Much has been published about the mix of generations in the workforce and the potential impacts that it will have on the workplace. But much of what has been discussed has been theoretical. Over the past few years, these dynamics have become very real in many of my clients and we have started to see the real impacts. In some organizations, the percentages of “non-baby boomers” has increased dramatically, and the influence on the workplace has been significant. In some cases, the changes have taken them by surprise and it was only when friction began to emerge that they recognized the demographic shifts.
We have all heard how the values of the younger generations are different from those of the baby boomers. The younger generations have different expectations around job / company changes, promotions, job content, flexibility and a host of other issues. But more than that, they just have different ways of working. Here are some examples that may seem trivial, but are indicative of the type of dynamics that are emerging:
- Two colleagues sit next to each other in in low-walled cubicles; to collaborate, they don’t talk but instead use an instant messenger platform to discuss
- During a meeting, participants are sending text messages to each other about the speaker and the content
- Circumventing the hierarchy to directly approach top executives regarding promotion opportunities
- Parents contacting supervisors directly regarding their children’s performance reviews
I am not placing a value judgment on any of these (well maybe on the last one), but they are a very different dynamic from what the baby boomers would be used to. So what will management look like when the younger generations take over significant management responsibility? Will performance reviews take place via messenger? Will the performance of your projects be determined by the number of “likes” they have on their Facebook page?
Organizations will need to find a way for the generations to work effectively together. This means leveraging the strengths and weaknesses of different management styles and approaches to redefine management. When talking about the younger generations, for example, strengths would include:
- Effective use of technology
- Ability to rapidly adapt to change
- Tendency to approach issues collaboratively
- Focus on regular interaction and feedback
Coupled with potential weaknesses such as:
- Potential expectation of movement from a position before mastery of key skills is achieved
- Expectation of recognition for effort rather than results
- Being used to primarily working with teams at the expense of individual accomplishments (sometimes things have to be done solo)
Organizations should have a deliberate approach to blending management styles and determining how to make the most of their workforce and reduce potential friction. This should ideally be done before the friction gets to be too great. And as with any change, organizations must determine the right implementation strategies, involving multiple generations in both designing the approach and making it a reality. This will help organizations make the mixed generations into an asset instead of a liability.