Multi-generational working and the dangers of pigeon-holing 

There’s been quite a bit in the media recently about millennials and multi-generational working in the workplace, some of it triggered by a YouTube clip by published author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek. In the clip, Simon states that a common perception of millennials in the workplace is that they are “tough to manage”. The clip has fuelled much debate, with many millennials agreeing with Simon’s observations, and equally as many other millennials criticising his evaluation.

I can see both sides of this argument. I’ve had a number of conversations in the past year with business leaders who are perplexed by the perceived demands and expectations of millennials. Don’t we all have hopes and expectations of our work though? Given how much time we spend in the workplace, I think we all hope that work will provide us with a sense of satisfaction and achievement, and perhaps, if we’re fortunate enough, even meaning.

I think what’s interesting about this debate is that it highlights that millennials are one of the first generational groups in the workplace to vocalise a desire for fulfilment. While business leaders and owners may struggle with this, it’s perhaps no less than what the rest of us are thinking, even if we’re too polite, or even sometimes too lacking in self-belief, to ask for it.

Based on everything we’ve read and researched at Working the Future, however, every workplace of the future will need to focus closely on workplace satisfaction if it hopes to recruit – and retain – the best talent. Understanding this is key to successful business leadership. Where technology will automate many of the more mundane, replicable, day-to-day tasks, every human in the future workplace will have an active role to play in ensuring their employer remains competitive and relevant. If employers fail to provide stimulating and engaging work for their workers, they will, quite simply fail to gain access to those people who can help maintain competitive edge.

Listen to Cat discussing ‘The Importance of Employee Engagement in the Future of Work’ in our November 2017 radio show:

Also interesting is that this “millennials in the workplace” debate has potentially created a sense of divisiveness. We think this needs to be avoided at all cost. Each generational group in the workplace inevitably brings its own strengths and weaknesses, but we should be focusing on intergenerational collaboration to maximise commercial advantage, rather than pigeonholing less desirable traits and attributes. None of us likes to be typecast; we all largely like to feel our sense of uniqueness in the world.

Whilst research undertaken by PWC estimates that by 2020, 50% of the global workforce will consist of millennials[1], other research indicates that there’ll soon be five generations of workers contributing to the workplace[2]. Traditionalists, Babyboomers, Gen X, Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z, all bringing unique attitudes, specialisms and approaches. Rather than focus on negative generational stereotypes, let’s very briefly look at what each generational demographic has to offer.

Traditionalists and Babyboomers, of course, bring maturity and wisdom; having worked through a number of “boom and bust” economic cycles, they’re less likely to be fazed by economic volatility, favouring pragmatism and logic. Having worked during a less “connected” age, I’d also conjecture that these demographic groups are less likely to feel overwhelmed by data; they’re more likely to be able to critically evaluate scenarios because they refuse to feel rushed and panicked.

Gen X workers also bring “grounded-ness” and reason to the workplace, and in fact make excellent workplace mentors and facilitators, as they bridge the gap between the older and younger generations, being able to see both points of view.

Millennials and Gen Z workers will of course bring with them the unequivocal advantage of being able to navigate the increasingly complex landscape of technology applications that enhance the user or customer experience.

Over and above the brief and generalised qualities outlined above, I also can’t emphasise enough that we each bring with us highly individual and valuable attributes that all have their part to play in the future work landscape. By embracing these, and encouraging deeply collaborative work environments, we can all benefit greatly from peer-to-peer learning that will simultaneously enrich both our workplaces and our own individual skillsets.

Written by:
Cathryn Barnard, Working the Future and Virtual Content Team Volunteer

This article was originally published on Working the Future.


Would you like to join our Virtual Content Team? Email sian@engageforsuccess.org to find out more!

[1] https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf
[2] https://hbr.org/2014/09/managing-people-from-5-generations | Meister, JC. and Willyerd, K. (2010). The 2020 Workplace: How innovative companies attract, develop and keep tomorrow’s employees today.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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