Shifts to Look for in the Intergenerational Workplace

A version of this article originally appeared at Practice Development Counsel.
 
Many professions and industries struggle with inter-generational challenges. The advertising industry is just one of those industries and although the accounting and ad fields are thought to be very different (e.g., right-brained versus left-brained oriented), they both are very much businesses and focused on money. So I think the views of a panel moderated by Val DiFebo, CEO of the Deutsch Inc. ad agency and a Boomer, apply quite well to accounting employees and their firms. 
 
The panel, which I attended as part of a social media week, was titled Don't Generalize My Generation and was comprised of one Boomer, one Gen Xer, and two Gen Y/Millennials. The discussion, relevant to many industries and workplaces and with a mix of generations in attendance, revolved around a number of questions other generations have of the Gen Y/Millennials and their impact.
 

Generational Definitions

Generations are defined by similar formative influences  social, cultural, political, and economic  that exist while individuals of particular birth cohorts are in their adolescent to early adult years. Given that premise, the approximate birth years for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are:

  • Traditionalists: Born between1925 and 1942
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1962
  • Generation X: Born between 1963 and 1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials: Born between 1979 and 1998
How do you describe what you're looking for at work?
The Gen Ys insisted their generation wouldn't adapt to the Boomer workplace. They're looking for a collection of experiences; hence many have "side hustles." Those multiple roles define them and also serve, they think, as a safety net in what seems a perpetually uncertain economy. And some Boomers and Gen Yers think that the Gen Yers' experience of being overscheduled with activities from a young age led to difficulty focusing.
 
There must be a "why" for Gen Y in the workplace – a purpose – and little or no "hierarchy." (They say they aren't interested in titles – until someone else gets one.) Employers and managers need to elevate the mission of each project and be sure to clarify where their assignments fit into the big picture. 
 
If you work at multiple jobs (the "slash generation" with a "side hustle" in addition to the main job), do you really see yourself as embodying all of your roles?
[Older generation] bosses wonder how things get done when people are only "half in." Are they unwilling to make sacrifices? Do they lack commitment to anything but themselves? Or are they actually saner for rejecting the model set up by the Boomers and Xers in which they never take their foot off the gas. Would rejection of that model benefit everyone?
 
Can you be successful working from anywhere? How do you convince someone that you have the ability to do the job?
Gen Yers are comfortable organizing themselves virtually and think they can work from anywhere. Boomers and Xers think that works for some jobs and some personalities. Some of the ways they can convince people that they have the ability to do a job are to explain how they think and their problem-solving process and to convey confidence.
 
What does leadership in the future look like? Do you have trouble making decisions if you can't crowdsource?
As for future leadership, the Gen Yers on the panel said they didn't know what it would look like, but it would be different. Leadership is about getting followers behind a vision, a movement, they said. Few decisions are made by anyone alone. 
 
How do Gen Yers define success?
One of the young panelists said he isn't worried that he can't define career success. The other Gen Y defined career success for herself as feeling happy with her involvement and self-actualization, which perhaps seems the opposite of crowdsourcing or looking to others.
 
Do the older generations need to shift to accommodate Gen Ys? Is that a good thing?
Are the older generations the ones that have to shift? One shift the panel thought could benefit everyone is more transparency. And they can follow the example of the Gen Ys who are reaching out to the generation that follows them (Gen Z, or the Re-Generation, or other names to come) and give them opportunities  paying it forward  which is likely to create more harmony between those generations. Make the younger generations part of your vision.
 
What does industry need to do to keep Gen Ys engaged?
Some of the things the panel felt the industry needs to do to better accommodate Gen Ys include:
  • Figure out how to automate grunt work so they don't have to be burdened with it.
  • Urge all generations to always be curious to learn and try new things.
  • Maintain an excitement about what you don't know.
  • Incorporate plenty of praise and feedback.
While there are many generational gaps to bridge, the multigenerational panelists actually have much common ground in their views, particularly about the desire to work well together.
 
Read more generational articles by Phyllis Weiss Haserot. 

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