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article imageQ&A: Data and the truth behind 'OK boomer' in the workplace Special

By Tim Sandle     Feb 7, 2020 in Business
“Ok, Boomer” replies have become the universal, meme-able Millennial and Gen Z response to any type of unliked commentary from Baby Boomers. How is this affecting workplace relations? An employment psychologist looks into the issue.
Some sociologists are claiming “Ok, Boomer” is the end of friendly generational relations. But is this true? According to a recent survey from Addison Group, this isn’t the case and more than 90 percent of employees are satisfied with the diversity of age ranges in their workplace. This leads to the question as to whether there are the issues affecting employees are getting along in the workplace in terms of age diversity?
To understand more, Digital Journal caught up with Tyler Cahill, People Strategy Associate at Addison Group.
Digital Journal: What is the current variation in terms of workplace demographics?
Tyler Cahill: Workplace demographics vary widely from industry to industry, but Millennials currently represent the largest labor market share across any single generation. In fact, Millennials make up more than one-third (35 percent) of American labor force participants.
However, age will likely not be the defining factor when it comes to workplace demographics in the future. We’ll likely see more diversity and, as students stay in school longer, higher education levels begin to be the focus of the workplace demographic conversation.
DJ: How well do workers of different age groups get on?
Cahill: With terms like “Ok, Boomer” making headlines in major news publications and across social media, you would think the battle of the generations would pour over into the workplace — but this isn’t the case. In fact, a recent study by Addison Group that focused on generational stereotypes found that people from different generations work quite well together.
The study surveyed 1,000 full-time and part-time employees and debunked a lot of the age-based workplace myths many of us have heard. Instead of being a divisive and hostile environment, the modern workplace is actually quite collaborative and engaged.
The report found that 92 percent of employees are satisfied with the diversity of age ranges in their workplace. And, 86 percent agree that employees in their age group are respected in the workplace. It’s clear that employees are getting along despite age gaps. In fact, nearly 80% of respondents indicated they would take a job with a company where most employees weren’t in their general age bracket.
DJ: What advantages do boomers bring to the workplace?
Cahill: According to the report, 83 percent of employees surveyed said they get along with Boomers. So, if anything, Boomers are pleasant to work alongside. However, the report also found that employees admire Boomers for their leadership abilities. To be specific, 48 percent of employees believe Boomers are good leaders and 47 percent believe they’re organized.
Considering how important great leadership and mentorship are for growth, it makes sense why younger generations admire Boomers for these skills.
DJ: Do boomers struggle with certain skills or technologies?
Cahill: It’s hard to say if all Boomers struggle with a certain set of skills or technology. However, the report found that younger generations were more admired for their tech savvy skills than Boomers. 52% of employees surveyed like working with Millennials because of their tech savviness. This number jumps to 56% for Gen Z, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the digital-first world they grew up in.
Instead of focusing on what each generation does “best,” employers should view their workforce as a unique group of individuals who bring something different and special to the table. Age is simply just a number — not a defining factor for success or value.
DJ: Should employers be doing more to encourage boomers?
Cahill: Employers should be doing all they can to show that company initiatives benefit all employees rather than just one generation of people. This may mean clearly communicating changes in processes or benefits so employees know it’s for the good of a whole company, not just one group.
For example, if a company decides to unroll new technology, all employees should be properly and equally trained — even the ones who are more “tech-savvy.” Or, on the other hand, if older employees are resistant to new technology, leaders should clearly communicate how it will benefit the company as a whole rather than just those who are tech savvy.
Most importantly, it’s important to ask employees how they feel. Annual or bi-annual employee engagement surveys can help business leaders determine what needs to change to make sure all employees feel supported. But, employee feedback shouldn’t be collected once a year. Leaders should also regularly check in with their employees on an individual basis and ask how they feel about their role, team, department and discuss challenges and potential solutions.
DJ: How important is a diverse workplace?
Cahill: Diversity in the workplace is important for a variety of reasons, but especially when it comes to decision making. Heterogeneous groups tend to provide multiple perspectives, allowing for a more thorough discussion on a problem. If everyone in the room comes from the same background/experience, ideas and ways of thinking are less likely to be challenged and debated. We consistently see that diverse teams, especially those at a leadership level, are more likely to produce higher revenues. This should indicate that diversity is not just a “nice to have,” there is a real return on investment when building a diverse workforce becomes a priority.
However, there is another word that usually follows diversity that should not be overlooked - inclusivity. A company cannot just set an arbitrary diversity goal and hope for better results. If your environment does not encourage different points of view, then it is less likely a diverse workforce will be able to thrive. There is an old saying that there is a difference between being invited to the dance and being invited to dance. If an employee feels ignored, that their ideas are constantly shut down, or just generally do not feel welcome, they most likely will not last very long at the organization.
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