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The beauty of the world lies in mixing, managing, acceptance, and appreciation of generational differences
-Ty Howard

The words of Ty Howard remind us of the hidden beauty in adopting a mixed approach toward generational differences. These differences are manifest in the Nigerian workplace, given Nigeria’s uniqueness as one of the most diverse countries in the world. But is this ultimately a recipe for disaster, or is there an opportunity to create something beautiful and new? 

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The existence of multi-generational workers brings an unprecedented challenge for corporate goals and objectives as each generation weighs ideas and values differently. Nigeria’sdiverse working-class population is scattered throughout a range of decades, making it a nation with a diverse working populace. This consists of five groups, although only four remain active in the workforce today: The Silent GenerationBaby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.

Before making a case for generational diversity in Nigerian workplaces, a few words to explain the concept of generational diversity are helpful. 

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What is Generational Diversity?  

Generational diversity refers to the idea of having a wide range of generations in the workforce among employees. Retirements and replacements are a common phenomenon in the workplace, contributing to individuals of different ages being employed at different times. 

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Typical generalisations associated with the different generations may not allow for a seamless work relationship in the workplace. This stems from the recognition that every generation grew up in differing circumstances that often shape their values and goals. 

However, adopting generational diversity in an organisation’s corporate culture helps focus on the various generations’ strengths while harnessing their distinct potentials. Each generation reflects the technological and social advancements of their time. This impacts approaches to important values such as work ethics, communication styles, and work-life balance. 

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For example, Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) mostly grew up in prosperous economic times and thus strongly desired financial security, a respectable title, and professional recognition. Notably, the baby boomer generation comprises a disproportionately large proportion of the country’s ageing population. As a result, many continue to work beyond retirement age. 

This increase in the retirement age may create new opportunities or challenges for organisations, business leaders, and the government that have older employees who may be less committed to their jobs or have already retired. Because of changing attitudes toward ageing workers who elect to work post-retirement age, tensions between them and younger workers may increase. These two generations of professionals are at the pinnacle of their professional lives. They are in positions of leadership in organisations where they make decisions, whereas those approaching 60 (and up) are in the process of retiring. 

During their time, Baby Boomers witnessed technological advancements and milestones that redefined social, economic, and political life. As for Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) and Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996), their technological prowess is much better established. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) currently make up the largest generational workforce, outnumbering Baby Boomers. 

As a result of their power and influence, Millennials are forcing many employers to reconsider the workplace and the nature of their employment relationships. The way they approach work and innovation differs. Millennials are typicallymore educated, affluent, and diverse than their predecessors. They are the next generation of workplace leaders and will shape the profession in the coming years.

Millennials communicate in various ways, using social media platforms to access information. According to the United Nations, Millennials account for nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Millennials often seek employment with organisations that will help them achieve their professional goals, such as tech companies, because they are highly ambitious and career-oriented. Moreover, Millennials expect their organisation to reflect their values, such as environmental impacts, social justice, and sustainability, and to take actiontowards them.

Millennials have a strong work ethic and the ability to learn new skills quickly. Unlike the earlier generation, Millennials do not endorse working long hours. In the future, this generation’s cohorts may be able to expect more flexible work schedules asthey place a higher value on maintaining a healthy work-life balance than previous generations. 

Millennials may have different priorities and desire time away from work to pursue hobbies and time with family and friends. They generally embraced the concept of a hybrid work-life long before it became widely accepted worldwide—theirproductivity increases due to working remotely on mobile devices or laptops from their beds. Furthermore, another characteristic that sets Millennials apart from previous generations is their preference for working with supervisors who provide constant feedback and career guidance.

Next is Generation Z (those born between 1997-2012), they are even more tech-savvy than Millennials because they are ‘digital natives’, given their exposure to the internet early fromthe onset. They have been exposed to remote work since childhood, and, like Millennials, they are productive and effective from any location and can handle multiple jobs as a remote worker. 

However, they may face difficulties with direct, physical, and social interaction because they are less exposed to meeting people in person. These generations are distinct in terms of their expectations and delivery at work. Their skill set also differs as they strive to work alone and are more competitive than their predecessors. Throughout the next decade, Baby Boomers and Generation Z may collaborate, creating a unique clash of perspectives, lifestyles and approaches to work.

Creating Success Through Generational Diversity 

2007 Report by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) noted that the success of organisations in the future, given the generational diversity, will heavily depend on employees of all ages working effectively and respectfully as a team.

The generations represented in a Nigerian workplace caninfluence the organisation to progress or regress. Therefore, organisations must develop strategies to handle effectively and manage the differences in their diverse generations. This is important because harnessing the different values that each individual, from the top down, adds to the organisation’s ultimate success.

Paying closer attention to generational diversity is also important because each generation brings experience and ideas to the workplace. This impacts communication styles, goal tactics, and task completions. These differ from generation to generation. Thus, organisations must devise a strategy for dealing with the disparities in motivations, working styles, communication patterns, and technological preferences among their multigenerational employees. 

This should be considered by organisations that wish to develop a healthy and inclusive working environment while succeeding in the modern global economy. This is in line with the fact that the generational diversity strategy offers workplace solutions that allow all Nigerians, regardless of gender or age, to have an equal opportunity for success at work.

Generational Diversity Beyond Work Ethics

The management teams of corporate organisations in Nigeria often show concern about the dynamics of a multigenerational workforce and the strategies for integrating multigenerational differences. They usually do so intending to reap numerous benefits, such as increased workplace productivity, creativity and innovation, talent attraction, reduced turnover and increased competitive advantage, as well as the reduction of tension. 

Yet, job disparity continues to be an issue. It is, therefore,crucial for employers to evaluate the impact of age differences among employees on productivity and business performance. According to projections, millennials will account for 75% of employment in Nigeria by 2025.

Some organisations in Nigeria are now seen as adaptable and receptive in their strategy and style to recognise individual employees’ strengths while accepting their differences. Integrating staff strengths and differences is critical for advancing intergenerational goals through cooperation. This helps promote an environment that allows for the free expression of generational diversity disparities without the usual negative stereotypes or generalisations. 

However, concerns in the broader Nigerian context have been raised regarding the undermining and relegation of today’s youths in the larger scheme of things within the country. More recently, the agitations and frustrations culminated in a public outburst witnessed in the End SARS saga.

The End SARS protests in Nigeria were triggered by a viral video of an incident on October 3, 2020, where operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) allegedly shot and injured a young man at Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, in Delta State. This resulted in a public outcry, first on social media using the hashtags #EndSars and #SoroSoke, followed by demonstrations in 26 States beginning October 8. 

One fact gleaned from the End SARS protests aboutgeneration diversity is that the protests were not just a massive uproar for police reform or government accountability. Rather, they turned into mass action by Nigerian youths to counter the endemic issues of severe youth unemployment – amongst about 55.4 % of youths between the ages of 15-35. 

There were accusations that youths were being side-lined, stereotyped, and denied the opportunity to participate in the country’s political activities. In addition, there were calls to engage more youths in the management teams of federal and state parastatals, agencies, and government institutions. This shows the vigour with which youth engages with work on their terms and demands more than what they are currently getting.

Towards Integrated Generational Diversity 

As politics and power continue to evolve worldwide, the generational division has become the focal point of social conflicts around the globe.

Today’s workplace is highly diverse, and conflicts frequently arise due to the older and younger generations’ inability to establish shared meaning. Managing diversity in the workplace can be challenging due to its numerous facets, which include culture, language, and age. 

If diversity is not managed properly, it can result in workplace conflict, toxic organisational culture, and disrespect, which have broader organisational implications and affect productivity, efficiency, innovation, and, thereby, profit. Without proper communication and framework to manage generational diversity in the workplace, it could negatively impact the organisation, especially when there is a lack of cohesion. 

This is because a lack of cohesion can impede productivity and teamwork. Other issues that may arise due to generational misperceptions include difficulty retaining employees, high turnover, and even setbacks in attracting top-tier talent. Organisations and governments must therefore be intentional about generational diversity by concerted efforts to close the gap.

It is worth noting that managing HR policies and programs may become increasingly more difficult when generational employees want to adopt different approaches at work. Seniorworkers and younger colleagues may become more commonplace in the workplace, which could pose serious challenges for business leaders. Organisational leaders and managers may be frustrated by the differing priorities of the younger generation in the workplace.

With the younger generations being digital natives, conflicts are prone to rise. The older generation generally show less enthusiasm and interest in technology than the younger generations. Cell phones and websites are less user-friendly for older people, who are also more likely to think technological advancements are moving too quickly. Senior employees may require additional training from their supervisors to remain productive in the age of technological communication. 

Generation Z in the workplace are considered more forgiving and trusting than Boomers or Millennials. Their socially connected orientation negatively impacts the newer generation’s ethical conduct and differences. However, individual experiences impact attitudes and work relationships, and generational differences can positively or negatively impacta company’s ability to succeed. It is undeniable that the experiences of each generation contribute to the overall strength of the workplace.

Inclusion Through. . . 

As noted earlier, a lack of attention to generational diversity can hurt productivity and teamwork cohesiveness. If so, it can lead to misunderstandings, leading to other problems, such as difficulty in getting employees to commit to the company, high employee turnover, and even difficulty recruiting the best talent. 

Considering the needs of different generations when decision-making and implementing management practices is vital, as it allows for a connection with the employees. Connection with employees on different levels is a key issue organisations need to pay attention to at different stages of the employees’ careers. This is because individual and team development is an important part of leadership talent development, and it can speed up the growth of employees in the workplace.

A multigenerational workforce necessitates a shift from a one-size-fits-all management pyramid and retention strategy. Due to the generational talent pool mix, organisations should train and retrain their employees to attain the standards of current global best practices in work ethics and etiquette. This will help prevent obvious or significant differences between these generations regarding attitudes, orientations, or work ethic. 

Workplace leaders must also develop a business strategy to engage employees of all ages and generations in their respective organisations. The goal of taking a holistic approach to generational diversity is to achieve harmony in the life of employees and in the workplace. 

Finally, businesses in Nigeria should place a high value on the diversity of employees from different generations. The hiring process should consider the skills and talents of members of the various generations, key performance indicators (KPIs), employer expectations, and work style (hybrid or remote). 

Creating ground rules for how employees should address one another in the workplace is germane to building a mutually respectful environment. For example, first names can help break the ice and establish a mutually respectful environment. Social activities, bonding sessions, and company retreats should all be scheduled into the company’s calendar. 

It is impossible to overstate the significance of favourable working conditions and flexible work arrangements in creating a harmonious workplace. The application of regularly administered feedback and surveys should be implemented to assess employee morale and satisfaction. Workers in Nigeria should be protected by a comprehensive framework supported by excellent human resource departments, which should be available to them. Moreover, training and retraining in the workplace and raising awareness of generation diversity and its implication for the organisation’s corporate culture areimportant. 

To close the generational gap in the workplace, private businesses and government organisations must work with key stakeholders to raise awareness about generation diversity, its imports, prospects, and benefits to employers and employees. 

Despite arguing throughout this article about the importance of investing in generational diversity and the dangers of failing to do so, we should not lose sight of Howard’s reminder of the world’s beauty that emerges when we mix, manage, accept, and appreciate our differences.  

Adaku Okafor contributed this piece from Dublin, Ireland where she is the CEO of PhoenixRize People Development Solutions Ltd. She can be contacted via adaku@phoenixrize.ie


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