Traditionally, we have thought of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. However, in today’s digital world where the younger generations’ values and preferences have been influenced by technology since birth, diversity is much more than “tradition.”
True diversity and inclusiveness also must take into consideration the values and preferences of the diverse generations—Veterans, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Ys. And, when Gen Z enters the workplace shortly, the challenge will become greater.
The collective memories of a generation lead to a set of common beliefs, values and expectations that are unique to that generation. A generation does not grow up to become like their parents. Instead they continue through their lifetime with a separate and distinct set of beliefs and expectations formed by their shared experiences.
This is even more the case in today’s world with the youngest generations who are influenced by digital information and instant gratification. During the course of my formal research, a university leader said to me, “The younger generations today do not have any loyalty to the brands their parents trusted and believed in. Actually, this generation will cast one brand after another aside just to get to the price point and quality they are looking for.” Their buying habits—as well as values and preferences—are influenced by instant access to information on the Internet and through social media. For example, Gen Ys cut their teeth on technology, and Gen Zs, still in school, are said to be the children of the virtual world.
Research consistently supports assumptions that there is significant conflict between groups because of lack of understanding of each other and, significantly, a lack of understanding of the four generations by their leaders. This conflict most often reduces employee productivity, innovation, and corporate citizenship. Ultimately, employee retention and turnover is impacted. Cost of doing business increases. A downward spiral occurs with no hope of recovery unless the culture changes, but once that downward spiral begins it is difficult to turn it around.
Reality—“…bridging the generation gap between cohorts is vital if organizations are to thrive in the future (Baldonado & Spangenburg, 2009).” All my research supports this statement. When I began my research four years ago, I had to introduce the topic of generational preferences and values to get people to share their stories. Now, I do not have to ask. Invariably, every business and community conversation, community meeting, worship service, and nearly every family gathering, conversation leads to this issue and the associated challenges.
Success in any organization or group in today’s world depends on creating understanding and respect for divergent values and preferences. Diversity and inclusiveness, and leader quality have never been as important as they are today to organizational success. It will become even more so over the next decade.
Baldonado, A. & Spangenburg, J. (2009). Leadership and the future: Gen Y workers and two-factory theory. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge. 15(1), 99.
Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Hatley
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