What is the Generation Gap (And How Can HR Overcome It)?

What is the Generation Gap (And How Can HR Overcome It)?

The ‘Generation Gap’ refers to the differences between the generations – in terms of character, attributes and personal qualities.

This article will highlight the issues surrounding this workplace problem before evaluating different ways in which organizational focus on commonality can help create intergenerational equality.

he ‘Generation Gap’ or ‘Intergenerational Divide’ has become a ubiquitous term within the debate surrounding workplace equality and diversity in recent years. This has become even more discerning with the rise of a workplace that has four or sometimes five generations under one organizational ‘roof’. This myriad of diverse characteristics and individuality creates a management issue in relation to understanding the management of human experiences within the workplace.

Conflict rather than commonality has become a central part of the overarching narrative surrounding intergenerational workplace division. By understanding what the ‘generation gap’ is and how it impacts workplace organizational culture, this article will discern avenues of possible change by understanding how businesses can harness the power of commonality by unleashing intergenerational equality. HR practitioners are facing a generational ‘time bomb’. By understanding the dynamics of this change and how to better facilitate a process towards change, organizations can overcome the problems that arise from intergenerational conflict within the workplace.

What is the Generation Gap?

Both younger and older workplace participants have a contribution to make in relation to the world of work. Each generation has a completely different experience which in turn means different types of knowledge. By harnessing this raw generational power, employers could, in both a purposeful and in a somewhat mutually beneficial way, create a pathway of convergence between the generations to build a more cohesive workplace.

Age Concern argues that flexibility of intergenerational collaboration could help to nurture cross-generational changes and enhance the employment experiences of generations.  Academics interested in HR argue that intergenerational fairness can be created within workplaces, if the right ethos is built. However, what is this differentiation?

What are the different generations?

How do you identify the different generations in your workforce?

The Traditional/Veteran/Silent Generation

These workers were born before 1945. They believe in hard-work, honesty and hierarchies. The majority are retired, but those who remain in the workplace have very different characteristics.

Baby Boomers

Those who were born between 1946 and 1966, when they ‘never had it so good’. This cohort believe in the nuclear family, hard work and team-based success.

Generation X

Workers born between 1966 and 1981. Born during the period of family breakdown, globalization and mass consumerization, this cohort believe in individuality, short-termism and temporary working experiences

Millennials

Workers born between 1981 and 2000. Millennials are the most child-centric of the cohort, they believe in questioning hierarchies and are more loyal to brands than employers – they distrust organizations but value their role in questioning the world.

Generation Z

These are workers born after 2000. They are new entrants in the workplace. They are fully digitally immersed, have strong technology skills yet have problems with direct communications. They believe in work-based diversity, fairness and understand that jobs change and, as such, are very fluid about employee loyalties.

The different generations have similarities yet differences in terms of character attributes. However, difference is good and learning to adapt a workplace environment for multiple-generations can lead towards a convergence of values and resilience – which in turn creates cohort commonality.

How does it affect organizations?

The intergenerational divide, if left unchecked, could harm organizational harmony and wider team-based success. The problems of intergenerational division surround change management. Understanding that adjusting to change can affect individuals from different backgrounds in different ways helps to reframe the entire narrative.

The four main pillars of team working:

  1. Collaborating with others
  2. Dealing with change
  3. Organizational accountability
  4. Productivity and decision-making

These four areas are central tenets of good team working practice, yet failure to manage intergenerational differences could lead to these four interconnected values working against, not for, your organization. By understanding cohort qualities and creating converging pathways for teams to integrate based on generational talent, businesses could learn to harness such power to help them grow as organizations.

What can HR practitioners do to overcome this problem?

KPMG have already warned that organizations who fail to adapt to this generational change risk creating inter-organizational conflict – what they dub as “age warfare”. CIPD similarly argue that intergenerational tension in the workplace could create career development hostilities that could lead to intergenerational unfairness becoming encoded into the very DNA of organizational culture.

Understanding the intergenerational attribute qualities listed above could help enhance team-based productivity as managers could identify individual talents that can help bond the team together – this in turn could help create micro projects and mentoring processes that could lead towards a more harmonized inter-generational team experience.

Another step-change, highlighted by CIPD, surrounds the deployment of ‘multi-directional mentoring’. This could be seen in the workplace with Millennials teaching Gen X or Baby Boomers about technology, whilst Gen Xers teach Baby Boomers or Millennials about individuality. The attributes are endless and so are the mentoring possibilities.

Harnessing intergenerational talent, creating homogenized and inclusive work-based cultures and creating the possibility of multi-directional learning between the generations could help bridge the problematic specter of intergenerational division – or worse warfare!

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