When it comes to judgement calls in the workplace, stereotyping your employees could seriously undermine your business’s productivity levels.
But it happens more often than you'd think...
There’s nothing worse than jumping the gun and missing the mark by a few hundred metres – particularly when you’re at work.
When you’re managing staff, it can have more than just a detrimental effect on employee wellbeing, as well as your own personal credibility – not to mention productivity levels.
It’s a natural part of life to try to understand people by putting them into boxes or categories. It’s how our brains work and it’s why everything from music genres to social classes exist. But in the world of work, it can be a misleading and potentially harmful aspect of the HR landscape.
Sodexo’s eBook, ‘The Generation Game’ tells us that everyone has come across stereotypes in the workplace at some point in their professional lives. But, “they’re damaging for morale, engagement, and ultimately, the bottom line of the business”.
So, are you guilty of stereotyping your employees? And what can you do about keeping an open mind when it comes to creating better employee engagement?
WHO’S REALLY WORKING FOR YOU?
Look around, what do you see? Or more importantly, who do you see? Is your office full of ‘Maggie the Millennial’, ‘Grace the Gen-X-er’ or ‘Bernie the Baby Boomer’ types?
There are five different generations in the workplace right now – more than ever before – but the big three are the ones who will probably be most prevalent in your organisation. You’ll know them, but what you want to ask is, do you just think you know them?
Unfortunately, many of us are all too aware of the stories of how ageism or maternity discrimination are playing out in organisations across the land. But there are other ways diversity is being affected in the workplace, with stereotyping having a lot to do with poor business decisions.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that, “Unconscious stereotyping, with assumptions about women not wanting to accept promotion, or not being in a position to do so, particularly where they have caring responsibilities”, is fuelling the gender pay gap. It’s this kind of limited thinking that could be having a harmful effect on your workplace engagement and diversity.
We see this sort of sloppy thinking across all aspects of the workplace. Whether it’s single versus married, children versus no children or baby boomer versus millennial. There are all sorts of ways that this type of stereotyping could be limiting the way we work with people.
In fact, unconscious bias training is being introduced in forward-thinking companies to address the very reasons why certain groups aren’t getting ahead in the workplace.
Think about it, do you make judgement calls based on facts alone or do you fill in the gaps for yourself? It’s easier said than done – and half the time, the scary thing is, employers might not even realise they’re doing it.
THREE MAIN WORKPLACE ‘TYPES’
Here are the three main generation groups where unconscious stereotypes might come into play…
1. BABY BOOMERS
A generation straight out of the swinging sixties, baby boomers are often stereotyped as not having the same fast fingered skills as the rest of us when it comes to technology. Some might even view them as less adaptable and reluctant to learn new skills. It’s just not fair.
Yet Sodexo’s ‘2017 Millennial Survey’ found that 32% of those aged 55+ see regular training as their most important benefit in the workplace, considerably higher than the 27% of 25-39 year olds. Other studies also show that it is baby boomers who are the generation most likely to view skills and training as super important to them.
We’re not surprised to hear this, and one of the most common mistakes HR managers can make is to write employees off as not wanting to take on extra duties or promotion because of their time of life. This is an attitude that is demeaning and disrespectful, quite frankly.
There can’t be many HR managers who haven’t heard that people are now working for longer than ever before – and often out of choice. Not everyone is going to have a lucrative pension pot to retire on, and even so, many people prefer to keep working rather than to stop altogether. The last thing anyone needs is some unconscious ageism creeping into the office.
Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, told HR Review that employers must recognise the potential of older workers and create age-friendly workplaces. After all, we’re all living longer, and work gives us more meaning, leading to a happier and healthier life.
Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group, said that companies need to adapt to support an older workforce. “As the UK workforce moves towards a new normal in terms of multi-generational working, and economic prospects improve, it will be companies with the foresight to embrace the change and adapt to it now who will benefit the most.”
We couldn’t agree more. Economic wellbeing is something everyone wants. And a well thought-through employee benefits package will only complement that. Because let’s face it, one day we’ll be the oldest generation in the workplace, so what we do now to change behaviours and combat stereotypes really, really matters.
As Sodexo’s report states, “baby boomers still have their heads firmly in the game. They’re enterprising, ready to learn and in some cases, are looking to shake up their career path entirely.” Managers underestimate them at their peril…
2. GENERATION x
This generation is mainly in its fifties and forties now. While it may have escaped the endless mythologising that the baby boomers and millennials have succumbed to, the stereotypes still exist, nonetheless.
Sodexo’s ‘Generation Game’ report says that Gen X is often labelled as apathetic and sceptical of authority. In fact, Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: UK Employee Engagement Survey 2017’ states that a massive 63% of Generation X believe they make a meaningful contribution towards the success of their organisation. That’s way more than millennials and baby boomers said.
The research also shows that more than half (55%) trust their managers and senior managers to make the right decisions and treat them fairly. It would seem that Gen X has indeed earned its badge of honour as the ‘work hard, play hard’ generation, not shy of putting in hard graft, whilst enjoying life’s spoils at the same time.
And whilst Gen X may have once been written off as the video-gaming generation that would amount to nothing, a lesson based in Douglas Coupland’s novel of the same name, it seems managers are best off not making the same sweeping generalisations of this employee group.
Not that we were ever going to suggest that a generation that has spawned the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos wasn’t successful. Oh no, far from it.
Yet this is a generation that wants the same as any other – people engagement that focuses on a transparent, inclusive, positive workplace culture and a genuine belief that the employer has each and everyone’s best interests at heart when allocating tasks and jobs.
Take it one step further, and tailor your incentives and rewards to show employees that you really get where they’re coming from, and you won’t ever be accused of being a slack employer. Because, if you’re throwing fast tech related gifts at millennials and childcare discounts at Generation X, you could still be stereotyping people without even realising it.
Get this right and you can whip up some serious talent engagement that does more than just pay lip-service to a cause or ‘nice-to-have’ list of employee benefits. Get it wrong and sadly, you won’t be alone.
According to Sodexo’s Employee Engagement study, just 10% of employees say the rewards offered to them are 'very relevant' to their lifestyle and personal interests. There’s that naughty stereotyping again…
3. MILLENNIALS/GENERATION Y
Born in the 1980s, millennials are now turning into bosses themselves. They’re probably the most scrutinised generation ever, with reports quick to write them off as selfie worshippers or narcissists who are lazy and pampered as a generation.
But one thing is clear – the millennial generation is enormous, with some estimates suggesting they make up over a quarter of the global population. It’s a huge number and another reason you can’t put everyone into the same boat, much as the uninformed manager might try. It’s also a reason why we’re endlessly delving into the ins and outs of what millennials really want.
What’s more, Sodexo’s ‘Be the Change: Inspiring and Incentivising Employees with Inclusive CSR Strategies’ report tells us this generation is the driving force between wanting to do good in the world and making it actually happen.
Millennials’ socially conscious mind sets are changing behaviour and creating a positive workplace culture that’s inclusive of good ethics and high standards when it comes to best business practice. Plus, their drive for greater innovation and better brand experiences is literally transforming behaviour across the board. This generation is a force to be reckoned with.
Now whether your millennial generation is stepping into the role of manager themselves, taking charge of older employees’ careers as they’re promoted, it’s safe to say that it’s now more common for younger people to manage older people.
As Sodexo’s research will tell you, this is where peer-to-peer learning is going to be crucial in transforming behaviour and dissolving any multi-generational difficulties that arise as a result of a perceived experience gap.
Regardless of their age or place in life, if you put your workplace stars out front where they can shine, you’ll inspire everyone in your organisation.
FORGET ABOUT AGE OR STAGE
When you work to appreciate the individuals in your business, you can change behaviours and help your employees thrive. So, forget what you think you know, keep an open mind and be ready for new opportunities when it comes to approaching your next employee engagement initiative.
It certainly couldn’t be more important to make your employee experience a more carefully tailored promise for everyone by letting go of old ways of thinking to be more inclusive and appealing to staff generally.
Iain Thomson, Sodexo UK’s Director of Incentive & Recognition, says the message is simple:
“We need to stop categorising people and start encouraging individuality. You wouldn't expect it when you meet people in a non-professional environment, so why should it be acceptable in the workplace? Treat people the way that you would expect to be treated, because when we boil it down, this is all about motivation and empowering people to have a sense of ownership.”
If we don’t kiss goodbye to stereotypes, we’re only tying ourselves up in knots. And that’s not going to get any of us anywhere, not least your business.