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Understanding the diversity of employees


Understanding the diversity of employees through generational differences

"Baby boomers don't know anything about technology and Gen Y’s are very impatient”. These kinds of stereotypes of people in different age groups are widespread in the world of employment, but the famous expert in Change Management Tammy Erickson (USA) is convinced that they are not helpful. On Thursday 19 September, the distinguished author who has been handed a McKinsey Award will present an alternative to this type of generational thinking, based on her extensive worldwide research at the HRM Expo (Zukunft Personal).

"There are a lot of people out there who approach the generations by pigeonholing employees,” Tammy Erickson observed. "I am urging people to see it from another perspective: talking about generational differences is a way to understand the legitimacy and logic behind the differences we all exhibit.” Highlighting diversity using the example of gender and cultural differences would be a lot more sensitive: The boundaries of political correctness would soon be breached, reckons the expert, who has twice been selected by Thinkers 50 as one of the most influential living management thinkers in the world. Using generational thinking, the significance of diversity for different facets of the workplace can be more easily understood.

Re-Generation and Generation Y are mixing up the world of work
Tammy Erickson has recently asked many under 17s about their world view and has come up with the name Re-Generation for this age group. "Re-Gens have grown up with the recession. That's why they tend to be more fiscally conservative than other generations,” explains the business consultant. Their way of thinking has also been influenced by a high level of sensitivity to environmental problems. They are very interested in how they can share capital assets in an innovative way and how they can adapt the classic ownership models for example by trading, bartering, borrowing or renting. "Re-Gens have more of a renter mentality and are very open about sharing knowledge broadly.”

In contrast to this, representatives of Generation Y are fairly optimistic and are interested in rather traditional career paths. Another difference is that while the junior employees in Generation Y imagined themselves as technology leaders, the Re-Gens learned from an early age that their parents were good with technology. "So they come into the workplace assuming that everyone is going to be using technology in ways similar to theirs.” But companies should not translate this into different HR concepts for the generations. Instead they should use this to rethink their workflows. In terms of IT infrastructure, many companies are not actually that poorly prepared for the younger generations, but there is often a lack of an open attitude towards colleagues' differences and of clear, generally-applicable rules.

The benefit of the doubt: learn to think in a diverse way
Tammy Erickson gives an example for this: an older person recently complained to her that younger colleagues couldn’t write correctly or use proper punctuation in written communication. "I find the conclusion that young people can't do that a little bit dangerous,” says Erickson. Younger employees often don't recognise the importance that older employees put on correct language and punctuation, so managers need to make their expectations clear. Giving people the "benefit of the doubt” would help: "in situations like this ask yourself whether it is not possible that this person is approaching things with a really different perspective from yours.”

Taking into account the cultural differences between generations
This insight applies in particular to the cultural background of employees. "Generally there are huge differences between generations around the world,” Erickson states. However, there are increasing similarities between the younger generations in various countries, as their representatives share more experiences with one another and communicate globally via the internet. But the formative years, for most people between ages 11 and 15, are shaped by parents' views, religious background, cultural heritage and economic status – all things which are very different in the different countries.

In her keynote speech at the HRM Expo in Cologne, Tamara J. Erickson uses a mixture of humor and insight to set out what defines the generations which now come together in companies. She includes many examples of misunderstandings in the workplace and gives suggestions for how improvements can be made.

Keynote speech by Tammy Erickson
"Understanding the Multigenerational Workforce:
Leading in an Age of Increased Diversity"
HRM Expo, Thursday 19 September 2013, 14.30 – 15.30,
followed by a public interview,
Keynote forum, Hall 3.1, koelnmesse, Cologne (Germany)