Fresh Perspectives | 2nd Quarter | 2020

Employers Fail When They Stereotype a Generation

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Today’s human resources professionals deal with the unique challenge of having a multigenerational workforce. The last couple of years have seen an influx of multigenerations in the workforce as people are now working longer and retiring later in life. As younger generations enter and older generations remain in the workforce, employers are becoming aware of the different lifestyles, priorities and values that are merging from having such an age-diverse workforce. They are seeking ways to address the various generational needs and offer solutions that work best.

HR professionals need to understand that it is crucial to avoid stereotyping generations when developing and executing strategies and solutions. Each generation should be understood properly for what they value, but that is also true on an individual level. Everyone requires different accommodations on different days. However, by segmenting generations based on preconceived notions, employers may fail to reach most individuals on a personal level and provide them with the proper resources they are seeking.

Additionally, just focusing on the generational gaps can become a limiting scope for employers. In a survey conducted by Green Circle Life of HR professionals, more than 50% reported that their strategies targeting the different generations need to be improved.

For example, if an employer focused on multigenerational differences, they might spend time addressing the very common stereotype of a technological gap in a workforce by comparing Baby Boomers to Millennials. While some employees in a given generation may face technological difficulties, this does not mean all do, nor that they want assistance. These days, most individuals are somewhat technologically adept; however, the degree may be on a spectrum. By following stereotypes, employers might develop technology mentorship programs or a training classroom, when all that is really needed are a few educational materials and resources that are easy to find and use.

“By recognizing the diversities of a workforce, employers can properly target needs and access to resources.”

Everyone has different capabilities, preferences and needs for resources that vary over time. This makes it challenging for HR to create a workplace that is best suited for every employee, regardless of their generation. However, while there might be five different generations in a workforce, that does not mean — and should not mean — that an employer creates five different tools to address such differences. Instead, employers should work to address the problems they want to solve. Whatever it is, it’s important the solution can be personalized on an individual basis.

By recognizing the diversities of a workforce, employers can properly target needs and access to resources. Using health benefits as an example, some employees use their benefits with a family focus; some use resources to focus on preventive health; others are trying to stabilize and handle current health conditions; and some employees may be dealing with all three of these situations. If employers are working to provide resources that are useful for employees, it’s important not to segment it or approach it from a multigenerational focus. Doing so could lead to resources that aren’t utilized. Instead, recognizing that health needs change on a day-to-day basis can encourage employers to provide personalized individual programs. Some solutions include letting employees select plans that are adaptable and comprehensive, as well as offering a single benefits platform that can be accessible from anywhere. Allowing employees to be flexible with their resource engagements enables employee satisfaction as employers cater to their workforce.

Generalizing generations has become quite common. But when employers do it, it can result in lower employee satisfaction because employees are not receiving the resources in which they actually are interested. Employers shouldn’t assume their employees will prefer a certain method or style because of their age. Workplaces will naturally evolve as people also evolve, so HR should be cognizant of what they are witnessing in their workforce, and engage and understand what interests their employees.

If an employer finds its employees have varied communication preferences, which is most likely the case for any workforce, the employer should then provide varied communication styles. Some employees might prefer paper-based communications, and others a mobile-first approach. Whichever one an employee wants, allowing them to choose creates a more open and receptive environment. Personalization vs. focusing on the age of employees makes it easier to provide effective solutions.

If employers stereotype generations, that attitude may trickle down into the company culture at the employee level, creating conflicts and communication gaps. Generational issues sometimes are considered more extreme than they actually are. The more cooperation, collaboration and interaction that can exist among individuals, regardless of generations, will move the workforce toward limiting conflict and a more supportive and rewarding work atmosphere. Additionally, stereotyping generations can cause many issues and make it difficult for employers to get the most from their most valuable resources. It might seem easy to address issues or conflicts from a generational stance, but that can be a very restrictive lens. Addressing each individual’s needs and building a culture of personalized attention will create greater employee satisfaction and can make HR initiatives more successful. 

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Dinesh_ShethDinesh Sheth is founder and CEO of Green Circle Life. Follow Green Circle Life on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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