Generational Diversity: Bridging Gaps in the Workplace
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Generational Diversity: Bridging Gaps in the Workplace

Post Author - Elizabeth Thorn Elizabeth Thorn Last Updated:

Do you have trouble understanding the lingo some of your coworkers use? With as many as five generations participating in today’s workforce, your company probably spans at least three, meaning you’re bound to encounter some generational differences eventually (like the sad realization that you’re lowkey cheugy).

It’s not all bad, though. In fact, generational diversity in the workplace is actually great! 89% of workers believe generational differences help their organization thrive. The energy of youth and the cool-headed experience of older workers contribute to positive problem-solving and team dynamics, among many other things.

However, this mix doesn’t usually evolve naturally. Generational diversity strategies (yes, they’re a thing) are important to ensure fairness and monitor demographic developments. Here’s how they work.

TL;DR — Key Takeaways

  • Generational diversity leverages the strengths and perspectives of all age groups, from Traditionalists to Gen Z, enhancing workplace innovation and collaboration.

  • Each generation, including Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, brings unique qualities and experiences that can drive business success when effectively integrated.

  • Companies that embrace age diversity benefit from knowledge sharing, diverse skill sets, and the ability to reach a wider audience, leading to improved problem-solving and decision-making.

  • Overcoming challenges like communication differences and stereotypes is crucial for fostering an inclusive, multi-generational workforce that maximizes every employee’s potential.

  • Promote generational diversity by improving communications, flexible working hours, and tailored benefits. Focus on inclusion and fairness, treating all age groups equally.

  • Hiring is an area where companies can make quick diversity gains. Improve your age diversity profile by using Toggl Hire’s skills tests, removing bias and enabling fair decisions.

What is generational diversity?

Generational diversity recognizes and harnesses the potential of all workers, regardless of their age. In age-diverse organizations, there’s no discrimination, and everybody understands that every generation has something to offer.

This is more than just a hiring trend, though. Companies that embrace different age groups benefit a lot from knowledge sharing. Millennials, Boomers, and recent graduates bring unique perspectives, and harnessing these perspectives can lead to improved business outcomes in several ways.

Workplace demographers usually divide the workforce into five generations, ranging from “traditionalists” to Gen Z. Since each group has its own experiences and traits, it’s worth getting to know them in more detail.

Different generations in the workplace

Traditionalists

Also known as the Silent Generation, Traditionalists are those born before 1946. They grew up during the Great Depression and World War II — collective experiences involving sacrifice and teamwork.

Thanks to improved health and lifestyles, around 650,000 American workers are over 80 years old and fall into this demographic. By 2032, 10% of the over-75s will still be punching the clock. The retirement age is also increasing from 66 to 67 for those born after 1960, leaving many older workers with no other choice but to retire even later.

It’s not just that they have to keep clocking in, though. Many of them still enjoy the work they do, and they’re prized for their:

  • Teamworking skills

  • Loyalty

  • Respect for authority

  • Work ethic

  • Face-to-face communication skills

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers were generally born between 1946 and 1964 during the post-war “boom” as the economy flourished and progress was in the air.

The number of Boomers in the workforce is declining, but they still comprise around 19% of US employees. Boomers are also keen to continue working (more so than previous generations), which means they’ll likely remain in the talent market for a while yet.

Qualities Baby Boomers bring to the workplace include:

  • Strong emphasis on work and achieving professional goals

  • Optimistic mindsets

  • Teamwork

  • Face-to-face communication skills with tech literacy

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

The Baby Boomer generation tends to be experienced and skilled — particularly helpful in projects where younger teams may need a helping hand. They are also future-minded, used to job security, and will look for compensation packages with attractive retirement benefits.

Generation X

Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980. Gen Xers tend to be more independent-minded than Boomers. They grew up when certainties about secure work and stability were dissolving.

Gen Xers represent around 31% of the workforce but are now becoming dominant in management positions. Qualities they bring include:

  • Resourcefulness and self-management

  • Independence and skepticism about authority

  • Tech savviness

  • Adaptability

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

These qualities make Gen X ideal for tech start-ups, where quick-thinking and demolishing outdated practices are the norm. Today, as parents of school-age kids, work-life balance is often a critical priority.

Millennials

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are currently the largest age group in the US workforce. They largely abandoned Gen X’s cynicism, focusing instead on ethical values and meaningful work.

Millennials tend to be known for:

  • Familiarity with technology

  • Embracing flexible work schedules

  • Digital communication skills

  • Appreciation for employer feedback and attentive management

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Flexibility is the keyword with millennials. This generation moves between jobs more than any other group. So, if you want to retain millennials, you need to first understand why they leave. For instance, 42% of millennials say employer healthcare coverage is a major factor in changing jobs.

Gen Z

Gen Z members were born from 1997 onwards. Gen Z employees are digital natives who grew up with social media, smartphones, and personal computers. Embracing new technology tends to be second nature.

Gen Z members don’t expect stability. Both Millennials and Generation Z hop between jobs by necessity, embracing flexibility and career development opportunities.

Qualities associated with Gen Z include:

  • Entrepreneurial, tech-centered mindsets

  • Focus on authenticity and self-knowledge

  • Valuing social responsibility

  • Short-form communications via digital tools

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Gen Z is the most diverse generation in terms of identity. This encourages a strong focus on authenticity and fighting discrimination.

What are the benefits of generational diversity?

Generational diversity is far from just a box to tick. Each generation has its own set of incredible life experiences, ways of thinking, and attitudes that make them an asset to your company.

For example (of which there are many), a recent survey found companies with diverse management teams enjoy a 10% profit advantage over less diverse competitors.

This applies to all major DEI themes, including gender, racial, and age diversity. However, generational diversity delivers some unique upsides. We’ve picked out three huge benefits managers often overlook, but there are plenty more to consider.

Broader skill set

One of the best things about improving generational diversity is enriching workforce skills. Companies that are reliant only on younger age groups benefit from their energy and digital fluency, but they miss the decision-making and negotiation skills derived from decades of experience.

That’s not to say one is better than the other. They’re just different. For example, older workers, due to their experience, may advise against over-optimistic forecasts, while younger generations might identify new uses for technology that their more senior colleagues might have missed.

Enhanced problem solving

Most problems have many solutions, and successful companies draw on their talent reserves to consider every angle and find the best solution.

Generational differences can play a critical role in this kind of decision-making. Consider a business that provides leisure experiences for corporate partners…

Gen Z or Millennial employees propose an app-based solution delivering affordable short-term deals. Gen X managers temper this plan, suggesting packages for families and child-care options. Baby Boomers also contribute, stressing accessible facilities and diverse leisure options.

In these situations, mixed-age teams blend innovation and practical considerations.

Improved customer insights

Generational diversity also enhances how you understand and communicate with audiences.

Think about it this way: Generation Z and Millennials generally consume digital content in small bursts, while Baby Boomers hardly use short-form media like TikTok, preferring written content or extended videos.

Companies relying on the marketing skills of younger generations tend to miss ways to reach older groups. Widening your age range makes it easier to target audiences, resulting in a broader customer base.

The impact of hiring bias

Why is generational diversity a challenge?

Embracing generational differences at work has many benefits. Despite this, companies often struggle to diversify their age profile.

Hiring teams recognize the value of experience but find it hard to treat older applicants fairly. One study even suggests businesses are as likely to interview a Generation Z candidate with five years of experience as a 25-year veteran.

That’s not all. Even if hiring plans succeed, managers struggle to take advantage of the different skills of older and younger employees. Around 80% of older workers believe managers see them as unproductive. Gallup, meanwhile, reports a wave of detachment from work among undervalued Gen Z employees.

Why is this problem so common, and what can you do about it?

Communication styles

All too frequently, managers fail to communicate effectively with different generations, as they each have very different communication styles. Older workers tend to favor phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Gen Z or Millennials prefer smartphone video calls or bite-sized emails.

Poor intergenerational communication alienates employees, making them feel isolated or underinformed. Misunderstandings arise if workers need time to absorb information but other team members rush ahead.

Conflicting work styles

The generational gap also relates to how employees work. Older workers generally prefer structure and certainty. They value exact role requirements and firm timeframes. Younger workers are less concerned with rigid guidelines, valuing autonomy and flexible working arrangements.

Friction eventually arises when you get this wrong. Managers must find a work rhythm that suits their staff. Small teams or individual projects make sense if you mainly employ Gen Z staff. Traditional work teams (in an office setting) may suit Baby Boomers or older Millennials.

Stereotypes and misconceptions

Prepare yourself because we’re about to hit you with something sad and scary: Around 30% of the current workforce reports falling victim to age discrimination during their careers.

Stray remarks, sudden responsibility changes, or missed professional development opportunities undermine employee confidence. Older generations can quickly become disillusioned and demotivated, and younger workers may look elsewhere for work, as it’s always been so easy to hop from one job to the next.

Given these consequences, managers need strategies to combat common age-related stereotypes.

For instance, Gen Z workers are often stereotyped as disloyal or disengaged. Millennials are seen as overly entitled and arrogant, while Boomers hate change. None of these descriptions are accurate, but they continue to circulate nonetheless.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

To fight age discrimination, encourage mixed-age team collaborations to leverage diverse perspectives and skills. Here are some ideas of what that might look like:

  • Offer mentorship programs where experienced employees can share knowledge, while younger staff can teach new technologies.
  • Regularly provide training on unconscious bias to ensure everyone recognizes and challenges their own assumptions.
  • Promote career development opportunities equally across all age groups, demonstrating that growth is not age-dependent.

Teamwork and collaboration

Generational differences often increase friction within teams. Individuals aren’t at fault, though. Different generations simply have different expectations about processes, speed, and working styles.

For example, Baby Boomer managers might sometimes forget to consider the shorter attention spans and digital fluency of younger workers. Or, they may inundate staff with written materials when videos or concise online resources work better.

All of this is avoidable if you understand employee preferences from the start. Top-down, inflexible management rarely gets results.

Leveraging unique skills

Problems also arise when you fail to understand the unique qualities of different generations. As the breakdown above shows, there are big differences between the lived experiences of Traditionalists and Gen Z.

Poor managers apply a single definition of skills and productivity. Workers who don’t fit their preconceptions are discarded or marginalized. Employees similar to them tend to be promoted, which only reduces workplace diversity (and increases tension and resentment among the team).

Avoid this situation by recognizing the skills of each generation and moving beyond stereotypes. Use software to learn what age groups bring to the table. For example, Toggl Hire’s skills and personality tests help you uncover hidden talents.

Knowledge transfer and succession planning

Retiring or departing workers often have in-depth knowledge and invaluable experience. However. retaining knowledge is challenging without taking generational differences into account. Communication breakdowns happen all the time.

Older workers may want to impart information but aren’t given opportunities to do so. Younger workers moving up the hierarchy may also be keen to get started but fail to absorb the advice of leaving colleagues.

Integrating generational exchanges in succession planning works around this problem. Consultations between leaving workers and junior colleagues ensure critical information bridges the generation gap.

Technological changes

Another issue relates to how generations use technology. Older generations tend to prioritize face-to-face interactions and standardized processes. Boomers or older Gen X workers will usually adopt new tech, but only at their own pace.

Younger generations are far more digitally literate and comfortable with change. Sometimes, this creates a mismatch. Older employees struggle with apps or devices younger colleagues barely think about.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Consider tech literacy when optimizing workforce planning. When introducing new systems, include training for all staff and give workers sufficient time to master new techniques.

Balancing work-life priorities

Work-life balance also influences in-work performance. A Gen Z workforce often expects flexible working hours. Time off, mental health breaks, and remote working have become routine.

Millennial employees are reaching the age where parental leave or longer breaks for professional development are increasingly important. Boomers may need time off to care for relatives or recharge their batteries. At work, however, they often prefer 9-to-5 schedules.

Assess expectations for every employee. Avoid homogenous work-life balance policies. Design packages to suit different generational needs.

How to embrace generational diversity in the workplace

A multigenerational workforce brings benefits and challenges, but how do you emphasize the positives while neutralizing any negatives?

A big chunk of the task revolves around communication. Successful companies constantly speak to their workforce. They listen to employee needs and understand generational differences. As a result, companies understand what workers want and how to help them thrive.

Communicating with a diverse workforce is never easy. But the tips below will help you make the most of the skills of people of all ages.

How to Embrace Generational Diversity in the Workplace

#1 — Don’t make age-based assumptions

Never assume that an individual will fit generational stereotypes. Generational traits are guidelines, not prescriptions (we might even go as far as to say they’re entirely irrelevant). Everyone is different and brings unique personalities and skill sets to work.

We recommend using skills testing to identify surprising strengths, weaker areas, and training potential. Skills tests also help avoid bias when promoting or recruiting staff — ensuring fair hiring.

#2 — Diversify your communication styles

Tailor your language and style to different age groups. For instance, offer face-to-face interaction to better suit older workers. Other generations may prefer remote supervision or digital teamwork apps.

Use age-specific or neutral language, too. Gen Zers may respond well to Taylor Swift references. Gen Xers raised on punk or Beatles-obsessed Boomers may just feel confused.

Avoid contemporary slang and run critical communications via colleagues of different ages. Even managers with elite writing or negotiation skills can fall foul of generation gaps. Scrutiny always helps.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Regardless of the generation they were born into, most employees have one of five main communication styles. Understanding what these are can help you start to view individual employees as just that — individuals (and not another member of a stereotyped group).

  • Passive: The passive communicator prefers soaking up the communication around them rather than voicing their own opinion
  • Aggressive: The aggressive communicator is very confident about their point of view and they have no issue sharing it with others
  • Passive-aggressive: The passive-aggressive communicator is telling you one thing, but their non-verbal cues usually give off the opposite vibe
  • Assertive: The assertive communicator isn’t afraid to voice their opinion and explain what they want and why (they’re usually great employees!)
  • Manipulative: The manipulative communicator is the only communication style that’s a “problem,” as they use deception for personal gain

Want to know which communication style each of your employees has? Use skills tests! Here’s an overview of what’s included in our communication skills test.

#3 — Cater to every employee’s life stage

Flexible working is a place where you can make big wins — provided you understand why employees need time off. These reasons vary significantly between generations.

Younger team members value time off to travel or chill out between projects. Gen Xers often want time with their families or to look after their parents. Boomers may request time to connect with grandchildren or attend medical appointments.

Adapt your policies to suit these priorities instead of imposing one-size-fits-all solutions.

#4 — Offer more diverse, unique benefits

Targeting employee benefits at different age groups is always advisable. Younger employees probably don’t need family healthcare coverage, but health insurance for dependents is huge for Gen Xers.

Early-career workers may be inclined to switch jobs. You can’t do much about that. However, employee perks and meaningful work can go a long way towards countering the desire to job-hop.

Generous retirement benefits reassure older recruits and encourage long-term commitment.

#5 — Promote knowledge sharing

Healthy, multigenerational workforces foster conversations across the age divide. Mentoring is a good starting point, as assigning experienced staff to guide new hires doesn’t just help them settle in; it instantly creates a cross-generational bond.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Avoid management cliques where older staff make decisions without consulting younger employees. On the flip side of that, avoid situations where you have younger employees handle things like communication guidelines and tools. As much as possible, ensure everything works for everybody.

#6 — Hire for skills, not resumes

Finally, use blind hiring solutions to avoid discriminating by age. Everyone (even the best recruiter) is prone to unconscious bias. While that’s human nature and somewhat hard to completely avoid, you can level the playing field by reducing your reliance on resumes and interviews.

Diversity hiring generally works better with objective skills assessments. Use role-specific tests to assess someone’s ability to perform well on the job.

This could lead you to discover a younger worker with exceptional skills despite their lack of on-the-job experience or an older candidate who is particularly skilled in a new programming language.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Use skills assessments at the beginning of the hiring process to reduce hiring bias and open up your talent pool to more diverse candidates with unique backgrounds, experiences, and expertise to add to your team. If you’re unsure what that looks like, explore our skills test library to browse a few examples!

Hire multiple generations with Toggl Hire

We’re champions of generational diversity, and we bet you are, too, after reading through these benefits. The trouble is that achieving true workforce diversity is harder than simply hiring employees from different generations.

Sure, we’ve given you a few ways to accommodate age differences, from communication methods to flexible work, but none of that matters if your hiring process excludes some groups and favors others.

Toggl Hire offers a simple solution. Our hiring tools let you assess candidates regardless of their age. Your hiring team can offer applicants tests that focus on skills and potential, making the odds even for everyone.

Find out more with a free Toggl Hire account — your key to unbiased hiring, inclusive workplaces, and a more dynamic business culture.

Elizabeth Thorn

Elizabeth is an experienced entrepreneur and content marketer. She has nine years of experience helping grow businesses and has experienced first-hand the impact of skills-based hiring in today's global, digital world.

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