By Wilhelm Crous
April 18, 2024

Recently at the HR Directors conference, there was a lively discussion about managing the different generations in the workplace. So when I came across an article by Prof. Nicholas Pearce from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the Harvard Business Review titled “Leading the 6-Generation Workforce,” it immediately caught my attention.

It is the first time in history that many workplaces span six generations: from the Silent Generation (in many cases holding on to key global leadership roles—for example, Joe Biden, Warren Buffet, etc.) to the teenagers of the emerging Generation Alpha (starting to pursue part-time/holiday/weekend jobs). This is in addition to the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. This phenomenon calls for intentional steps to create a workforce where the different generations all thrive and collaborate.

Prof. Pearce outlines several steps that leaders, and especially talent practitioners, can take to optimally engage these generations, among others:

  1. Develop a 6-Generation (6G) Organisational Strategy
    Your 6G strategy is about ensuring that 6G thinking is embedded throughout the organisation. This strategy is not exclusive to your talent managers, but they should ensure that it gets implemented wider than just recruiting, retaining, developing, and advancing talent for all generations. Leaders are also tasked with creating a culture and conditions where older and younger workers are open to learning from each other and sharing their wisdom and know-how. Effective succession planning is essential. Furthermore, employers have to figure out how to become an employer of choice for every generation. That should be anchored by a compelling employer brand that recognises each generation’s workplace needs and preferences. It is also about ensuring that job applicants and employees alike don’t feel they must hide their age or apologise for being a member of their generation just to gain access to opportunities in your organisation. Leaders should foster inclusive environments of mutual respect, honour, and inclusion in which everyone can be their best and bring their best every day.
  2. Reimagine the 6G Talent Pipeline
    To create healthy 6G organisations, the talent pipelines need to be reconsidered. Amongst other actions to decongest talent pipelines is to create meaningful opportunities for senior talent to remain engaged in post-executive roles. Such positions must include more than honorific titles, be positioned as a positive step FORWARD instead of a step ASIDE (or BACK), and carry real value in transferring knowledge, sharing experiences and expertise, and mentoring younger employees/colleagues without the pressure and time commitment of executive-level roles.
  1. Centre Purpose as the Great Intergenerational Unifier
    Surveys post-COVID suggest that the post-pandemic workforce may be characterised by greater cross-generational alignment regarding what people want out of work (such as meaning, purpose, and growth). Pearce cites a report by McKinsey that employees at all levels want purpose in their lives. This means leaders have the opportunity to capitalise on the intergenerational alignment by designing organisational life around the importance of purpose. They need to help employees activate their own personal sense of purpose while coming together with others to fulfil the organisation’s purpose at the same time.

In conclusion, HR executives need to ensure that giving each generation (and individual) the opportunity to be seen, understood, valued, and utilised in the workplace throughout the course of their career is essential for personal, social, and even societal well-being.

As we continue to explore and understand the intricacies of managing a multigenerational workforce, the upcoming Talent Management Conference on 8-9 May at the Hilton Sandton offers an opportunity for HR professionals to deepen their knowledge and share best practices. This conference will feature interactive sessions and expert-led presentations that delve into strategies like those discussed by Prof. Pearce, enabling attendees to design more inclusive, effective talent management frameworks.

Additionally, the HRBP Conference, scheduled for 22-23 May in Johannesburg or available online, will further this dialogue, providing another platform to engage with cutting-edge ideas and trends in HR.

Don’t miss the chance to network with peers and thought leaders who are also navigating the challenges and opportunities of a 6G workforce.

Pearce, N. (2024, April 4). Leading the 6-generation workforce. Harvard Business Review.