How to manage multi-generational workplaces?

Murray Eldridge

Guest blogger: Murray Eldridge, Open University MBA Alumnus, Head of Commercial and Operations at Subsea Infrastructure and Director of Actinium CS Ltd. Author of ‘
Leading High Performance’.

Questions abound around Boomers, GenX’ers, Millennials and how to manage multi-generational workplaces?  We may be forgiven for thinking that this is a new problem of the modern era but when have work places not been multi-generational?

Every generation, indeed every child, has always sought its own place in the world. That eventual place is a blend of parental, peer, educational, societal, cultural, technological, and other factors. Despite this today’s received wisdom is, for example, that Millennials are very different from Gen X’ers and more difficult to manage. One could argue that if you want to look at a ‘difficult’ generation think back to the Baby Boomers in the late 60’s and 70’s! Rebellious and hedonistic in an era of over-abundance in jobs, goods and wealth!

It is worth noting that (in the west) Gen X was the first generation that on average earned less than their parents. Millennials have continued this downward trend. Because both Gen X and Millennials are on average more highly educated and more interconnected they ‘get’ the fact that current leaders (organisational and political) have a lot to answer for. Consequently there is a higher degree of scepticism of leaders, their motives and their competence. In their ‘Mind the Gaps’ survey (2015 Millennial Survey) Deloitte state “The message is clear: when looking at their career goals todays Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits.”

Leading and managing multi-generational workforces has not fundamentally changed. First it is about having a clear understanding of the purpose of the organisation and what is required to be successful. Next it is about learning and understanding what the organisations’ people value, what they need and what they would like. Last it is about synthesising these two sets of needs to create a vibrant, successful entity where, hopefully, people enjoy working.

While much is made about technology in the modern world, and the instantaneous inter-connectedness provided to all generations, peoples’ basic needs remain relatively consistent. People in organisations want their leaders to provide five key elements: a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, a sense of excitement, a sense of belief and, probably more than ever before, they want their leaders to be authentic with an ethos and values followers can believe in. Given the generational types and expectations there is a requirement for modern leaders and managers to engage ever more closely with their people. Carlos Goshn, CEO of Nissan, has said:  “Leaders of the future will also need to have a lot more empathy and sensitivity… They are going to need global empathy, which is a lot more difficult.”

Coaching and mentoring leadership styles work well in most walks of organisational life and today more than ever before these will be crucial approaches to engagement. However, coaching and mentoring require skill, time, energy, commitment and a willingness to provide guidance and impart knowledge. Preparing people for these more nuanced leadership and management roles will be both crucial and difficult. However, like the very best sports teams, those that can commit to this approach will secure stellar results.

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