As startups become larger, their workforces tend to also become more diverse. Business owners, unfortunately, often don’t recognise this as the opportunity that it is. While businesses usually do pursue policies to avoid discrimination, they often don’t adequately consider how to benefit from their diversity. One of the most important, and universally applicable of these is generational diversity.
To reap the benefits of having a workforce that includes workers from multiple generations, businesses need to understand what different age groups bring to the table, and how these can benefit their team. Specifically, businesses need to build their teams in such a way that different generations can work together seamlessly, and bring their differences to bear in the most productive way possible. In doing this, they can learn to leverage different generations to empower their coworkers, leaders, and their bottom line.
Use different generations to empower each other
Traditional well-established businesses often operate with an unintentionally rigid hierarchy that places older, more experienced employees at the top, and leaves younger employees to slowly work their way up over the course of decades. This effectively creates an environment where different generations of workers don’t operate in the same spheres, and can’t exchange ideas very well. Businesses that purposely hire younger, entry-level workers for lower-rung positions to control labour costs exacerbate this issue even more. While these choices appear to make sense in terms of controlling costs and ensuring that leaders are experienced, they also slow employee development and make businesses less flexible.
Developing young employees
Older coworkers are an invaluable resource to young, entry-level employees as mentors. Training new employees costs a lot of time and resources, and often a number of expensive mistakes. Having team members with decades of experience around to passively or actively aid in employee development can save your business a lot of money, while also making those younger employees more effective.
On a cultural level, baby boomers and generation X are also more loyal to their employers, and more conservative in their approach to business in general. This can help to provide a sense of stability to your company’s culture, and helps to moderate younger employees.
Millennials and the new, incoming Generation Z, provide unique value to their employers as well. As digital natives, they can easily and intuitively find ways to apply new technologies to their jobs and to your business. To older professionals, typically those in charge, these changes can seem bothersome, but they are essential. Businesses who keep track of, and evaluate the potential of these small, individual innovations stand to make significant leaps in efficiency
In a more general sense, younger generations have the drive and fresh perspectives that a business needs to reinvent products and rethink inefficient processes that older generations are so used to that they’ve forgotten about them.
Put fresh blood into leadership positions
Large corporations often suffer from overly rigid, fossilised hierarchies in which leadership is overwhelmingly represented by the oldest working generation. This seems to make sense, because decision makers need experience to avoid potentially disastrous mistakes. It’s important, however, not to overemphasise this need. Not only do businesses need to make sure that younger leadership talent is being appropriately developed in-house, they also need to ensure that current leaders have the broad perspectives available to them that they need to make the best decisions for their companies.
Older business leaders are unlikely to fully grasp the priorities and the consumer demands of upcoming generations. Despite their experience, their phase of life, generational cultural background, and economic position can leave them disconnected from the needs of their employees and their own customers. They need the support of younger partners to keep up with their customers, and to remain competitive in their industry.
Focus on real diversity
In pursuit of these benefits of generational diversity, it’s important to keep in mind that the emphasis is specifically on diversity. Simply judging people blindly by their age won’t work. People of different generations are very generally shaped by their shared formative experiences and cultural context, but that stereotype doesn’t necessarily describe the individual.
To get the benefit of diversity, business leaders need to go out of their way to build their team from individuals that actually exhibit the diverse traits that they need. The critical point for businesses is to be aware of, and ready to take advantage of, the potential benefits of a multigenerational workforce. By facilitating and managing the exchange of ideas between workers of different generations and at different positions of influence, it’s possible for businesses to leverage this diversity in driving innovation, developing employees, and building flexible and insightful leadership teams.