By Josie Cox
Even if we’ve yet to catch it, Covid-19 is everywhere.
It dominates TV screens and Twitter feeds, hogs the limelight of family chats and work calls. Terms like contingency plan and crisis management have lost any undertone of desperation they might once have had, and social distancing may never not be a part of our everyday vocabulary.
So most of us would be forgiven for forgetting now and then what life was like before everyone was able to measure six feet from sight.
For a business leader, the rules are slightly different.
As we move through the harrowing phases of this pandemic, being able to manage an organisation pushed to the brink by a global health crisis, means also staying on top of problems that existed before and seemingly have nothing to do with Covid-19 whatsoever.
Some issues will understandably have been sidelined to be dealt with when basic existence no longer seems quite so fragile, but as we emerge from lockdowns, problems previously plaguing corporations could be more pronounced than ever before. Managing the multigenerational workforce may well be one of them.
Keeping track of generational labels isn’t easy. First there was the Silent Generation. Then came Boomers, followed by Generation X. Generation Z came after Millennials. It’s the latter two that are set to suffer most economically from this crisis, but balancing the relationship between all – soon including the newly coined Generation Alpha born after 2010 – will be critical to getting the corporate culture bit right.
In her book You Can’t Google It!: The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work, Phyllis Weiss Haserot argues that communication across different demographics is the key to creating workplaces that are inclusive, regardless of age.
She says that to facilitate such conversation, it’s important for managers to understand the fears faced by each generation, as these can impinge on productivity and kill motivation.
For Boomers and Generation X, concerns often centre around the prospect of being displaced by younger managers and new ways of working – including but not limited to technology.
Remote working as a result of Covid-19 may have forced those naturally nervous about adopting new technologies to take the plunge – even embrace them – but in other cases it might have broadened a real or perceived rift between those identifying as digital natives and those not.
As the world of work around us changes, older generations can become fearful of a loss of professional identity and the prospect of not being able to keep track of digital developments. Arguably Covid-19 is proving to be the greatest catalyst for rapid change in the workplace we’ve ever seen. Keeping up won’t necessarily be easy for anyone.
As for Millennials and Generation Z, they face their own challenges. Individuals belonging to the former group entered the workforce during the global financial crisis of 2008: the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Stagnant wage growth and student debt meant that many have never experienced the luxury of financial security.
Theoretically, they’re now approaching their peak earnings years just as yet another massive economic crisis – quite possibly far bigger than the last – gains traction. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, it’s almost guaranteed that Millennials will be the first generation in modern American history to end up poorer than their parents.
And then there’s Generation Z, a cohort which the Economist in a 2019 headline described as “stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed”. To a greater or lesser extent these young people share Millennials’ fears and concerns but generally they’re thought to be much more anxious: the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report concluded in 2019 that Generation Z adults indicated the highest average stress level of any demographic.
To create a resilient, agile organisation that’s able to navigate momentous macroeconomic challenges and global health pandemics, but also the far more mundane headwinds of corporate life, it’s critical to have a workforce that’s not just diverse in terms of gender, race and socioeconomic background, but also in terms of age.
A 2014 research paper published by the Management Development Institute of Singapore showed that age diversity absolutely can have a marked impact on organisational productivity.
Originally posted on Forbes