How to embrace and manage generational differences in the workforce

Having different generations represented in the workplace allows for teams to tap into a wealth of unique perspectives

How to embrace and manage generational differences in the workforce

These days your workforce could include up to five generations of people and each generation comes with its own unique differences. There’s no question that a baby-boomer nearing retirement will have a different set of priorities and values to a Gen Z co-worker that has just entered the workforce. Having a multi-generational workforce is something that should be embraced by employers Sandra Teh, Culture Evangelist at Amazon Web Services (AWS) APJC, told HRD.

“Having different generations represented in the workplace allows for teams to tap into a wealth of unique perspectives, with each generation bringing different experiences, perspectives, work styles and strengths.”

What are the generations and their characteristics?

Baby Boomers (1946-1964): Loyal, self-motivated, high work-ethic

Generation X (1965 – 1979): Educated, good work ethic, self-reliant

Millennials (1980-1995): Tech savvy, idealistic, flexible, ambitious, educated

Generation Z (1996-present): Multicultural, tech natives, entrepreneurial, independent

Teh is proud to boast a workforce that accounts for all generations with employees in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. AWS fosters an environment where younger employees who grew up as digital natives and are adept in new technology work alongside mature professionals who bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to the table and help guide their younger colleagues in sharpening their focus and achievement of business objectives.

Read more: Age diversity, are employers overlooking the benefits?

“As generations interact, the sharing of best practices and perspectives can help result in better outcomes and higher levels of productivity as employees learn from each other and drive innovation,” said Teh.

The same unique experiences, perspectives, working styles that account for the advantages of a multi-generational workforce can also at times be a challenge for any organisation to manage, something that Teh said should be managed proactively; at AWS they have policies like letting their newest joiner or the youngest in the room to share their views before the tenured employees in the room share their thoughts.

“It’s not surprising that different generations have different ways of working and communicating, which has been further exacerbated by the rise of new technology and increased communications channels in recent years,” said Teh. 

“What is key,” she continued, “is not necessarily to get all employees to conform to one way of doing things at work, but rather, to encourage a culture of openness, where different viewpoints are heard and respected, before agreeing to objectively evaluate and make decisions based on insights.”

Teh thinks during the search for talent in the tech industry, some companies tend to restrict their talent pools to people with extensive IT experience and overlook underrepresented groups, like women or mature mid-career individuals who could be an important pool of talent with the aptitude to thrive in the industry.

Teh told HRD the story of John Dwyer from the AWS Infrastructure Operations team, whom some of the office fondly address as Grandpa John. From his humble beginnings as a saddle maker, John entered the technology sector more than 30 years ago, and eventually started working at AWS Australia. He currently is the APJC Region Datacentre Security Manager based in Singapore.”

Read more: Which NZ companies are diversity leaders?

“At AWS, we believe in nurturing an inclusive workplace, where everyone is welcome to contribute their ideas, have safe and open conversations, and is set up for success. If organisations can provide an inclusive space where employees, regardless of age, feel supported to pursue new opportunities and to be successful at their work, they can stand to gain a strong competitive advantage.”

Teh’s top tips for ensuring multi-generational workforces thrive

  • Establish an infrastructure that supports a culture of inclusion, where everyone feels free to share their ideas, perspectives, and bring their authentic selves to work.
  • Install actionable steps to make this a reality. AWS runs a unique daily poll to create a continuous feedback loop with their employees ensuring that leadership is on pulse with how to create a conducive working environment.
  • Have platforms in place to bring employees together across business units and locations through shared interests and causes. AWS have multiple affinity groups which play an important role in building internal networks for creating a community, leading in service projects, and bringing Amazonians together across their existing teams and social groups.

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