often leading the charge. On the other end lies retirement, which is also extended as the key life stages are happening later in life, although later retirement is not always a choice.
Navigate the multigenerational workplace
Harmony is the key, “think about what you can do for not just harness each generation, but bring them all together so that they work in harmony, and indeed close that obvious and challenging generation gap,'' says Eliza.
There are five focus areas that leaders should know about when navigating a multigenerational workplace. Eliza summarizes them as follows:
- Generation intelligence: leverage the learning and skills that come with each generation.
- Career-long learning: focus on the bespoke and human-centric continuous learning process.
- Communication: leaders and employees need to be having two-way dialogue and proper conversation. For example, when a leader demands the right to be heard they also need to learn how to listen.
- Caring responsibilities: to be aware of responsibilities. For example, the current demographics will be responsible for the care of the elderly, as well as the next generation.
- Align values: for Millennials and Gen Z, the notion of purpose is very important, so it is crucial for the purpose and values of the employees to be aligned with those of the organization. “The major hope from Gen Z will not be to stop climate change but to get rid of the tyranny of e-mails,” says Eliza.
Leaders need to work towards blending the above values in their culture to address the pressing question of age diversity. When this is carefully managed a collaborative and productive work environment will be created, and give a business a competitive edge.