Intergenerational Diversity in Organizations
Diversity management is considered one of the most crucial aspects of human resource management and the challenge of any organization. There are several underrepresented categories of individuals who are being excluded or treated differently in workplaces for ages. One of the significant dimensions about which different perceptions exist in the workplace is intergenerational diversity. Generational differences and discrimination based on age is a complex situation to handle. And nowadays it has become more challenging. In the present population across the globe, we have five generations which are traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, generation Y, and generation Z. It is necessary for organizations and particularly managers to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each generation while recruiting and onboarding employees to their firm. It is also important to take into consideration their unique needs and personal goals to properly manage diversity and practice inclusion and integration within the workplace. This article attempts to briefly compare and contrast each of the five generations.
The traditionalists or veterans are the first generations, born between 1922 and 1945. They are loyal and hardworking employees. They prefer jobs that provide them a sense of security and stability. They believe in authority and hierarchy in workplaces. They are not comfortable with frequent career changes and favor a linear career path.
Baby boomers constitute those who were born between 1946 and 1964. They are hardworking individuals and prefer interactive learning in workplaces through collaborative works and team building. However, they are highly competitive and are thus often portrayed as ruthless and arrogant.
Generation X, commonly known as Xers, were born between 1965 and 1980. They were born at a time when women started entering into the workforce and thus were brought up in two-income families (Harber, 2011). Xers value the need for work-life balance and are interested in building a personal brand outside their work and focus on personal life along with professional responsibilities. They are smart and efficient problem-solvers. They are materialistic and self-motivated (Angeline, 2010). They are comfortable with hierarchy but prefer independence and freedom. Though they are not technophiles, they are comfortable handling technology and use earlier inventions of technology like emails.
Generation Y consists of people born between 1980 and 2000. They are called Millenials and are tech-savvy. They prefer working for meaningful outcomes and are building connections with the help of technology. They are optimistic and adaptable to new situations. They are constant learners and creative. They wish to enjoy life and believe in the philosophy of “live first, then work” (Angeline, 2010).
There is another generation which comprises of the youngest generation of today, born after the 1990s. They are known as generation Z. They are highly technology-dependent. They are spontaneous and quick decision-makers. However, the majority of them are still students and haven’t fully entered into the working environment.
The FDU magazine reports about the work characteristics of each of the four generations in the following way. Traditionalists are hardworking and formal towards their obligations. They possess high work ethics and strictly adhere to norms and rules. Baby boomers are workaholics as well and perceive work as an interesting adventure. They like to work in teams and thrive for personal fulfillment. Generation Y doesn’t want to be too much engaged in work and needs a balance between personal and professional life. They value freedom and autonomy. They are not embarrassed to question the authority and don’t believe in bureaucracy. Generation Y also prefer work-life balance and are flexible in nature. They are highly goal-oriented and possess the qualities of being an entrepreneur. They are good at multi-tasking and innovation.
Harber (2011) extensively studied the similarities and differences among employees in an organization, representing different generations. While exploring the communication pattern among each generation, the researcher identified that traditionalists and generation X are most efficient in handling face-to-face interactions and thus effectively communicate with customers. Baby boomers are also able to communicate well and can help the organization in fulfilling daily objectives. But Millenials often find it difficult handing face-to-face communication though they can respond to e-mails and text messages in a better way. But while interacting with customers, baby boomers are more comfortable than traditionalists and are thus good at providing customer service. Furthermore, it was also discovered that, while communicating with the management, traditionalists and baby boomers are more comfortable as they don’t question hierarchy and easily comply with rules and regulations. Xers and Millenials are more autonomous and are not comfortable with the concept of authority. Millennials also don’t prefer personal meetings which again makes it difficult for them to communicate effectively with management. Concerning dedication, baby boomers are more oriented towards bringing success to the organization, followed by traditionalists. Xers are ready to work for the organization but also want to know about what they receive in return for their efforts. Baby boomers are the most dedicated as they always look for an alignment between their personal goals as well as their organization’s goals. Baby boomers are the most loyal employees who preserve the image and brand of the organization. The research then explored who will have more pride in the work they are doing and identified traditionalists and baby boomers on the top, both as managers and as employees. They’ll also protect the company’s assets from internal or external theft. Thus, baby boomers provide the best service to organizations, followed by traditionalists and Xers. However, Xers and Millenials are preferred more in the changing era where society is more technology-driven and fast-paced. Thus Xers and Millenials will be the top priority of organizations in the future though they are not comfortable with conventional means of communication.
However, one shouldn’t perceive that generation X or Y are less committed towards their work or don’t provide good service. Tolbize (2008) summarized from previous studies that new generations also possess work ethics like old generations. Moreover, there may be other mediating factors that lead to differences between generations. For example, loyalty and job stability may be a matter of age as people settle with one job as they get older. So it has nothing to do with generations. The researcher also mentioned that notions of traditionalists and baby boomers regarding respect and authority may not always result in good as they will not value equality and deserve respect from young employees without honoring them in return. Additionally, younger generations prefer to master both soft skills and hard skills on the job. They do not like authoritarianism but value the qualities of leadership.
Thus we can conclude that each generation has its own strengths and weaknesses when perceived from an organizational point of view. However, as mentioned by Angeline in her paper, differences between generations shouldn’t lead to misunderstanding and interpersonal conflict among employees. No generation can be excluded or no generation can be prioritized. That is why we need to have intergenerational diversity in organizations. It is important to integrate the distinctiveness of every generation to improve the morale and productivity of the organization (Rood, 2011). If managed effectively, loyalty and service orientation of traditionalists and baby boomers, as well as technical skills and creativity of Xers and Millenials together, will facilitate enhanced productivity of the organization as well as management of a wide customer base.