Playing The Generation Game
Sep 5th, 2018
“One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that other people think the way we think” – Author Unknown
“How do I attract and keep our millennials?” is a conversation I am increasingly having with my clients. Seen as the ‘restless’ generation, those born between 1981 and 1996 are set to make up 50% of the UK workforce by 2020. They are entrepreneurial, digitally-connected, mobile and self-reliant. When a 20-year-old recently declared to me ‘Life is short,’ before telling me her plans to go freelance, it was a perfect illustration of the challenge companies face. Equally, I had a fascinating conversation with a 30-year-old who runs her business with her husband and spends one month per quarter living in and running the business from a new foreign city. How can a corporation compete with that?
Yet for every conversation I am having about millennials, I am having in parallel a conversation with individual Generation Xers (age 38 to 53) and Baby Boomers (age 54 to 74) about their personal career aspirations. These clients have already achieved and gone through challenge and now want to use that valuable experience to reach their fullest potential. As Michael Skapinker recently said in his excellent FT article on older workers “With 20 or more active years ahead, we have no wish to spend it gardening or pottering around the shops.”
Ambition has become continuum – you achieve one thing, you plateau, you look for the next thing. Today, whether it is the beginning, end or middle of your career, it’s about new chapters and having an appetite to make the most of your life. One client, in his mid 50s, has achieved everything he set out to do in the Vision Intensive Programme I ran with him five years ago. He has now come asking to reset his new vision, believing he still has more potential to fulfil. Another baby boomer client, who has enjoyed a highly fulfilling global career is due to retire in two years, is currently very excited about the prospects of his new career plan in this next chapter of his life.
The motivations and cultural drivers of each generation may be different. But today there is an ambition and desire to make the most out of life no matter what age, and to really go for it. Companies which recognise that, see the generational differences as an opportunity not a power struggle, and know how adapting to individual needs will harness and retain talent across the board.
What can you do to create an environment where your millennials through to your baby boomers can achieve their ambitions and continue to add value?
Listen and Adapt – How will you know what will retain your employees if you don’t ask what matters to them? In today’s organisations, it is vital to instigate regular conversations with individuals and groups within the organisation, truly listen to their needs and to have the flexibility and power to adapt. One 55-year-old client said to me, she has ten years to go in terms of her full-time career and wants to ‘go out with a bang’. Currently in a significant role as a global No. 2, she wants to have the ultimate responsibility of leading and driving her own business area. There is an opportunity in her organisation but her boss does not have time to talk to her. She has such energy and drive that she could give to the organisation but she is now considering external opportunities to fulfil the drive as she has no time to waste. Equally, Millennials will not ‘wait and see’, they need to know where they are going. With regard to your policies, think creatively. For example, with housing prices creating challenges for Millennials to get on the property ladder, one client is offering them help towards a deposit. Older generations may be wanting more flexible hours…
Create a clear career path
Millennials want to advance their careers and a clear career path is very important to them. Whilst some people say millennials ‘lack loyalty’ or ‘are impatient,’ in my experience some will be patient if they see where they are going. Clients at later stages in their careers also want a clear direction to focus their time. So the question for organisations is: Do you know the aspirations of ALL your people?
Development – Career ambition is inextricably tied to development. The appetite for learning is strong across all generations and is key to retention strategies. Once again, the difference may be as simple as the delivery. GenXers tend to seek out external coaching support and traditional face-to-face development as well as online. Millennials are very focused on online learning with 89% of MOOC (mass open online courses) learners aged between 22 and 45.
Challenge – Millennials want to be kept challenged. Having responsibility, being able to own a project, having the scope to show what they can do are all important. The best organisations are those which stretch people. But why restrict this to millennials? Older employees, as we’ve seen, are looking for new challenges at different chapters. Generation X have more than demonstrated their ability to drive innovation. Take a leap of faith and put diverse teams together to solve challenges.
Harness the generational skills
Encourage cross-fertilisation of skills through diverse project teams. GenXers are as digitally savvy as Millennials and, having lived and worked through a phenomenal digital revolution, offer a powerful combination of traditional and digital leadership skills and a recognised ability to generate faster innovation by getting people working together. A client in the legal sector recently promoted a millennial 32-year-old to partner in a bid to respond to his demands to be promoted or leave. Whilst he had a track record as a high fee earner, they quickly discovered he lacked managerial experience following feedback from colleagues. The equity partners have now given their millennial partner an internal GenX mentor who is coaching him on collaborative leadership. Cross generational utilisation.
Create a place where people want to work
With the crash of 2008 seriously igniting the debate on capitalism, millennials are looking for a greater purpose in their work. Creating a workplace with a mission is important. But equally important is to make work fun, Millennials are known for ‘fear of missing out’ – believing the grass is always greener. What simple things can you do to make your workplace a fun and social environment? While older generations are more familiar with the ‘keeping work and personal life separate’, millennials are about community. Ergo, the rise of collaborative and innovative workspaces such as wework.com and theofficegroup.co.uk.
This week, the 52 year old DJ and personality Chris Evans announced his departure from the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, describing 8 years as a ‘chapter’ compared to the 50-year ‘epic’ presenting stint of his legendary predecessor, Terry Wogan. ‘That’s the thing about life,’ he said. ‘You have to keep shaking it up.’ A sentiment upon which millennials, baby boomers and Generations X would seem to agree.
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