Currently there are four generations in the workforce. I am blessed to work with them all. I am challenged to work with them all as well. –Zen B. Brown
During the typical week, we as leaders confront dress styles that challenge our sense of professionalism, and we confront strong resistance from our workers with the most seniority as we introduce technology and change. Our workspace is inhabited by 18 year olds through 70 year olds, and we are charged with leading an intergenerational workforce although the different generations have diverse values, experiences, and perspectives regarding work. As leaders, we have to create intergenerational workspaces where they all have a sense of belonging; they feel included and valued. As leadership is an inside job, we must look at ourselves and take an introspective look to address this challenge.
Confronting this challenge, I asked myself probative some questions, and I offer my introspection and insights:
1. What are the values that I see in having an intergenerational workspace? Workers with the most seniority usually hold valuable institutional knowledge and the new entrants into the labor force usually have the freshest ideas. I need both perspectives to move our organizations ahead. When all workers are engaged, synergy and creativity abound.
2. Where does my implicit biases lie on this issue? First, I needed to normalize implicit bias before I can deal with myself on this issue without guilt and badgering. Wherever we fall in the generational mix, we have certain individual beliefs and biases about work: how work should be performed, how one should be attired for work, how technology should advance workplace innovation, how personal use of technology should be used in the workplace. We have an endless list of our individual “shoulds”. But as leaders, we know that imposing our personal list of “shoulds” will not result in engaged workers who are able to maximize results for our teams and organizations. We serve our organizations and staff better when we take a step back, get a wider perspective, and then are thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional as we act.
Harvard University offers a number of implicit bias tests that shed insight. Now I have some of those insights regarding my own implicit biases, I set aside my automatic thinking. Blue suits and blue hair may be able to coexist in a workplace.
3. What is the current generational composition of my organization’s workforce? Am I prepared to move forward if the eligible workers retire? Are the recent high school and college graduates leaving within a few years of hiring? The data is invaluable and it may point out the need to recruit high school interns and retired worker interns. My leadership team will assemble and we will identify issue and trends. We brainstorm and gather more data to give us context of how to move forward.
4. Where can I find more data about intergenerational workforce issues and approaches to create intergenerational workspaces? The Pew Research Center offers a summary of the labor force. I’m reviewing and discussing that data now.
5. What is the sentiment of the current employees? All of the research may not be applicable to my organization so I need to hear from those currently work there. For example, researchers suggest alternative workshifts, cafeteria benefit plans, and paid sabbaticals, but my individual workforce has the best insight what they want our organization to pursue with our resources. Through conversations and other communications, I need to hear from them and make a commitment to do so.
Like most leadership challenges, my insight and introspection continue to develop as I gather more data and am exposed to more information. I don’t believe in just add water recipes to come up with solutions. I look to forward to what other leaders have to share regarding creating intergenerational workspaces and invite comments.