The modern workplace is a melting pot of different generations with different ideas. So how can you reduce conflict and ensure they work as a team?
By 2020, millennials (Gen Y) will make up half of the global workforce. In the meantime, most organisations will employ a broad mix of baby boomers and Generation X workers alongside a growing number of millennials. Understanding the varying values, strengths and priorities of these different generations is essential to build an effective team.
Although you should never assume that employees of the same generation have the exact same perspective, it is important to acknowledge that differences between generations do exist. It’s also beneficial to recognise that these differences can be leveraged to build a team with a better skill set and well-rounded outlook.
1. Rethink how you incentivise
Millennials tend to hold work-life balance in higher regard than their predecessors, which can lead to some baby boomers and Gen X workers thinking they’re lazy. The upside of this is their ability to be mobile and flexible, which means work becomes less about hours on the job and more about what’s achieved. This project-centric focus inspires a deadline-driven approach, while giving workers the opportunity to re-energise outside of the office.
What to do: Shift incentives away from how long an employee works, which is often based on overtime and ‘presenteeism’, to outcome-based goals. Shaking the habit of working longer hours for little gain benefits employees of all ages.
2. Start a mentoring program
Changing jobs every 2.5 years, the average millennial has an unfortunate reputation for disloyalty. Generally, Gen Y workers have a lower tolerance for neglect compared to older generations, and are more likely to jump ship if an organisation’s leadership doesn’t seem to value their input or support their development.
Research conducted by Deloitte shows millennials are more likely to stick around if an organisation offers mentorship, as it signals an investment in their career. Mentoring is a learning tool for both the mentor and the protégé. Consider the amount of knowledge and experience baby boomers and Gen X workers have to share; this can be used to both upskill younger staff and as a mechanism for millennials to share any innovative thoughts with their seniors – in a sense ‘reverse-mentoring’ their superiors.
What to do: Set up a mentoring program that pairs millennial staff with employees of a different generation to enhance knowledge sharing and development. Establish communication guidelines that allow for two-way mentoring. Regularly evaluate and refine the program to ensure it meets its goals.
3. Foster a culture of equality
While millennials and businesses have many aligned values, the biggest gap is around purpose. Millennials reported that they would prioritise the business’s sense of purpose around people – stakeholders inside and outside the business – rather than growth or profit maximisation. By comparison, baby boomers and Gen X workers have inclined more towards meeting organisational goals, regarding people issues as a lower priority.
This difference manifests in one key way: millennials don’t like working in structured hierarchies. Although they recognise differences in knowledge and experience in other generations, they expect all team members to have an equal say in the business’s direction, and an equal influence on the organisation’s success. When older generations stifle their opportunity to contribute, it causes them to look elsewhere for a role that appreciates their input.
What to do: Establish open communication channels and keep things transparent. It’s important that each employee’s views are heard and considered, even if they have little bearing on the final business decision. Fostering a culture of equality benefits all workers – helping to align values and encourage a sense of ownership.
An effective way to bridge the generation gap, which addresses many of the issues outlined above, is regular team building. This not only builds a company culture, but also encourages collaboration and highlights broader strengths and weaknesses.
Ultimately, organisations need to forget about forcibly integrating millennials to an existing model. Rather, they should be thinking about how they can leverage the skills of Gen Y alongside existing employees to better their business, while keeping staff of all generations creative, productive and happy.
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