Multiple generations: more than a challenge, an unprecedented opportunity for companies

Companies are facing many challenges today, but one has recently been growing in importance. For the first time ever in history we find four generations living side by side within companies. This begs the question: How do we manage a multi-generational workforce? How do we get the Baby Boomers (1942 – 1960), Generation X (1960 – 1980), Generation Y or Millennials (1980 – 2000) and Generation Z (2000 – 2015) to live together?  We can’t deny that by improving health conditions and increasing longevity among people, more generations will live together for a long time within organizations. Undoubtedly this spurs multiple views and a large diversity of opinions. Nevertheless the workspace of the future is by definition multigenerational and thoughts on how to manage it belong to the here and now. How do we understand this new reality?

The multigenerational organization: one large family

Just let me draw an analogy between an organization and a family. Although on a smaller scale, different generations also cohabit within a family: grandparents, children, grandchildren and more. Have any of you ever thought about the importance of the role each member plays and how the generational difference enriches each one?

When my daughter was born, my mother passed me little tricks, tips and best practices that I as a new mum didn’t know of. My daughter on the other hand has made me see beyond the limits I had created and self-imposed over time, to the point I realized that the mother-educator-daughter relationship was not unilateral. I only saw the letter C; she made me see the moon. I could only think of the capes of the biblical Three Kings or the Magi in a single colour (red, green and blue), but with her, I learnt they could be multicolour.

Back to the business world, how much can we learn and unlearn alongside new generations?

In a family there are people who influence you, who teach you, who you imitate or contradict out of conviction or simply just because. Similarly in a company we find that cousin who has taught us to skip the rules, that parent who has taught us to fall and get up over and over again, or that grandmother who makes the best ever apple pie in the world.

Multiple generations, collaboration and productivity

While it is complicated to talk in absolute terms of the competencies that distinguish between one another, we do spot some general features for telling them apart. On millennials, perhaps the most important ones are digital native and the change in how work is perceived to form part of a life’s mission with more flexible models and less about “living to work”.

As we said in our last article on the topic, “Generation X is becoming a crucial cog turning the wheel of productivity within companies, as they bring amicability and social rapport to millennials accustomed to the depersonalization of communication. Meanwhile baby boomers bring on board their long term vision, experience and crisis management”.

It is too early to define Generation Z, the last one entering the labour market, yet some suggest several features that distinguish them from millennials, like for instance, how work is perceived as something even more radical than that of their predecessors, some “76% dream of their hobby becoming a source of income”. Another defining feature is that they are visual users who have developed multi-screen behaviour (5 devices vs. 2 as for millennials) seduced by imagery.

In my opinion, a multigenerational workforce is one of the most important assets that companies have today. We have never had the opportunity to have profiles so different and diverse. The variety of opinions emerging from the experience and knowledge of some, and the desire to innovate and enthusiasm of others, if managed effectively will contribute to generating value within companies.

What Yves Morieux proposes in his talk, “As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify” could translate perfectly to the field of multigenerational management. In a brilliant exposé, Yves Morieux confirms that despite the great technological advances of today, companies are becoming less productive. Morieux mentioned that one of the keys to solving this problem lies in collaboration, “It is basically the interplay, how the parts work together, the connections, the interactions, the synapses. It is not the skeleton of boxes; it is the nervous system of adaptiveness and intelligence. Whenever people cooperate they use fewer resources.”

So, far from the idea that the new generations pose a challenge to manage within companies, we can view this as a tremendous opportunity for collaboration, cooperation and co-creation to enrich us mutually and to create differentiation based on the “digital revolution” and not just the “industrial revolution”.

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