1: Stop thinking about employees in terms of generations.
That’s not to say there aren’t meaningful differences between, say, Baby Boomers and Gen Z, but most of those difference have little or nothing to do with their generation specifically. Instead, they’re due to age and, relatedly, career stage and other factors, like how long they’ve been with the employer.
In fact, a comprehensive meta-analysis of studies looking at generational differences in the workplace ultimately concluded that “meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist.”
2: Differences in workers are more likely due to career stage than generational influences.
Instead, alternative explanations can be found for almost any characteristic or behavior commonly attributed to a specific generation. As mentioned above, age and career stage are more meaningful. In other words, it’s not that Baby Boomers care more about health and retirement benefits because they’re Baby Boomers. It’s because they’re aging and nearing retirement. Millennial focus on health and retirement benefits are likely to increase similarly as they near retirement age as well.
3: Managing by generating increases the risk of labor law violations.
Another reason not to focus so much on a worker’s generation: if you end up managing different groups of workers differentially based on imagined preferences or needs, your organization may be setting itself up for accusations of age-related discrimination.
Even ordinary employment actions (like trying to recruit around what millennials want, for example) could be risky if you handle recruitment, hiring, and onboarding differently for them than other groups. Beyond the risk of inadvertent age discrimination, organizations also run the risk of just getting it wrong because they’re basing decisions on stereotypes, prejudices, and pseudo-scientific ideas about various generations.
Instead, offer your workforce more flexibility and control over their own work experience.
If you have or are building a multigenerational workforce, and you want to appeal to different employees of all ages and all career stages, consider voluntary and customizable benefits packages and flex working options. As researchers in the Journal of Business and Psychology write,
“Instead of customizing HR policies and practices based on such [generational] differences, organizations could use information about their overall workforce and its characteristics to train recruiters, develop and refine policies, and offer customizable benefits packages that appeal to a broad range of employees, regardless of generation.”
In fact, offering employee-driven flexibility in benefits and work situation can not only appeal to all generations, but it can also position an employer to be more competitive overall in the employment marketplace. Thankfully, technology makes it more plausible than ever to implement this kind of flex and remote work.
CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.