Decreasing the Generational Divide

TD Bank shares its strategies to embracing a multigenerational workforce and creating a culture of collaboration.

By Marta Chmielowicz

A new phrase has gone viral on the internet and social media, bringing to light a fundamental disconnect between younger generations and baby boomers: “Ok, boomer.”

The phrase that’s suddenly everywhere conveys Generation Z and millennials’ dismissive contempt of what they perceive as outdated and generally out-of-touch ways of thinking embodied by baby boomers. And the vitriol goes both ways: For years, millennials have been coined the “snowflake” generation, ridiculed as entitled, easily offended, and overly politically correct.

As the “Ok, boomer” rhetoric makes the rounds on social media, emerging in memes, hashtags, t-shirts, and even the halls of parliament, it is also increasingly making its way into the workplace—raising age discrimination concerns that could have dire consequences for businesses.

According to Anthony Oncidi, partner and head of the Labor and Employment Law Group in the Los Angeles office of Proskauer Rose LLP, “‘Ok, boomer’ may contribute to a claim of age harassment or discrimination if it’s characterized as an ‘offensive or derogatory remark about a person’s age.’ While an off-handed or isolated statement will not generally lead to liability under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), that does not mean that an employee to whom the comment was directed will not cite it as evidence of a ‘hostile environment’ created by supervisors, co-workers, or some combination thereof.”

While “Ok, boomer” may not seem like a serious harassment issue on the surface, Oncidi says that pervasive use of the phrase in the workplace could lead to ADEA violation, resulting in employer liability for:

  • back pay, or lost wages and benefits from the date of the alleged violation until the date of the trial;
  • front pay, or future lost earnings or benefits;
  • compensatory damages for emotional distress;
  • liquidated damages if the employer’s acts were considered willful, or knowing and intentional; and employees’ attorney fees.

The Power of Collaboration

Facing these risks, it is more important than ever that employers consider their role in bridging the generational divide. At a time when five generations are working together for the first time in history and talent shortages are forcing organizations to consider more creative talent management strategies, embracing collaboration between workers of all ages may be the key to staying ahead of the competition.

“The way the workforce stands, there are more open positions than workers to fill them,” says Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and senior vice president of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “It was estimated that by this year, 50 percent of the workforce would be over the age of 55. Even though boomers may be retiring, they aren’t leaving the workforce. By hiring and retaining older workers, businesses are not only benefitting from the years of experience they have under their belt, but also creating a more diverse workforce within their company.”

With the right culture, HR leaders can take advantage of this rich resource while improving employee engagement. In fact, AARP’s Mentorship and the Value of a Multigenerational Workforce Study reveals that seven out of 10 employees say they like working with generations other than their own, showing that the popular “Ok, boomer” and “snowflake” terminology may be all talk rather than a real representation of deep underlying tensions.

To mitigate differences in workplace preferences and encourage collaboration between generations, organizations need to embrace a unified corporate culture that celebrates the unique contributions of each employee and removes barriers to advancement.

“Simply caring about your corporate culture and thinking about ways you can engage your population and bring generations together in some fashion is a great start,” says Emily Bailey, managing principal of OneDigital’s Hartford, Conn. operations. “If you can find a way to connect and engage all of these generations so they’re working together and seeing the value in one another, it’s all that much easier to build.”

Case Study: TD Bank

TD Bank is one organization that has introduced strategies in order to better embrace a multigenerational workforce.

“Today’s workforce is a kaleidoscope of generations and different generations have different needs,” says Girish Ganesan, global head of diversity and inclusion for TD Bank Group and head of talent for TD Bank. “There is an inherent need to understand and cater to those differences while ensuring that every employee feels individually valued and included.”

He points out that generational differences manifest in the work environment in several ways, including:

  • benefits and compensation needs;
  • job-changing and job-seeking patterns;
  • work-life integration;
  • teamwork and dispute resolution approaches; and
  • communication strategies.

For example, Co-founder and CEO of Verb Inc. Suzi Sosa says that different generations tend to have different points of view when it comes to leadership. “Older generations may have a more conventional model of leadership that could even be considered ‘command and control,’” she explains. “This is a very top-down, do what you’re told leadership style. Younger generations expect leaders to earn respect and personalize their leadership style to best serve those they manage.”

In addition, Sosa emphasizes that the soft skills each generation brings to the table are very different. Older employees often have more robust leadership and coaching skills through their years of interaction with others, whereas younger employees are more attuned to emotional intelligence, self-awareness, mindfulness, inclusion, and empathy.

These differences in work styles can make managing people more difficult, but that doesn’t mean HR leaders should back down from the challenge. “Generational diversity is an asset,” Ganesan says. “As the workforce ages, generational shifts are inevitable. With a proactive leadership approach, these changes can be productive rather than disruptive to workplaces.”

A proactive leadership approach in the face of generational shifts has enabled TD Bank to create a culture that champions intergenerational collaboration, mentoring, and mobility. This approach comes with several benefits:

  • The company’s multigenerational team can more effectively engage with its various customer segments.
  • The atmosphere of inclusivity, respect, and belonging motivates employees to perform to their highest potential.
  • Employees with a range of experiences and abilities feel supported to pursue internal development opportunities, fostering innovation and widening the talent pool.
  • Leadership teams are trained to minimize the risks of unintentional bias, including age discrimination.

Ganesan says that TD Bank has a strong commitment to forward-thinking talent strategies. “We invest significantly to attract and develop talent to create the workforce for the future,” he explains. “We recruit using employee referrals, search firms, and social media. We also work to attract and develop ‘generation next’ talent by offering rotational programs, paid internships, and management association programs.”

Leadership buy-in is an essential component of TD Bank’s generationally inclusive company culture. While Ganesan admits that understanding how generational differences affect the workplace is a key component of effective leadership, he says that even more important is the ability to leverage that knowledge into positive results.

To that end, TD Bank has developed an “Inclusive Leadership” curriculum to help its managers identify biases and other behaviors that could be a hindrance. “We developed an inclusive leadership strategy to reinforce the value of inclusion and teach our managers actionable strategies to engage and leverage the full potential of diverse teams and minimize negative consequences resulting from unintentional bias,” he explains.

The company’s leadership is also involved with its employees’ learning and development efforts. In fact, TD Bank developed an inclusive leadership resource guide to support the development of diverse talent and build diversity and inclusion messaging into training opportunities. According to Ganesan, these development opportunities give employees the opportunity to connect with leaders and gain:

  • guidance to establish good performance and career planning practices;
  • targeted coaching according to leadership potential; and
  • mentoring relationships to build their networks.

Ganesan finds that mentoring really helps bridge the gap between generations. Oncidi agrees: “Open a dialogue between employees. If tensions between generations of employees are high, it is likely because of some unspoken disconnect.”

TD Bank has opened these lines of communication by introducing a mutual mentoring program that brings employees from all different levels and work tenures with executives to best practice and knowledge share. The bank has also established a generational business resource group that empowers employees to share workplace experiences to drive greater cross-generational understanding.

Another program embraces the potential of candidates who have been out of the workforce for a number of years. “Career Relaunch” targets experienced professionals in the U.S. who have taken a career break and are reentering the workforce after two or more years. Qualified candidates participate in a 16-week program that includes refreshing skills, mentoring, coaching, networking, and personal development.

“Career relaunch programs present a huge opportunity to tap into a skilled pool of talented individuals who want to return to the traditional workforce,” says Chris Giamo, head of commercial bank at TD Bank. By introducing various programs that appeal to employees across generations, TD Bank has embraced a culture that respects the contributions of each employee while encouraging them to grow and learn—both from their peers as well as their leaders—celebrating a growth mindset that is key to success.

Posted February 18, 2020 in Workforce Management

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