HR Toolbox: How to Use People Analytics to Bridge Generational Gaps in the Workplace

By Chiradeep BasuMallick, originally for HR Toolbox

Are you aware of the multidimensional expectations and behavioral trends of different generations of employees? Have you considered using people analytics to finetune employee experiences, keeping in mind generational gaps in the workplace? In this article, we share a five-step blueprint for applying analytics to address generational gaps, in an exclusive discussion with Ben Waber, president and co-founder of Humanyze. In a multigenerational workforce, there is bound to be a wide diversity of opinions, needs, and aspirations. This can be termed as a generational gap in the workplace – but research suggests that you can’t paint these trends with broad strokes. Despite our perceived notion of various generations, their impact on the workplace differs from company to company. For example, LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Trends Report found that Gen Z is most likely to value training, while the Baby Boomer generation wants purpose. Yet, research by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute found that just 0–2% of the attitudinal difference among people can be attributed to the generation they belong to. How do you understand the effects of your workforce’s generational composition on employee experience? Here’s where people analytics comes in. People analytics looks at your workplace data to assess workforce composition and generation-wise behavioral patterns to help you answer how to engage/empower employees across generational divides. Learn More: Data Analytics Vital to Modern HR Management
A 5-Step Plan for Addressing Generational Gaps in the Workplace Using Analytics
LinkedIn’s report revealed the truly multigenerational nature of the current workforce. Millennials form 40%, Gen X makes up 33%, Baby Boomers add 15%, and Gen Z constitutes another 10%. Most companies are likely to have a mix of all four generations, which is sure to have an impact on employee experiences, collaboration, and productivity. “Generational differences appear in how employees think, feel, and behave, as well as the way they see the world and react to it,” commented Ben Waber, president and co-founder of the people analytics company, Humanyze. Instead of relying on intuition (and sometimes succumbing to stereotypes) to navigate these generational gaps in the workplace, organizations should turn to reliable data insights that a people analytics platform can reveal. Managerial capacities may differ from team to team. Without the backing of robust analytics data, your managers may not be able to leverage the talent potential spread across generations effectively. “Rather than relying on what Gallup refers to as a ‘canny manager’ to navigate those differences, workplace analytics provides the tools to bridge these generational disconnects,” suggests Waber. So, how do you go about implementing people analytics to address generational gaps in the workplace? Here’s a five-step plan.
1. Highlight the possible points of impact
Generational gaps in the workplace will have specific points of impact. Some areas – such as career progression and overall employability – are likely to remain the same across generations. For a targeted analytics exercise, you need to zero in on specific points of impact. Some areas of analysis in the context of generational gaps in the workplace could be:
Communication/collaboration: How do employees from different generations use digital communication tools?
Learning and development (L&D): Which L&D modes does each generation prefer? What is the learning impact across these modes?
Employee benefits: Are there specific generational trends in benefits adoption?
2. Formulate a hypothesis for each area of impact
While it is essential to keep an open mind on data insights, companies must have a starting hypothesis before embarking on a people analytics project. Several factors will inform the hypothesis – anecdotal evidence, the opinion of managers/team leaders, employee feedback, and historical trends, among others. For example, if communication/collaboration is an area of study, you could have a hypothesis that states: “Gen Z regularly uses personal networks like WhatsApp or Facebook to communicate with workplace peers.” Similarly, you can formulate hypotheses in every area of analytics implementation. Don’t allow popular stereotypes to impact your hypotheses. The hypotheses must simply validate (or negate) what you and other stakeholders have already observed in the company.
3. Curate data sources for analytics application
Once you have the points of impact and the hypotheses in place, you can identify the data sources to consider when analyzing generational gaps in the workplace. Here, you can work with your people analytics vendor, factoring in the platform’s compatibility. “The workplace analytics platform gathers data to show insights into how different employees prefer to communicate, allowing companies to build environments that better support them,” said Waber. Continuing our example, you might extract data from WhatsApp and Facebook communication to check if your initial hypothesis holds. You could run a short survey asking employees about their preferred mode of communication. Selecting the right data sources is essential to the success of the analytics exercise. Leveraging a people analytics platform “can identify gaps in communication, such as failure to use communication tools effectively for older generations. It could detect the lack of access to senior members for younger generations,” said Waber.
4. Translate insights into action points
This is the most important step in an analytics-driven blueprint for addressing generational gaps in the workplace. Let’s say the analysis reveals that Gen Z does not use WhatsApp, preferring professional communication tools such as Slack instead. On the other hand, Gen X and Baby Boomers continue to rely on email and SMS. How do you act on this insight? To get this right, you can collaborate with your people analytics vendor and build a dashboard that suggests actionable tips on bridging generational gaps in the workplace. For instance, rather than showing usage figures for communication and collaboration tools, it could highlight problem areas – over 50% of Gen Z isn’t using tool ABC, or only 5% of Baby Boomers are active users for platform XYZ. You can follow up on this data through digital literacy training, adoption programs, and even a user interface redesign of the tool in question to encourage usage. Waber shared an anecdote from his experience. “After leveraging Humanyze for one of our customers, a multinational tech company, we observed significant differences in communication tool usage and collaboration patterns. People in their 20s were significantly cut off from older generations, interacting over 20% less than other age groups.” And the answer, for them, was not just leveraging better communication tools but increasing in-person interaction between members of different generations. “The location of where younger employees sit in relation to tenured employees can improve the likelihood of interactions and thus familiarity, collaboration, and knowledge sharing,” he recommended.
5. Celebrate differences when taking corrective measures
While addressing generational gaps in the workplace, companies should remember to celebrate generational differences and diverging viewpoints. A variety of opinions, perceptions, and levels of world experience will contribute to cognitive diversity in the workplace, making teams more productive and innovation-ready. “Different generations in the workplace – and there can be five in the same office – have very different perspectives. Smoothing them over is a challenge. Gallup analytics has a solution: Don’t,” writes Jennifer Robinson, author and senior editor for Gallup. Companies should focus on the different personality traits that characterize each generation and tweak the employee experience so that the full potential of every generation is realized. People analytics reveals these intricate correlations between generational backgrounds, employee personality, and age, eliminating all bias to leave you with a conducive environment where every generation can thrive. Learn More: The Power of People Analytics
How Could Bridging Generational Gaps in the Workplace Help Your Company?
You might be wondering why companies should invest in people analytics for the specific purpose of addressing generational gaps in the workplace. According to Waber, this has several benefits:
Build a collaborative office environment: “One immediate action that can be taken is reconfiguring office layouts in order to encourage conversations between generations, as well as different teams,” said Waber.
Retain young professionals: “Another result of bridging the generational gap with workplace analytics is improved retention rates. Younger employees may be more likely to stay with a company if they are presented with more opportunities for growth through exposure to influential leaders,” he added. A people analytics platform can help identify such an opportunity.
Get better returns from communication tools: “Communication tools can be used more effectively in the workplace if there is a clear understanding of how they are currently being used and where there may be missed opportunities. Providing access to these leaders through in-person or digital channels breaks down generational barriers and eases communication,” Waber mentioned.
In the current workplace that is predominantly distributed, it is essential to bridge generational gaps – not erase generational differences – and deliver an experience that’s targeted towards specific employee needs. Collaboration has never been more critical, and people analytics can highlight the role that the age factor plays in your organization, helping you design a smarter workplace and a more engaging employee experience.

Last Updated 07 August 2021