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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

Many workplaces today have five generations of workers, but are we letting our stereotypical notions of the cohorts get in the way of leveraging the strengths of each?

“As I see it, these so-called ‘generational differences’ are simply a conversation we have failed dismally to have,” says British Columbia author and researcher Olivia McIvor. “When reframed, ‘generational difference,’ really means: ‘different from us’ and there can be nothing wrong with this maxim. Candidly, it is not our age differences that divide us, rather, it is the judgments that we make about each other that create conflict and break down collegial relationships.”

In a historic first, we have five generations co-mingling at work: veterans or traditionalists (76 to 99 years old), baby boomers (57 to 75), Gen Xers (41 to 56), millennials (26 to 40) and Gen Z (25 and younger).

And since Canada did away with mandatory retirement, more and more people are continuing to work for economic or social reasons. Not everyone’s working for a traditional paycheck, though. Some are customers, others serve on boards or volunteer, but regardless, we are all circling one another in this shared space, says Ms. McIvor.

Ms. McIvor’s book, “Four Generations One Workplace: Sharing in the Information Age,” (A revised edition, “Five Generations One Workplace,” is set for release in 2023), explores how organizations can develop, collaborate, and engage with each generation and create a respectful work environment that’s ripe for recruitment and retention.

The generational imprint

“The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in school with my classmates. I expect to graduate college $40,000 in student debt, and afterward, to move back home to live with my parents. To myself and the other 80 million Americans born between 1982 and 2000, these experiences are the norm. We are the ‘perma-children,’ the 9/11 generation – or the ‘screw you generation’ – but we much prefer being referred to as the Millennial Generation,” writes Darrin J. DeChane in a blog.

Mr. DeChane graduated from St. Louis University in Madrid, Spain, in 2017. His reflections underscore how generational imprints inform, and educate people’s attitude, perception, and work ethic.

Ms. McIvor explains each of the five generations is bound by shared life experiences such as historic events, heroes, revolutions, inventions and challenges, that shape the cohort’s view of work and the world in general. These generational imprints are seminal and significant and have both a positive and negative impact. Examples include the rise of rock ‘n’ roll; the economic recession in the 80s; 9/11; Black Lives Matter movement and a global pandemic.

And, there are three core patterns that emerge from the imprints: a generation’s approach to life; work credo or work philosophy and the generation’s most important need to be filled at work.

“When defining the merits of a generation, one typically looks for common influences that have shaped how this cohort specifically views the world,” Ms. McIvor says.” These views influence behaviours, including what motivates them intrinsically and extrinsically. Once you get these, you can begin to appreciate the diversity and be more inclusive to learn from one another.”

Work-life and other matters

As the industry lead for professional services at Avanade, a global tech company employing more than 55, 000 professionals in 26 countries, Karen McAteer, often oversees projects that involve a team of 30 or more multigenerational professionals.

Working alongside five generations of professionals means Ms. McAteer, a baby boomer, has insights on various styles of communication, and each cohort’s attitude toward money, work-life balance and work itself.

For instance, Ms. McAteer says even though she would prefer to work from the office, she accepts others may not want to do so. During week-long business trips, Ms. McAteer says her routine would be to grab either beer or dinner with her colleagues after work, and then retire to her room and continue working for a couple of more hours. Her younger colleagues, on the other hand, prefer a more structured 9 – 5 hours, and unwind from work by taking part in leisure activities.

And, while some of the ‘younger’ workers choose messaging apps like Slack or Teams to communicate at work, some like Ms. McAteer prefer face-to-face interactions.

“It all comes down to communication and respecting each other’s strengths,” she says. “For everyone to be productive and work together, we must adjust our own expectations and communicate clearly around deliverables.”

Ms. McAteer says organizations can leverage the skills and abilities of multigenerational employees with a two-way mentoring system that will not only allow a veteran worker to guide a newer employee, but also have digitally savvy Gen Z workers guide older colleagues.

Ms. McIvor’s advice for multigenerational teams:

  1. Avoid tokenism
  2. Be curious and ask thoughtful questions
  3. Never accuse, be dismissive or condescending about another cohort and what they value
  4. Know that one generation is not superior over another
  5. Embed generational learning into your culture
  6. Know all generations want the same three things: Trust, appreciation and presence
  7. Consciously create group activities/teams that are blended generations
  8. Touch the wisdom of each cohort through cross-mentoring
  9. Prioritize meeting the ‘request’ of each generation in your setting
  10. Appreciate the gifts, rather than the differences

What I’m reading around the web

  • Since 1950, the U.S. working age population has grown by about five million people every five years. That trend has now shifted, says Microsoft president Brad Smith. Starting in the period between 2016 and 2020, growth slowed to two million. The present trend where companies are under pressure to offer high salaries to attract talent may become the norm. In this story, Mr. Smith also talks about how low population growth, government stimulus during the pandemic and other factors are now contributing to the labour crunch.
  • Ten years ago, two friends, Jacob Goodman and Josh Arbit, bought Fresh Prints, a failing clothing company that sold fraternity, sorority and college-branded merchandise with Mr. Arbit’s bar Mitzvah money ($16,000). In the first month, the new owners were scammed. Then they realized they owed $25,000 for licensing royalties. Today, Fresh Prints employs 290 full-time employees and boasts of an annual revenue of $40-million.
  • This World Economic Forum story says the next phase of remote work will significantly transform work economies. In this article Adam Ozimek, a labour economist at Upwork, a freelancing platform, says the transition to remote work spurred by the pandemic will be nothing compared to what’s coming next. Mr. Ozimek’s says new asynchronous work models will allow remote workers to work from wherever they want whether it’s their hometowns or ski towns.

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