It’s a rare week when I don’t see an article or a blog post discussing some aspect of generational differences, either in the workplace or the marketplace. It often feels as if most of the writers who tackle the subject have been saying or spinning the same topics for over a decade now and I, for one, am getting a little Gen Fatigue. Like most generational shifts in America over the past hundred years (when the concept of being a teenager pretty much evolved), there will always be a “them vs. us” approach to people’s opinions. Instead of taking the usual bait and running with it, what I’d like to focus on is working towards clearer, stronger lines of communication between the generations.
Culture is another hot topic when it comes to recruiting and retaining the modern day talent pool. Whether it’s a personal chef coming in to cook meals for the team or offering unlimited vacation time, companies are (finally!) rethinking 20th Century policies and procedures for their employees. The downside is that many of these organizations are forgetting how to retain their hires once they’ve been brought onboard. And if they’ve weaved in what I like to call the Magic Carpet Ride of Recruiting where the candidate is promised the world, the inevitable letdown the person feels once they’ve acclimated can lead to higher attrition and bad PR on the street. As important as it is to have a great environment or values the executives have agreed upon, without a management philosophy behind it where each employee is given tools to learn and grow or to chart out a successful career path, your culture may die on the vine from too many perks and not enough substance behind the work they were hired to do. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
When we go to work now, the variety of ways in which we can reach out to others baffles the mind: emails, texts, FaceTime, face-to-face, Skype, meetings, phone calls, voicemails, et al. It’s not that we’ve lacked multiple channels in the past and not known how to manage them effectively but that the hierarchy has been disrupted. What’s missing from most employers as new hires onboard is a simple set of expectations around internal communications and what’s expected of each individual coming through the door. If you’re a smaller organization, walking the floor and talking in person with your colleagues may be the number one way to get your work accomplished. Larger, more complex or global organizations may choose instant messaging as the fastest way to work with others. Either way, figure out what the mission is and educate your people so they know how to be successful. As we all know, it is possible to drown in email.
Lastly, I think all generations can agree that the days of loving your soulless job are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s unlikely that anyone under the age of 40 longs for Mad Men office politics or to be told when and where to work. On the other hand, sometimes a workplace that’s too touchy-feely or where managers coddle their employees can lead to a knee-jerk reaction on the Leadership team to go back to the old ways. You need to determine what works best for your people and keep a finger on the pulse at all times in case changes are required. If you make one accommodation to one person just to appease them or keep them happy without thinking about consequences across the board once they’ve told everyone else what you did for them, you’ve just altered the rules of the game in their favor. People like guardrails, as I like to call them, so they know there’s a road in-between to drive on vs. rules and regulations that are easy to break because someone has decided to forget about the human being behind the badge number. Just be sure your guardrails are clearly drawn and embraced by management at all times.
Of course, none of this is worth much if you forget there’s an art to listening. I sometimes wonder if it’s a skill or a habit—either way, it wouldn’t hurt to call it out if you think someone isn’t listening to you. If there’s one thing all generations agree upon, it’s likely their desire to be heard. Take the time to engage in the discussion of how you work with others and what new ways of thinking and doing things could have a positive impact on your life. Be respectful, accountable and patient with change. Then maybe one day we can focus less on the differences and start fostering work environments where everyone is learning together, regardless of their date of birth.