“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde
There are four, almost five, generations all working together for the first time in history. With technological advances and changes in the concept of work itself, the modern workplace has become a complicated place. Whether it is through survey studies, academia or anecdotal accounts, we see that young and old have different views and different ways of doing things.
Personal experience and stage of life development has impacted how we view the world. This affects our attitudes, motivations and actions. While many older workers are dismissive of the younger set’s abilities, the younger workers feel like the old guys are out of touch. Generation Y, those born between 1981 and 2000, seems to be everyone’s favorite workplace complaint.
Generational differences are important
Social scientists started examining how social, economic, and political changes affected similarly-aged people. “Generational consciousness” has evolved as a way of distinguishing between different groups. These differences or “gaps” occur when two age groups see the world from different perspectives. A generation’s values, attitudes and motivations are shaped by how significant world events affected their growth and development. Each cohort will also have its own distinct worldview and own way of working. More importantly, these factors impact preferred methods of communication and interaction.
Why should we care?
In today’s fast paced environment, leaders need to better adapt to a multigenerational workforce, find ways to attract and retain new talent and figure out how to foster positive attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. To keep good employees, you must meet their needs and expectations while understanding what inspires them. In addition to individual differences, it’s important to appreciate how “generational perspective” can impact behaviour.
The world of work is evolving. Generations have different values and expectations which are not always compatible. Different age groups are working together for longer periods and workers are less likely to follow the clear cut studies-work-retirement path than in the past. In addition, people leave their jobs, upgrade their skills, look for new jobs, change careers, retire and then re-enter the labour market. Society hasn’t really encountered these situations before; and is trying to figure out how to deal with the issues that come with the changes.
Power of the Millennials
The work behaviours and attitude of the Millennials, also known as Generation Y, isn’t like their parents or grandparents. With the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) moving out of the workforce and Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) being such a small group, the Millennials will be the dominant force to contend with.
The balance of power has shifted as it used to be with the employer — “I have the ability to control your employment situation, you’ll do as I say”. Now, the power is with the millennials and this group can’t be influenced the same way because their priorities are different from their parents.
There are many common complaints about the millennial employee. This age group appears entitled and spoiled to the others. Millennials want more work flexibility and display less loyalty than their predecessors. There is also the issues of social media, technology savviness and oversharing. Employers don’t know how to handle this group because it is a new type of worker who is immune to the usual management strategies.
This shift in workplace dynamics is here to stay and the Gen Y will be the group to watch. The average millennial stays 1.2 years in a job, lives at home longer and generally isn’t motivated by money. The younger generation workers don’t care as much about the corner office. They’d rather have more autonomy and are driven by their values and purpose. And despite their youth and inexperience, they want their opinions to matter.
Old style leadership needs a fresh approach. Contemporary leadership has to be authentic, transparent and open to change. “Relational” leadership is the future — Get to know your people and let them get to know you.
Here are some practical strategies to connect with your Millennials:
Provide quick and constant feedback
- Build connections through frequent interaction; and ask for their help and feedback.
- If they believe that you respect them and their skills, they are more likely to value what you have to say.
Make a head-heart connection
- They want to do well while doing good.
- Help connect their understanding of “business” with their emotional and moral compasses.
Take an interest in what interests them
- Gen Y has a different attitude about the balance of work and life than the other generations. They won’t think twice about taking a day off to go skiing or surfing nor will you be likely to see them burning the midnight oil as their Boomer parents.
- Become familiar with how they navigate through life and connect with them on their tuft using social networking (e.g. Facebook, Youtube, texting) or at least become familiar with them.
Start with the “now” and then to “how”
- They don’t care to be lectured or preached to about history.
- Millennials are more concerned with the present and how a situation can be resolved.
Engage, entertain and educate
- Use technology in a creative and interactive way to engage Millennials.
- Your meetings and training programs need to incorporate activities, dialogue or hands-on learning to “engage, entertain and educate” to reach them.
Changing workplace dynamics
The modern workplace is challenging for employers and employees alike. Stable jobs and talent is becoming scarce which impacts organizations and the economy at large. Careers are less predictable because of the changing nature of work. There is less employment and financial security for the workforce and the concept of retirement is evolving.
Millennials are products of high technological growth and tenuous economical influences. As a result, they are a new breed of worker who responds differently to “work”. To successfully deal with this, business leaders need to develop management strategies by understanding the individuals, their motivations and workplace dynamics.