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Is generational thinking holding you back?

People meeting in a cafeteria

For decades, generational segmentation has been a common strategy for deriving insights about consumers, employees and donors. While it has seemed logical to group people together by age brackets, the experiences and interests of these different generations are increasingly overlapping and intersecting. This is raising questions about the effectiveness of generational thinking – is it an opportunity for understanding your target audience, or a challenge that limits outreach based on negative stereotypes?

Much of the push-back on generational thinking comes from three major shifts in the make-up of the world today:

1. Overall Population

The Gen Z Effect points out that the world’s population is moving towards much more balanced generational representation. The population composition in the 1950s was described as a “pyramid” with one person over the age of 65 for every 10 toddlers, but by 2100 there will be one person over 65 for every toddler, creating the more balanced population “skyscraper.” According to The Gen Z Effect, all aspects of society will be impacted by this change in population composition. Public resources, such as education and social security in particular, will be significantly impacted as they are based on service models linked to generational populations and stages of life. As people live longer and break away from current life stage models, resource allocation and financing schemes that are intended to support critical public services will be stressed, ultimately requiring new approaches to continue to deliver those services.

2. Multi-Generational Workforce

By 2020, the two youngest generations (Millennials and Gen Z) will compose nearly 70 percent of global employees, while the older three generations (Silent Generation, Boomers and Gen X) remain in the workplace until later in life. This means a company’s workforce could include employees ranging from 18 to 80 years old. Focusing on generational thinking and business strategies has the potential to establish or perpetuate negative stereotypes. Managing a multi-generational workforce will require breaking down generational stereotypes, and investing in tools that engage and support coaching for individual enrichment, not just generalized groups. Companies that are able to adapt and employ the widest range of employees will have a competitive advantage, as they recruit from the largest set of potential applicants and represent the greatest mix of the general population.

3. Community Engagement

In 2015, retirees accounted for 45% of all volunteer hours, despite representing only a third of the overall population. Retirees have the time and desire to take on low-paying or no-paying nonprofit projects. As the population grows and people live longer, nonprofits would be remiss if they didn’t evolve their programming to support a network of multi-generational volunteers. The potential to utilize the full engagement of a multi-generational volunteer network would be restricted by management practices that typecast volunteer opportunities by generation. Generational stereotypes can deter potential volunteers, of all generations, who are seeking new experiences and fulfilling work, but are met with limited opportunities based on perceived skillsets or narrow applications of their professional experience.

While the world’s population may be growing, the proliferation of technology and the pursuit of a universal standard of living are creating greater access to information and more common experiences. Whether it is across countries or across generations, people share more in common today than ever before.

What is the greatest asset or challenge of a more multi-generational world?

Originally published on LinkedIn:

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