Workplaces have always had multiple generations working side by side – this is nothing new. However, with people now required to work for longer than ever before and with the next generation of workers coming through we are starting to see up to five generations in the workforce for the first time. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (otherwise known as Generation Y) and the soon to enter the workforce Generation Z or the Silent Generation, so called because of the amount of time spent on-line. This creates huge challenges for businesses, which need to consider how they adapt their environments to cater for multiple generations in the workplace, rather than obsessing about whether or not they have a “Strategy for Millennials.”
Two of these groups now make up the majority of the workforce, and it is on those we will focus our attention.
On the one hand you have Generation X – digital tourists, who are comfortable with texting or email but generally prefer to pick up the phone or go and chat to someone face to face. The need for real human interaction is still dominant. They are used to a working culture where productivity is often measured by the number of hours you are sat at your desk and ideas such as “flexible working” and “work-life balance” where non-existent.
Then there are the Millennials – digital natives, who are used to operating in a virtual world where everything is instant. They use their phones to send instant messages, take photos and update everyone on what they had for breakfast rather than actually speaking to each other. Show them a floppy disk and they think someone has 3D printed the “Save” icon. They expect to have two profiles (work / personal) but one device – a single tool for all their virtual interactions.
Millennials are likely to have come from an environment where both their parents worked and therefore place a greater premium on a work-life balance. For Generation X the novelty of the “24x7 always available” culture has worn off and we are now seeing more boundaries put in place to ensure people do take proper breaks where they really switch off from work. However, there is still a perception in businesses that it is only women who want flexible working whereas in reality this is not the case – in fact Millennials expect to be given the option to work flexibly. This is a real cultural shift for businesses and they are struggling to get it right.
There seems to be a disconnect between organisations who are either great at offering flexible working but lack the technology to fully support it, or companies that are great with technology but don’t offer the flexible working. Getting this balance right is a real challenge for HR Teams.
So how do you reinvent organisations for Millennials whilst also catering for the other generations? It comes down to creating the right employee experience through offering a choice. Businesses are finding they have to unlearn what they learnt in the 20th Century and that is a daunting task.
We now live in a society where people can sell their time and skills in the virtual world with relative ease. People no longer look for a career path; instead it is about building a portfolio of skills and experiences. Employees now have to be able to operate in the virtual and non virtual world – but while Gen X may lack the social skills to operate the digital world, so Millennials may end up lacking the social skills to operate in the real world. So the challenge for businesses is balancing both worlds whilst also creating an environment that caters for all generations. In the end it comes down to being able to offer people a choice in the way they work.