So, why is diversity important to today’s organisations? I am often asked this innocuous but critical question. In my response, I always quote Stephen R Covey who famously said “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
As workforce demographics shift and unified Global markets emerge, diversity comes closer to becoming a business reality instead of a mere banter by senior executives on various industry platforms to showcase their commitment to embracing differences.
Diversity is a business imperative today. Global enterprises operate across continents, communicate across timezones and work in virtual teams while facilitating collaboration across diverse cultures.
Diversity propagates innovation and transformational solutions; creates more global opportunities and fosters economic growth across the world.
While diversity focuses on accepting and nurturing differences that stem from age, background, culture, gender etc, there is an impending need today to understand and nurture multigenerational diversity in the workplace.
According to the Harvard Business Review, in four years, Millennials, people born between 1977 and 1997 will account for nearly half of all employees worldwide.
This necessitates that organisations and their employees understand how work is done differently across different generations including customer needs, interactions and work styles across different generations.
In their book ‘The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today’, Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd talk about how the workplace of the future is being shaped today by Web 2.0—a collection of breakthrough social media technologies—and by the Millennial Generation.
Connect to workforce
They believe that companies, while using marketing and social media techniques to connect with their customers, should employ similar strategies to connect with their workforce. Companies can no longer rely on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ package for their workforce.
In India, research is being conducted by Strategic Human Resources Management (SHRM) India to understand how the world view of the younger generation impacts their relationship with other generations in the workplace.
Building a workplace for a multigenerational workforce requires an understanding and attitude shift that goes beyond formulating best practices alone.
Nurturing multigenerational diversity is not only about promoting a workplace where differences are accepted, it is more importantly about redefining the workplace to value and desire these differences.
Social learning and knowledge management practices are leveraged only when employees from various generations come together to teach and learn without a sense of hierarchy.
What can organisations and HR practitioners do to understand and respond to the expectations of a multigenerational workforce?
Although they are important differences between employees of different generations, there are also significant commonalities. According to AARP, an American non-profit organization that focuses on enhancing the quality of life for people over 50, organisations that leverage these commonalities are better equipped to create work environments that support a multigenerational workforce.
Irrespective of the generation they belong to, employees view work as something beyond their paychecks, place great importance on feeling ‘valued’ in their jobs, want workplaces where they are recognised and appreciated and want a strong employer focus on their individual career development.
Democratic workplaces where flexibility is allowed attract and retain the best employees.
Building an organisational culture based on values such as openness, trust and transparency go a long way in setting an ideal foundation for a multigenerational workforce to thrive.
Strong corporate governance policies, employee wellbeing programmes and training and development initiatives lead to best practices that leverage commonalities.
Employ 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Customisation and Community Service
Organisations must take steps to enable employees dispel preconceived notions about each other’s generational backgrounds.
This is achieved by giving appropriate avenues and opportunities to Communicate, Collaborate, Customise and give back to the Community. Simple internal communication publications that help employees distinguish between generational myths versus realities are helpful tools in promoting a more inclusive workplace.
Redressal and feedback forums where employee opinions are valued and attended to continually establish a sense of trust with the employer. Regular communication must be established with employees across different generations to understand their key expectations.
HR departments must ensure that employees understand how to interact with each other in acceptable ways that befit the generation they come from.
While younger employees can be encouraged to employ more formal ways of addressing and communicating with their older peers, senior employees must be motivated to join and participate in company-wide social networking platforms.
Training and development programmes must be customised to suit the employee’s age and experience.
Community service offers unique and fulfilling avenues for employees to work together for a good cause. Collaborating in projects outside the workplace is useful in promoting a sense of camaraderie and oneness among employees.
As socially responsible businesses, organizations can create employee-centric community programmers to promote generational diversity.
Organisations must include the need to redefine the workplace for a multigenerational workforce in their long-term vision and planning.
This understanding must not be restricted only to Human Resources but also to Sales, Marketing, Management and other key stakeholders who must predict their changing customer base and be prepared to address the changes. Differences are valued in workplaces where there is no place for misconceptions or discrimination. For, building a workplace for tomorrow is not only in the hands of every employee today but also in their hearts and minds.
Leveraging commonalities, communication, collaboration, customisation, community service and promoting a democratic workplace play key roles in building a workplace for a multigenerational workforce. When this understanding and advocacy is promoted, it percolates to every employee who will appreciate the same. After all, the employee comes first!
(The author is Associate Vice-President – Diversity & Sustainability at HCL Technologies)