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For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workplace. This generational blending is causing a shift in thinking for many leaders due to employee dynamics, organizational changes and communication styles across the five generations. These generational differences make up much of the noise and disengagement happening in every industry across America due to the lack of understanding between the generations. This holds true for the construction industry as well. 

What are the Five Generations in the Workforce?

Summary of Key Generational Differences

Source: Excerpts from Purdue Global University. Generational Differences in the Workplace [Infographic]
Benefits and Opportunities of Having a Diverse Multigenerational Workplace

Much is written about the challenges associated with blending a multigenerational workforce. More should be written about the benefits and opportunities to leverage from a multigenerational workforce. It is true that there are distinct differences between the generations with respect to attitudes, values, beliefs, motivations and ultimately preferred working styles. These elements are foundational to organizational culture. It really starts with organizations having a true understanding of their demographics, which is a very important first step; the impacts of simply understanding could be a key to success in the future.

There are many benefits of a multigenerational workforce. The foremost benefit is the multigenerational workforce reflects diversity and inclusion. The diversity of thoughts, experiences and skills between the different generations represented in a contemporary workforce aids in creating a workplace that fosters learning and mentoring. Additionally, multigenerational workplaces are known to promote higher degrees of problem solving and innovation. The relationship building in multigenerational workplaces builds strong group dynamics and promotes greater empathy among coworkers. This can lead to a more respectful workplace that can promote psychological safety where every person feels respected and valued.

Strategies for Assimilating, Training and Developing a Multigenerational Workforce

As the younger generations start to take leadership roles in many organizations, some interesting dynamics between generations have been created at the workplace. Training generational differences can have a very positive impact on leadership across an organization. While the seasoned generations are much more open to change than they ever have been, many organizations find partnering a younger employee with a veteran employee can really create an opportunity for knowledge transfer. 

When organizations use this mindset as a recruiting tool, newer employees see that as an opportunity to learn skills quicker than through self-teaching or even going through a formal training program. This shortens the training cycle and creates a better opportunity for new employees to feel valued quicker. This approach also gives the veteran employees a sense of purpose and a legacy prior to retirement.

The Relative Comfort of Different Generations in Discussing Mental Health at Work

Among the differences that impact both the physical and remote/virtual workplace is the relative comfort—or discomfort—some generations have in expressing their feelings about mental health. In a pre-pandemic poll undertaken by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “approximately half of the American workforce was comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace.” 

The APA poll further revealed that “only one in five workers are completely comfortable” talking about mental health. There was an important generational finding in this poll: “younger workers are much likely to feel they can discuss their mental health—millennials are almost twice as likely as baby boomers to be comfortable (62% versus 32%).” This is a significant difference and reveals that sensitivity is needed when talking about the topics of mental health and suicide prevention.

The APA poll further showed that “a majority of workers indicated they would recognize the signs of distress among coworkers and would reach out to a coworker showing signs of mental health distress.” There was another significant finding in the APA poll highlighting another generational and gender difference: “younger women, 18 to 49, are more likely (82%) and older men less likely (66%) to recognize signs in co-workers.” Again, it is important to understand these generational and gender differences when designing workplace strategies and educational campaigns regarding mental health and suicide prevention.

A final concern identified in the APA poll pointed to a high percentage of workers, more than one-third of those surveyed, “concerned about the fear of retaliation or being fired for seeking for mental health care.” The survey pinpointed one demographic that felt most at risk of retaliatory actions for seeking mental health care: “younger men are more likely to be concerned than older men or women of any age about retaliation”. This reinforces the need for employers to promote the confidentiality of employee assistance programs and in the use of behavioral health care benefits.

Conclusion

The contemporary workforce is increasingly diverse and inclusive with five distinct generations now working together in the office or on jobsites. Understanding the unique characteristics of a multigenerational workforce is increasingly important. There are benefits and challenges associated with multigenerational workforces. Sensitivity to the differences between genders and generations is a hallmark of a respectful workplace truly built upon diversity, inclusion and equity. Employers who can leverage the strengths of the various generations, while successfully navigating the differences, will reap the rewards by making the multigenerational workplace culture a source of competitive advantage.

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