Presented by: Forbes, December 18, 2018
Author: Drew Carter, Currents Studio Director
“They don’t work as hard.”
“They lack loyalty and are job hoppers.”
“They’re overly sensitive and can’t take criticism.”
“They’re unprepared for the real workplace, yet they think they know it all.”
“They’re always on their smartphones, but don’t know how to interact properly.”
By now these sentiments should sound familiar — they’re in nearly every article written about millennials in the workplace. Yet, it seems that baby boomers and Gen Xers forgot that they, too, were on the receiving end of similar stereotypes when they entered the workforce.
In 2017, Pew Research Center estimated that 56 million millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) were working or looking for work. This makes them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force at present time, with one in three employees being a millennial. These numbers, which surpass both Gen Xers (those born 1965-1980) and boomers (those born 1946-1964), are driving employers to learn more about this cohort and how to best manage them.
Much of the discussion surrounding millennials assumes a generational divide, focusing more on this group’s differences. This approach is flawed and undermines the objective, which is to answer a simple, yet crucial, question: “How can we work together?”
Successful communication between disparate groups begins by establishing a common understanding, not underscoring differences. When it comes to standard workforce practices, adoption of technologies and even language or cultural touchstones, the barriers between generations are much lower than they seem. In fact, the generational gap is often given too much weight when accounting for lack of team cohesion and poor company culture. To capitalize on commonalities and enhance working relationships across generations, technologies, work space design and culture should serve as anchors to uniting employees of all ages.
Technology Enables, Rather Than Divides
While millennials often are ahead of older Americans in their adoption of technology, Gen Xers and boomers also are heavy users. New consumer technologies are intended for everyone: They are constantly being designed, redesigned and refined to reach a broader consumer base.
While Gen Xers and boomers may perceive new technologies, especially smartphones, as a source of distraction, they are an incredible work tool that enables communication to be streamlined. Not only do they make the workplace increasingly mobile and connected; they also encourage employees to problem-solve in real time, thus significantly increasing efficiency. Picture this: you run into a co-worker in the copy room, and they ask you a question pertaining to a project you’re both collaborating on. Prior to the advent of mobile technologies, you likely had to go back to your work station to look up information and then provide a delayed answer. Now with smartphones, tablets and laptops, the question can be addressed on the spot, allowing for immediate feedback. With more companies adopting cloud storage, such practices will soon become the norm as employees are untethered from their desks and move freely to complete tasks.
Leveraging Communication Systems And Workplace Design To Unite Teams
The future of workplace communication lies in systems that are intuitive and customized, and enable employees to efficiently mobilize. Many companies are already using workplace networking tools like Yammer or Slack. These technologies are user-friendly, as they draw from popular social media platforms like Facebook, with which most employees are already familiar. While a traditional email inbox with myriad conversation threads can be challenging to navigate and organize, these platforms allow end users to create different groups to segregate tasks and projects, join and leave various conversation threads, use hashtags to easily find discussions and files, and create collaborative documents.
Another key component in uniting a cross-generational workforce begins with reassigning purpose to the workplace through effective interior architecture and design, which helps to facilitate the successful adoption of new systems by all employees. As technologies provide staff with increased connectivity and mobility, so does workplace design. Organizations are becoming increasingly agile, and are redesigning workplace environments in ways that enable workers to meet and collaborate in well-thought-out spaces, creating more opportunities for informal and formal interactions.
It Starts And Ends With Management
Management is key to reconciling different generations in the workplace. The first rule of successful management is to empower employees to do things their own way and promote a culture of learning. Instead of prescribing, managers should encourage employees to bring their creativity to the table and rethink the way they execute tasks to keep improving processes.
When it comes to managing younger generations, older generations often feel compelled to preserve, defend and sometimes impose the wisdom and knowledge of their age. While there is undisputed value in passing along lessons and know-how learned from experience, discoveries and innovations often require breaking away from the way things are traditionally done. To ensure companywide adoption of new processes, it is critical for organizations to incorporate a change management approach — a methodology used to engage employees so they are driven to support a common goal. Prior to introducing new technologies, management should work to ensure staff understand how it will benefit them and the company. It’s also crucial that employees receive adequate training so that they can hit the ground running with these new tools.
With 61 million Gen Zers (those born after 1996) soon entering our workforce, anticipated difficulties in managing and training this generation are generating headlines. As our workforce evolves, we should instead rejoice in new possibilities that a younger generation and its own problem-solving capabilities can bring to the workplace.