Beyond Millennials: Embracing an Intergenerational Workforce
By Samira Abdul-Karim, Associate Consultant
Rest easy. This is not another article reinforcing assumptions, projections, or myths about Millennials. Millennials are of the most studied generations, which means that for every article and study about trends attributed to this group, there is another one-click away to debunk it. We need to broaden the conversation and talk about the millions of people in the workplace who offer as much value, vision, and human resource as do members of Generation Y.
The world and the marketplace are changing at a rapid pace, and our workplaces must be equipped for that change. The heavy-handed Millennial rhetoric may be our best attempt at making sense of this change–to categorize and qualify so that we can begin to feel knowledgeable. But by placing too much importance on the “trends” in generational categories, we can give a false sense of the degree of difference between different-aged workers. It’s a difference that sometimes borders on divisive. If you search for difference, you will find it.
Building a strategy around managing, attracting, or retaining only one group, can serve to isolate others. According to BlessingWhite research, 63% of employees on average are engaged, but 77% of employees in the best organizations are engaged. The lowest scoring organizations have under half (49%) of their employee population who are engaged. Managers and companies cannot afford to isolate the other half of their workforce. Success requires the highest levels of engagement from as many people as possible, regardless of generation.
So if you are asking yourself what it will mean for a significant percent of the workforce to be Millennials in 2030, you’re asking the wrong question. A more pressing question is, “What does it mean to have a multi-generational workforce right now and how can you leverage that?” Change is a given and workplaces will continue to be multi-generational. Now is the time to consider how to make your team and organization a place that can absorb changing generational needs.
WHAT ORGANIZATIONS AND LEADERS CAN DO
Focus on universal trends
Several studies found some difference in generational preferences, and also found large degrees of similarities between the needs and wants of Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers who, combined, will continue to make-up over 80% of the workforce for at least the next five years. For example, a multi-generational study by IBM found that the majority of the workforce, regardless of generation, hold the same beliefs that engagement is best produced by inspirational leadership, clearly articulated vision/business strategy, freedom to innovate, and a collaborative work environment, among other things. The ability to produce leaders who can inspire, create the space for innovation to happen, and clearly communicate a vision in an individualized manner requires significant training, investment, and preparation. Enhancing leadership in this way will attract and engage people from across all generations.
Understand what motivates your people and give feedback
Maximizing contribution is about aligning work priorities to an individual’s personal motivations and aspirations. In order to do that, you need to communicate with every person you manage. Don’t assume you know what’s important simply because of the generation from which they come. Learn how they like to be rewarded and recognized. Find out about their interests and strengths so that you can better align them with assignments and opportunities. Understand what they want to learn about so you can match them with chances for growth and development. And in the process make sure you’re giving feedback. Much has been made about the Millennial’s need for feedback. The truth is that giving regular performance-based feedback is one of the most effective means to ensure that your team has clarity and can achieve organizational priorities for employees of all generations.
Address the awkwardness
Increasingly, Millennials are moving into management positions and it is not uncommon for them to lead individuals who are older, more knowledgeable, or have more extensive experience. This is a challenging dynamic, especially in cultural contexts where there are high power differentials. This dynamic can sometimes lead to managers operating on extremes—conceding to their reports out of appreciation or respect, in a way that it hinders their ability to lead effectively. Or, in an effort to prove their credibility, overcompensating and heavy-handedly managing their reports into disengagement.
Managers need to find the balance between appreciating the unique contributions of each team member and owning the role as manager. In order to equip managers with the tools needed to address these dynamics, we believe that leaders, regardless of age or generation, should focus on competence and connection. Leaders need the skills and confidence to know they can do the work, and the abilities and perspective to connect with their people regardless of age. This formula will allow them to lead with transparency and impact, so they can navigate a sometimes awkward and volatile workplace. The outcome? Higher performance and satisfaction from their teams.
By embracing your multigenerational workforce and preparing your leaders appropriately, you will not only produce higher engagement and performance, but you will also begin to attract the best of all age groups. Rather than obsess over what makes Millennials tick, focus on leveraging the benefits of your workforce regardless of their age. Maintain an employee population that represents all generations and their diverse perspectives. Absorb change and reflect differences. By doing so, you’ll create a culture of balance and resilience.
BlessingWhite. Let’s talk about great days at work: 2017 Employee Engagement Report. 2017
IBM Institute for Business Value. Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths. The real story behind Millennials in the workplace. 2015
Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd. The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today. 2010