ISBE May Blog

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Managing intergenerational diversity

Leigh Sear
Leigh Sear
Vice President – Policy and Practice

Last week, the House of Lords published a report on Tackling Intergenerational Fairness. The report reviews the relationship between different generations (e.g. older and younger people) and the implications for different groups of stakeholders including government and businesses.  The report raises a number of interesting issues related to: 

  • The lack of data and research on intergenerational diversity
  • The need for more investment in vocational education and training so that different generations are equipped with skills for the changing labour market and adapting to technological change
  • The readiness of businesses to address the opportunities and challenges of intergenerational diversity (e.g. employment rights, pay and reward practices, management and leadership skills).

For the first time, there are four different generations within the workplace: the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Reports such as the one from the House of Lords are of use because they highlight that these groups have different motivations for engaging with the labour market, different characteristics, different values and different skills needs and requirements.  Generational differences affect how people communicate, with different communication styles, conflict, misconceptions and misunderstandings which can lead to employee turnover, absenteeism, difficulty in attracting employees, retaining good employees and gaining employee commitment.

Therefore, intergenerational diversity presents owner-managers of small businesses with a set of opportunities and challenges in the management and development of their business. However, research undertaken as part of an Erasmus Plus project currently being led by SFEDI (http://coopinproject.eu/en)has highlighted that:

  • Managers and leaders of small businesses, particularly micro-businesses, do not necessarily possess the management and leadership skills to effectively manage intergenerational diversity
  • There are a lack of learning resources and tools to assist in working through the challenges and opportunities from having four different generations in the workforce.

Echoing the findings from the House of Lords report, the project has identified a need to know more about:

  • How small businesses are coping with intergenerational diversity – e.g. what management practices are effective and less effective?
  • What are the learning and skills development needs associated with managing intergenerational diversity?
  • What enterprise learning resources and tools will assist owner-managers in managing intergenerational diversity?
  • What is the impact of intergenerational diversity on the productivity of small businesses?

The ISBE conferences in Newcastle and Cardiff will provide an opportunity to reflect on these questions and enhance our understanding of the implications for intergenerational diversity for enterprise research, policy and practice.

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