Age-Inclusive Leadership: How Managers and Executives Are Adapting to a Changing Workforce

More than ever, companies are having to adapt quickly to attract and retain talent. One area is age-inclusive leadership. Learn more!

| May 23, 2022

Written by: Carrie Hunt

The Five-Generation Workplace

Biotech is an ever-evolving industry. It is one of the most innovative, inventive, and adaptive industries globally, alongside finance and applied tech. Talent competition is fierce, and at the moment, turnover is exceptionally high. This is forcing companies to adapt to attract and retain the best talent.

Thanks to increasing life expectancy and a host of social and economic changes, the global workforce is more age-diverse than any other time in history. US Department of Labor statistics suggests that some American companies have employees from five distinct cultural generations, with the oldest born in the ’40s and ’50s and their youngest coworkers – members of generation Z – born in the ’00s. The differences between their modes and methods of working run much deeper than dress and mannerisms, extending to fundamental attitudes toward employment, hierarchy, cooperation, money, and identity. Those differences result in widely varying demands and requirements for their employers, from CSR and cultural values to benefits packages and methods of organizing the workplace.

It’s important to note that this is primarily a positive trend. Younger employees help push for change, while older employees offer the experience and perspective that makes change possible. Statistically, age-diverse teams perform significantly better, delivering improved business outcomes in close to 90% of cases. That’s for at least two reasons: they have far more intellectual capital and reduce negative age-related bias, increasing employee engagement.

Those benefits are most remarkable for teams working on high-complexity tasks, as all biotech teams are. But they’re contingent on a team climate that appreciates age diversity without drawing excessive attention to it. In other words: age diversity is a net positive, as long as it’s embraced and leadership can adapt to their employees’ varying needs.

From our perspective, the five-generation workplace poses two categories of challenges to corporate leaders. The first is operational: efficient coordination between people with such different expectations requires tremendous flexibility in management style. The second, and our focus area, involves attracting and retaining talent across a range of ages.

Considerations for Hiring

As always, cultural change is driven by the generation entering the workforce. Right now, that’s Gen Z. Detailed reporting reflects a growing consensus that their influence on corporate culture is most substantial on two fronts: a willingness to be candid and direct about personal topics (from periods to politics) and an active dislike for traditional hierarchy.

From the perspective of talent acquisition, successfully appealing to Gen Z workers usually means offering flexibility (e.g., to work from home), clarity about company values on social issues, and reduced emphasis on authority. Attracting Gen Z talent is far easier if you can guarantee a degree of stability, as most of these employees grew up during one significant economic downturn and then entered the workforce during another.

Millennial employees are much more willing to change jobs. Their preferences tend to be oriented towards competitive salaries, family-oriented benefits, and a sense of the meaning behind their work.

Gen X workers are more concerned with autonomy, opportunities for advancement, and retirement benefits. In comparison, Baby Boomer employees often look for chances to share knowledge and perspective, engage in mentorship, and be recognized for the high work ethic that’s typical of older professionals.

Leveraging Age-Diverse Talent

One of the most prominent differences between younger and older employees involves management preferences. Younger workers focus on collaboration and teamwork and prefer clear and detailed instructions. On the other hand, their Gen X and Boomer counterparts are almost always more autonomous and need a hands-off approach to do their best work.

There are other differences, and of course, generational divides don’t fall neatly into 15-year clusters. The critical point here isn’t that you need five management strategies for five groups of workers but rather that you need to “flex” both your mindset and the career options you offer.

A general set of best practices for adapting to our age-diverse workforce is as follows: 

  • Make as few assumptions as possible about employee preferences. Instead, solicit feedback often and rely on it to guide management decisions.
  • Be ready to change workflows, assessment practices, and incentives based on what you hear.
  • Use multiple communication channels and strategies. An office messaging app like Teams is great but should be supported by phone calls, virtual meetings, whiteboards, and other tools.
  • Individualize your approach to productivity. Some employees work best in tightly coordinated teams, and others need more breathing room.

Carrie Hunt originally wrote this article. Have questions? Get in touch!

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