As Generation Z enters the workforce, five generations are working side-by-side for the first time in history. Insurance organizations face the challenge of motivating and engaging individuals that span from Gen Z (born after 1997) to Traditionalists (born before 1945), while avoiding generational conflict.
Although research has been done on generational differences for years, we’re currently experiencing a unique shift within the talent landscape. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are poised to quickly become the largest generation in the workforce. At the same time, members of this group, along with Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), are moving into senior leadership positions. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are working well past the age of 65 and potentially taking a vast amount of knowledge with them upon retirement.
Each of these generations is unique and offers different perspectives, stemming from varied experiences, backgrounds and life stages. And, each one deals with its own set of misconceptions and stereotypes. Whether or not true, these labels — along with different skill gaps, communication styles and expectations — can lead to conflict in the workplace.
Rather than simply mitigating this conflict, organizations can cultivate a generationally diverse workforce and harness a multitude of strengths. A number of studies highlight the value of diversity in effective decision-making and innovation. Multiple perspectives create more robust conversations that enable teams to better tackle problems and arrive at more thorough and well-thought-out solutions. Companies must celebrate and encourage diversity to achieve more effective and agile teams that more accurately reflect their customer bases.
Break down stereotypes. Managers and other leaders can help dispel stereotypes by removing the use of generational labels and focusing on individual employees. In fact, it’s possible that the generations are much more similar than some may think.
An IBM study found that Millennials’ career goals and expectations are similar to other generations and include making a positive organizational impact, helping solve challenges and working with diverse groups of people. Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers also provided the same top reason they would change jobs: the opportunity for more money and a more creative workplace. Members of all generations value family, seek respect (which they may define in different ways) and want leaders they can trust, among other similarities, according to research by the Center for Creative Leadership. It’s possible that many of the more prominent differences across generations may be due to age or career stages.
This mindset of dispelling stereotypes needs to extend across the company and include interactions with potential candidates. Human resources teams and hiring managers should be trained to recognize if they are unknowingly pre-judging a candidate based on a graduation date or picture. This begins with education and awareness around unconscious bias and the unintentional barriers that may exist among individuals of different generations.
Focus on similarities. There are many common denominators teams can focus on that are not generation-specific. For instance, all employees can rally around a sense of company purpose and pride. This could also mean bonding over the mutual goal of providing quality customer service or developing process improvements. Or, it could be a shared passion for philanthropy or a corporate charity event. By focusing on team building and individual interests and workstyles, rather than generational labels, companies can build a greater sense of camaraderie and community.
Create an environment of support. An environment that encourages support and idea-sharing at all levels cultivates trust and understanding. This might mean creating cross-generational project teams or committees. It could expand into mentoring and reverse mentoring programs, where ideas and knowledge can be shared among employees. Weekly huddle meetings can also provide an opportunity to share historic experiences, brainstorm solutions and collaborate on projects.
Listen to your employees. While Millennials are one of the most talked about generations, it’s important to find a balance that also takes into account the needs of more seasoned workers, which still are the majority at many insurance organizations. For example, Millennials are often thought to value collaboration, but open work environments might not be the right option for all teams. Even more drastic is “hoteling” where employees claim a desk for the day instead of having a more permanent workspace. This may be a trend and an ideal situation for some employees, but others may feel like they’ve lost their sense of place and identity. By listening to all employees — whether through in-person conversations, surveys or other means — firms can find solutions that blend the needs of multiple groups and make everyone as comfortable and engaged as possible.By cultivating mutual respect, trust and understanding among members of each generation, insurance organizations are primed to benefit from diversity of thought and perspectives. Listening to employees and recognizing their needs as individuals, while encouraging a collaborative and a supportive environment results in a more engaged and effective workforce.
Coons is senior vice president of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. Phone: 800-466-1578. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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