Diversity and Innovation within 21st Century Workplaces – with Marie Sandler, HR Director

Diversity and Innovation within 21st Century Workplaces – with Marie Sandler, HR Director

HR Director, Marie Sandler this month looks at the implications of a changing workforce and work environment that involves an ever-growing age range. At DDC OS we have enjoyed a growing operation but with that comes new challenges, Marie shares her thoughts on how to handle those…

I attended a CIPD conference recently where we were discussing Diversity and Innovation within the 21st Century Workplaces. As an HR Director in a busy outsourcing organisation, it is clear to see that our workplace is changing; technology is revolutionising the way we live and work and therefore thinking ‘inclusively’ is even more critical.

On reflection, there are now 1.1 million people in work who are past the age of 65, and we have five generations working side by side! The significance is in terms of types of workforce behaviours, what motivates employee engagement, and the tools and practices they need to interact. This mixed, multi-generational environment is a new diversity challenge for HR organisations everywhere and my focus is on having the ability to bridge generation gaps and create a powerful and competitive advantage.

Being in work today often means joining a team with a vast range of ages. Your manager may be a millennial, but you may still work with Generation Xers and baby boomers. As more boomers work past retirement age and as tech-savvy millennials continue to graduate and enter the workforce, the stark differences in the values, communication styles and work habits of each generation are becoming increasingly pronounced.

Every person who comes into our business brings different life experiences, perspectives and views, which for me is invaluable. This does, however, bring some challenges when trying to manage a cohesive workforce. The difference between older and younger generations in preferred communication styles has almost become a cliché: Generation Y sends text messages, tweets and instant messages to communicate, while baby boomers and older Gen Xers tend to prefer phone calls and emails. Throw in that younger workers tend to use abbreviations, informal language and colloquialisms, and you’ve got a recipe for serious communication breakdowns.

Overcoming existing stereotypes is hard, it takes a conscious effort to distinguish your own talents and not let preconceived notions do that for you. Workers need to match their vision of success with the work ethic that it will take to get there — meaning a willingness to go beyond what’s expected.

Lazy. Entitled. Tech-obsessed. Overeager. These are just a few of the terms that come to mind for many older workers when they think of millennials, and members of the younger generation are well aware of the stereotypical ideas they’re up against. Younger workers may perceive baby boomers as difficult to train and stubbornly set in their ways.

Leaders can help the situation by actively looking for dysfunction in the workplace caused by misunderstandings and generational judgments, and intervening when there are problems. People sometimes think that someone younger knows less, has experienced less, is less worthy of the position. I think we forget that age doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it, some people experience a lot in a short amount of time, have learnt skills that we didn’t, have wisdom that is beyond their years or has a perspective that no one else has.

As the typical workplace evolves to keep up with changing technologies and mobile work trends, a consequent shift in cultural expectations has also occurred. This can be an especially jarring transition for older workers, who are used to having performance measured by the number of hours spent at their desks. On the other end, members of Generation Y value and expect a healthy work-life balance.

Younger workers are more likely to come from families where both parents were working and therefore place a greater premium on work-life balance. Their older co-workers may have expected to sacrifice a lot of their personal time to the job. Having seen parents lose their jobs despite their loyalty, [millennials] are looking for jobs where they can have a life outside of work. A good way to approach this issue is to allow individuals to work in the style that’s best for them and acknowledge the efforts of each team member, regardless of their work styles.

Everyone wants recognition for the work they do, access to the resources they need and feedback that is delivered in an appropriate way; we should value each person’s contribution to the group and acknowledge each individual’s need for affirmation. In order for real progress to occur in the multigenerational workforce, every age group must offer flexibility and openness.

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