Addressing the gap between millennial and baby boomer capability and leadership levels: why creating a learning culture is more relevant than ever.
There has been a lot of fuss lately about Gen Y or millennials and the impact they are having or are anticipated to have on the workforce, not only from an essential skills perspective but also from a leadership perspective. As with all buzz words that filtrate HR (and get a reputation for themselves as the next ‘it’ topic) the management and development of millennials in this age of digital disruption is no different.
Firstly, let’s just add a caveat here that each person is their own entity and most observations are generic rather than specific, and as a result, reading this should not offend either of the generations.
The baby boomer generation began retiring earlier this decade, and the numbers tell us that roughly 10,000 boomers will exit the workforce each day over the next decade. Ten thousand people a day is a pretty big number. Over 365 days, that’s almost 4 million people. That translates to us talent practitioners as a massive loss of experience that can’t be bought or taught. Add to this complexity that by the year 2025, 75% of workers globally will be Gen Y. Its gets even scarier with the thought that, if you have children in school at the moment, the jobs they will do one day don’t exist yet, but that’s another article for another day.
We digress, simplistically, in 10 years’ time, 4 million baby boomers (and their wealth of experience) will be out, and roughly the same amount of the millennial generation will be in. And que the skills gap…. How we begin to close the gap and transfer the learning begins by understanding who these millennials are and what the difference is.
Millennials may be misunderstood. But as the largest generation in the workforce, they have a significant influence. It’s only a matter of time before they begin redefining leadership and other workplace trends. The millennial generation is said to want very different things from organisations. It’s no longer about loyalty but rather employability. It’s not necessarily about the money, legacy and hierarchy anymore but rather the empowerment, value and attention attached to them and their contribution. It’s becoming less about being a leader who protects his/her troops and more about leaders who thrive on transparency and openness, on communicating the vison and direction, even if it’s a blurry one. Across a multitude of different studies, millennials have identified four main areas of interest from organisations and attracting them (as well as retaining them) is likely to lie within a great combination of the following…
Faster Career progression
Millennials often get critiqued about being impatient and demonstrating an air of entitlement, like wanting things, yesterday, while not doing much to deserve said things. Look, as a millennial myself, I’ll be the first to admit that instant gratification is very appealing; we want change to happen immediately. BUT, that doesn’t mean millennials don’t work hard, in fact, if we mention development, millennials are more likely to invest more time and energy as they are eager to learn – immediately. Giving millennials the on the job (70-20-10) approach to learning is a sure way to engage, develop and grow your young talent. Enabling a millennial to gain that exposure and experience from a baby boomer is a sure way to close the gap of experience vs innovation. Mentoring, coaching and providing youngsters with opportunities to fail safely (such as co-leadership opportunities) is what will create the inherent experience they need to learn from but have not yet had the years to do so. Pairing millennials with someone with 10+ years of experience on an important project will make them feel valued and give them that strategic exposure and learning opportunity. Equally, the learning cycle often comes full circle in that the youngsters in the room are more likely to be the innovative bods bringing fresh ideas to the table.
Constant feedback and recognition
To millennials, feedback changes everything and access to feedback is seen as being valued. Some might argue this is because of the “me, me, me” expectation, when in fact, this is actually a reflection of millennials seeking meaning in their work and wanting to believe they are making a difference. In this case, the feedback is more about a check –in to ensure they are progressing and that this progress positively affects the company. Diving deeper, there is an underlying theme in this behaviour too, if we think back to when most millennials entered the workplace, it was a time of great uncertainty and not knowing what would be happening next. Understanding that it’s not about coming 8th and wanting a trophy or being called special and unique because your mom said you were, but more about constant learning, growth and professional actualisation. Giving millennials feedback constantly not only empowers them in the meaning they derive, but also allows you to get the best from them.
Blend of work and life
When millennials talk about a blend of work and life this does not mean they want to work less, in fact highly engaged millennials are likely to worker longer hours and weekends. What they actually mean is a different and more flexible way of working. This is not about balance and needing to leave bang on 5pm every day because your work and life are mutually exclusive, it’s about combining them to achieve one rewarding resolution. Creating that blend or integration is about the programs and culture being different about a business, i.e. being able to step out at 3pm to fetch the kids and continue from home or taking the language class that’s at 11am on a Friday morning and making the hours up later. It’s about allowing them the freedom and space to combine work life with their personal life in a way that they complement each other. Ultimately it’s about trusting your employees’ work ethic and respecting their personal lives.
Meaning and connection in work
We touched on this lightly above but there is something a little more that I have not yet uncovered here. Millennials want to add value with their strengths and see the business they work for reap the benefits; they want purpose over pay checks. There is a reason millennials are called the purpose driven generation, they have a strong desire to identify the best way to use their skills and therefore collectively create a meaningful work culture by knowing that their individual role has an impact on the organisations bottom line. In fact, employees that feel this way, old or young, are more likely to stay at a company where they are committed to the business objectives. Managers would do well to get a better understanding of what that skill and sense of purpose is to channel it in the right direction. Finding out what motivates all employees most and how they like to solve problems is likely to close the gap faster, as more understanding is created between different generations.
How do we address the gap?
First things first, it’s important to recognise that both generations have a pretty big thing in common: they both want to be shown respect. Baby Boomers crave respect and acknowledgement from younger workers, and Millennials feel they deserve recognition in the workplace—regardless of their age or level of experience.
Beyond that, Millennials and Baby Boomers can complement each other well in a work setting, filling in the gaps to create a diverse and accomplished team. For example, Millennials who are new to the workforce will require a certain amount of direction, leadership and supervision and can gain from Baby Boomers experiences where they fill the role of a mentor.
The beneficial relationship between Millennials and Boomers is definitely a two-way street. Since the older generation is driven by proving their loyalty by committing to working long hours, they could learn a thing or two about effective work/life balance from Millennials. The younger generation tends to look for jobs that allow them adequate time to maintain a healthy social life as well as pursue their other passions. Additionally, Boomers can receive some lessons on successfully leveraging technology from younger employees in their office, given that that form of disruption isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
The bottom line is that organisations don’t plan for generational management shifts and addressing needs of a different group of people, and this ultimately means they risk falling behind and losing out to their competitors.
What have you done to stay ahead of the curve?
As with all buzz words that filtrate HR (and get a reputation for themselves as the next ‘it’ topic) the management and development of millennials in this age of digital disruption is no different.