The Human Resources team recently took part in an HR Forum organized around the theme of Celebrating Diversity. The objective was to further sensitize our HR community to the scope and value of our diversity and to ensure its application in our service delivery.
While previous activities in HR have touched on cultural diversity and gender identity (offered by the Social Equity & Diversity Education Office), the primary focus of this session was on generational differences in our workplace. To the surprise of many participants, this is the first time at the University that we have four generations of employees represented in the McGill community. This realization is important in reinforcing how HR needs to be attuned to different needs and expectations among the four generational groups and how to reach out to each one.
The HR team took a look at the demographic distribution in the University and examined the potential implications of generational differences on career development, communications, employee recognition and employee engagement, inspired by the work of Greg Hammill of the Silherman College of Business.
- Veterans (1922-1945) represent about 5% of the total employee population at McGill. This generation reportedly values authority and discipline. For them, education was and remains a privilege and they understandably appreciate being respected for their years of experience.
- Baby boomers (1946-1964) represent a whopping 50%. They are said to be the optimists who value social involvement – perhaps attributable to the social fabric of change that characterized their early years. Unlike those before them, they tend to view education as a birthright. They risk becoming workaholics (the risk is not exclusive to them) and take great satisfaction in personal fulfillment.
- Generation X (1965-1980) is also a large employee segment with about 40% in that group. For Xers, informality is apparently the norm. They see education as a journey, a means to an end. Their work ethic is based on self-reliance and they tend to bend the rules, preferring creativity and flexibility in their work.
- Generation Y (1981-2000) is emerging with about 6% of employees in McGill’s workforce. They are focused on social responsibility and, because of technology, much of what they experience is “in real time”, which means they are more spontaneous in their approach. They are adept at multitasking and they thoroughly enjoy working with other bright, creative people.
This diversity in demographics presents interesting challenges in meeting vastly different needs and demands, be it in career development, organizational structure, reaching out and how to reward. Reflecting on the session, Johanne Houle, Director, Organizational Development, and her team are gearing their programs toward reflecting this new reality. She views diversity in the workforce as a positive force:
“In these times of rapid change and competition, our future success depends on our ability to be consistently open to learning in its many forms – individually, on work teams and as a whole system. In OD, when we work with units across the University on change management and process improvement initiatives, or in the course of our training programs, we are constantly seeking to maximize the benefits of the diversity in the room. We know that we all have a piece of the puzzle and stand to gain a great deal by bringing together our perspectives. These days, we are really encouraging our managers to hear the diverse voices of their employees and clients through participative planning events, focus groups, employee engagement surveys, client feedback mechanisms, etc. These opportunities serve to ensure informed decisions, clarify expectations, strengthen employee engagement and lay a foundation of trust and respect on which we face the future even stronger.”