Washington: Companies that look only at age to bridge generational gaps among workers risk losing knowledge to retirements, higher turnover and other productivity-clogging problems, according to new University of Illinois research led by an Indian-origin scientist.
The study has said that firms often misfire when trying to mend generational divides, relying on broad stereotypes associated with Baby Boomers or Generation X’ers rather than vast research that shows workplace splintering can be rooted in more than just birthdates.
“The challenges are complex, but the solutions being offered are too simplisticOur aim should be to match the complexity of the problem with more nuanced solutions. The payoffs could be huge in terms of benefits, such as mining the knowledge base of older workers,” said Aparna Joshi, a labour and employment relations professor who led the study.
The study found that a trove of sociological and psychological research on generational issues has not been applied in business, where managers often wrestle with uniting employee factions that stifle efficiency and growth.
Thus, firms often seek to bridge seemingly age-related divisions based on sweeping labels attached to different age groups, such as appealing to the demanding and entitled nature associated with the millennial generation, according to the study.
“Our message is the problem isn’t that simple and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Just as we don’t want to take simplistic approaches to race and gender issues, we shouldn’t automatically assume that a gray-haired man isn’t on Facebook or good at technology. Assumptions based solely on age can lead to some very faulty conclusions and missteps,” said Joshi.
She says an analysis of research dating back decades found that three primary factors could help breed generational factions in the workplace that can keep employees from interacting and sharing knowledge.
Age is one factor, but goes beyond broad labels such as Baby Boomers, which spans a nearly 20-year age range, according to the study.
Generational factions also can emerge based on when employees start work with a firm, similar to the lifelong bonds formed by soldiers during boot camp or deployments, the study found.
Workers also can form factions based on their work duties, such as a top management team representing a generation of leaders who may be replaced by a new generation or a supervisor working with a subordinate who could ultimately take over his or her job. Those bonds also create multi-generational groups that defy age-based solutions, according to the study.
The study has been published in the Academy of Management Review.