Last week we asked a number of questions about the validity of using generational categories at work.
Does the behaviour people demonstrate and the attitudes they form towards their work, colleagues and company culture really depend on the year in which they were born?
Is this generalising healthy? Should it be influencing HR strategies?
Or are these stereotypes unhelpful? Could they even be a mighty convenient way to avoid dealing with the nuanced reality of an age diverse organisation.
You Spoke, We Listened: The Employee Perspective
We wanted to hear from a range of employed individuals to understand the first-person perspective on age diversity at work. We conducted a survey and anonymously collected responses. The only identifier used was the generational category the responder belongs to. Here are the headline figures:
Representative survey participation by % is as follows:
- Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964) 7%
- Generation X (born 1965-1979) 19%
- Millennial (born 1980-1994) 52%
- Generation Z (born 1995-2012) 22%
In terms of limitations, this data set is skewed towards the Millenial and Gen Z perspective (this may or may not indicate which generational groups are most motivated to discuss this topic… however it is more likely a reflection of Culture Correspondence’s audience demographics.)
When considering whether people all want generally the same things from work, (making generational differences in the workplace negligible in reality) respondents were divided fairly evenly. 52% of respondents disagreed.
67% of respondents also disagreed with the statement that age diversity isn't important (and that a workforce that is inclusive to a range of generations is no better than one that isn't).
- The majority think age diversity at work is important
- Roughly half of the same cohort believe that people generally want the same things from work
Just over half (56%) of the total survey respondents were confident that yes, they had experienced stereotypes and assumptions at work based on their generational category - and that is mirrored within the individual generations, too.
A fairly conclusive 67% of respondents said no, an age difference hadn’t impacted their ability to relate to or connect with colleagues.
An entirely conclusive 100% of respondents agree that there are benefits to having a diverse workforce when it comes to age and generations.
Removing those who said they weren’t sure, it is a totally even, 50/50 split between those who, when looking for a new job and assessing potential new employers, would find the age diversity of the company important to understand before joining, and those who wouldn’t.
What Are the Downsides and Differences?
Only 19% of respondents share the feeling that there are disadvantages to having a diverse workforce when it comes to age and generational diversity.
The generation that seems to share this vibe the most strongly, is Gen Z (33% of Gen Z participants said that yes, there are disadvantages to age and generational diversity in the workplace).
So, let’s dig into that….
By analysing Gen Z’s qualitative, more nuanced responses, this all seems to be based on a (perceived) conflicting appreciation of workplace norms and standards.
We looked for recurring themes within Gen Z responses and coded them. The list of distinct themes are as follows:
- Working to live (and not the other way around)
- Low tolerance of inappropriate behaviour at work
- Requirements for flexibility
- Requirements for meaningful, purposeful work
This could be Gen Z making new and overreaching demands as a generational cohort, but here at Culture Correspondence, we look at the list of themes in the bullet points above and consider this a reasonable set of foundational standards that all human beings can - and should - benefit from in the contemporary workplace (regardless of the contexts within which we all grew up and the formative experiences we had based on the macro environments impacting us along the way.)
So, we’re left asking the question we asked last week, are generational differences a superficially excusable mechanism for being derogatory about the needs of the contemporary workforce?
Social Identity Theory (Tajfel (1979) is based on a very normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. However, by grouping things together we also tend to exaggerate both the differences between groups and the similarities of things in the same group.
Creating in-groups and out-groups and indulging in these exaggerations, establishes an ‘us and them’ mindset.
“The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that group members of an in-group will seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image”
Rather than leaning into generational differences, we encourage companies and their People functions to pause. By referencing generational differences at work, HR teams risk codifying an ‘us and them’ mindset - which creates division in the workplace, and does not feel like inclusivity-focused work.
And, a big thank you goes out to the 33% of Gen Z-ers who have been bold enough to declare that the disadvantages of an age and generationally diverse workforce have nothing to do with building successful connections or individual relationships, and everything to do with raising the bar for everyone’s lived experience at work.
Word From The Street
Ginni’s favourite quote of the week from the HR Community
It was International Women’s Day this week, and I think the following LinkedIn post from Julia Fulton, People & Culture Coordinator at Guusto, sums everything up in a neat package!
Here are 5 ways you can observe International Women's Day in your organization!
1. Pay women the same as you pay their male counterparts
2. That's it, that's the list 🏼
No cookie cutters or silver bullets here, just things Ginni thinks are interesting and/or useful.
On the theme of inclusivity and striving to make space to understand the individual, this week I’m signposting to the ‘feelings wheel’. Informed by Plutchik’s original Wheel of Emotions, the feelings wheel is recommended to anybody who wants to effectively and accurately reflect on their own feelings at any time. I have found the feelings wheel particularly useful in 1:1s and feedback scenarios where my direct reports are struggling to articulate something they’re experiencing. Some prep time with the feelings wheel to real nail-down what is going on, can work wonders and enable positively impactful coaching conversations.