Conflict of a multigenerational workforce

Organisations need to take advantage of the diverse thought processes, work styles and ethos available, and create a frictionless workplace.

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As the dynamics of the workplace have changed with the evolution of technology, the change in generations has also impacted the organisational fabric. Organisations today comprise three distinct generations with different mindsets, aspirations and ethos. Generation X consists of those born between 1961 and 1980, while generation Y consists of millennials, that is, those born between1981 and 1995. The youngest is the Gen Z comprising people born between 1996-2010. In India, millennials account for nearly half of the working age population, whereas Gen Z has just made its entry.

Why the conflict?

The start-up ecosystem in India got a boost with millennials taking risks to start businesses. Millennials can be called ‘key doers’, but they do need the wisdom and experience of the previous generation to help them scale up the business or execute the strategy to its full potential.

Prashant Srivastava

“Gen X aligns valuable strategies in an organisation. Their primary motivation is empowerment, liberty to create something bigger along with wealth creation. Even the other two generations need empowerment but they will also need a lot of direction.”

“Gen Z, who are entering the workforce are the future of the businesses, which are being disrupted by digital. It is important to engage, encourage and listen to them otherwise the organisation is likely to miss out on the disruption. And if that happens, it will become extinct,” says Prashant Srivastava, former president-group HR and people excellence, Reliance Group.

The co-existence of all the three generations is critical for organisational success. Gen X is driven by passion, wealth and achievements, while millennials are driven by work–life balance and quality of work. Gen Z being multi taskers, value independence more.

“Gen X aligns valuable strategies in an organisation. Their primary motivation is empowerment, liberty to create something bigger along with wealth creation. Even the other two generations need empowerment but they will also need a lot of direction,” says Srivastava.

Being raised differently, the younger generation has views, outlook and perspectives that are in contrast to the previous generations. They are highly tech enabled and prefer texting rather than talking. They are very inventive and innovative and enjoy challenging the status quo.

Millennials are the ‘sandwich generation’, stuck between both. They don’t like to clock long hours at work and demand work–life balance unlike the previous generation which hoped for the same. It is because when Gen X started working, the economy and environment were tough, and hence, got trained in a different way.

What is the conflict?

Some thought leaders in the HR industry feel it’s the skill gap and the psyche of the previous generations, which lead to interpersonal issues at the workplace.

Ravi Mishra

“Nowadays, it’s not about reskilling but rather about acquiring a new skill set altogether that creates a difference. The older generation is trapped in their own thinking that poses a challenge to learning new skill.”

For instance, in the manufacturing industry, someone who has spent relatively 10–15 years with one technology may suddenly become redundant. The previous experience can become a road block in the adoption of the new technology, which can lead to ego hassles. “Nowadays, it’s not about reskilling but rather about acquiring a new skill set altogether that creates a difference. The older generation is trapped in their own thinking that poses a challenge to learning new skills,” says Ravi Mishra, senior vice-president, HR, Birla Carbon.

Today, employees get promoted much early and don’t hold the same position for more than three years on an average. The newer generation is expressive, liberal, demanding and will not compromise easily with their expectations, which may also lead to confrontations. They are more open to discussing career issues and choices; they voice concerns; and look for wider purpose in their actions.

“The major disconnect occurs when seniors don’t realise this and become rigid in their style. There has to be a realisation that the style of management which worked 20 years back will not work now,” says Rajorshi Ganguli, president & global HR head, Alkem Laboratories.

Loyalty may not matter for newer generations, but the same cannot be confused with commitment— they are committed till they are with you.

How to co-exist

Every generation has its own set of problems and the previous generation has to be considerate about them.

“The issues arising out of multigeneration workforces become more evident and dysfunctional when one chooses to ignore. The best way to address issues is to connect with different stakeholders on a continuous basis, get a pulse, understand and act on issues bothering them.”

“It is important to set the expectations of the generation right and moderate them. Each generation has a role to play for the next generation and the need to mentor, coach and invest time to build the people and team,” says Srivastava.

The leaders will fall short in time, and hence, Gen Y has to reciprocate the same support received from the previous generation to diffuse any conflicts at the workplace. “The issues arising out of multigeneration workforces become more evident and dysfunctional when one chooses to ignore. The best way to address issues is to connect with different stakeholders on a continuous basis, get a pulse, understand and act on issues bothering them,” adds Ganguli.

To manage the generational differences, the organisations can create a positive culture and policies, which are tuned to their demands.

Flexibility is the key to managing people today, but at the same time the manager has to clearly spell out the outcomes and deliverables. There is no harm in having an open discussion with the previous generation. They will need help to unlearn the previous skills and get equipped to adapt to new skills.

The best way for organisations to deal with such a diverse workforce is to make them realise that they have to respect and provide space to each other.

There should be provisions to create ‘life at work’. For instance, if employees have to work for 12–15 hours a day, the organisation can intersperse these hours with fitness activities, such as yoga, gym or coffee hours to socialise, so that these employees can live other aspects of their life.

It is obvious that the demography of our workforce will move to include Gen Y and beyond. Organisations will no longer have a choice but to make the workplace congenial, which suits this shift.

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