EY Survey Explores Managing the Generational Mix

Oct 28th 2013
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By Deanna C. White

A new survey released this September by Big Four professional services organization EY explores generational dynamics in the workplace and reveals a significant movement in Generations Y and X surging into management roles over the last five years.

EY's external online survey, which queried more than 1,200 US Gen Y, Gen X, and Baby Boomer professionals, explored generational shifts in management over time as well as the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each generation.

The survey, EY officials say, provides the perfect lens through which professional services firms – whether they're mega-practitioners like EY or independent "Main Street" offices –  can prepare for the generational shift in their own organizations and harness their professionals' specific age-related strengths to make the most of the generational mix.

Perhaps the most significant finding of the EY generations survey, said Karyn Twaronite, the EY Americas Inclusiveness officer and a partner of Ernst & Young LLP, is the revelation that Gen Y, or Millennial, workers, those currently ages eighteen to thirty-two, are moving into management roles at a record rate.

From 2008 to 2013 alone, 87 percent of Gen Y managers surveyed took on a management role versus just 38 percent of Gen X workers (ages thirty-three to forty-eight) and only 19 percent of Baby Boomers (ages forty-nine to sixty-seven).

Those figures stand in stark contrast to numbers from the previous five years (2003 to 2008), when only 12 percent of Gen Y workers took on management roles, while 30 percent of Gen X workers and 23 percent of Baby Boomers moved into management.

"One of the most significant things the survey reveals is the fact that Gen Y managers are taking on management roles at a far greater pace than their predecessors", Twaronite said. 

And that dramatic shift in the generational landscape is about to become a critical issue for all organizations, as Gen Y professionals – who the survey indicates are viewed as social media savvy but soft on executive presence and somewhat "entitled" by their more seasoned peers – will rapidly overtake leadership. 

"Indications are these changing generational dynamics will impact about two-thirds of global organizations, both big and small, in the coming years, as well as the clients they serve", Twaronite said. "Everyone will be affected by these changing generational dynamics in the workplace."

Fortunately, EY officials say, the survey provides ample context for managing the multigenerational mix, analyzing the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each generation and engaging and motivating all employees in the increasingly age-diverse workplace.

The Millennials Are Coming

The first step in getting ahead of the new generational curve, Twaronite said, is to understand the generational dynamic at play in your office and the context, or backstory, of working with Gen Y managers. 

"Gen Y currently represents more than a third of the US workforce. At Ernst & Young LLP, they represent 62 percent of our workforce, and we plan to recruit more than 6,300 students in the United States in fiscal year 2014 alone – the majority of whom will be Millennials", Twaronite said. "EY tends to trend ahead of the curve in Gen Y hiring, so Millennial managers are definitely coming down the pipeline." 

Twaronite stresses the current swell of Gen Y managers isn't just the typical managerial bump due to the natural aging of the workforce. Today's influx of Gen Y leaders is occurring at a much more rapid pace than in previous generations, and, as such, will have a much greater impact on workplace/leadership dynamics. 

Another factor firm leaders should take into account in the equation, Twaronite said, is that this tsunami of Millennial managers is perceived as coming in "less prepared" than Gen X or Baby Boomer managers.

In considering today's economic climate, most survey respondents selected Gen X (80 percent) as being equipped to manage effectively, followed closely by Boomers (76 percent), with Gen Y lagging behind at 27 percent; however, statistics predict confidence in Gen Y managers will grow by 2020.

"The fact that Gen Y managers are perceived as less prepared isn't all that surprising given the fact that they don't have the same years of experience", Twaronite said. "But that isn't Gen Y's fault. The difference between this generation and prior generations of managers is that Gen Y is the victim of the overscheduling of those above them. There has been less natural time for job shadowing for them, as older generations were expected to do more with less."

Twaronite said that while it's encouraging Millennials are expected to significantly grow their managerial skills by 2020, the "onus is on companies to also give them equitable opportunities to gain the right mentors, sponsors, career experiences, and training to capitalize on this optimism."

Harnessing Skills, Anticipating Challenges

Perhaps, not surprisingly, the survey also found that American professionals aren't exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm at the prospect of working in a multigenerational setting. Nearly 75 percent of managers surveyed view managing multigenerational teams as a challenge, citing different work expectations and a lack of comfort with younger employees managing older employees as the main concerns.

Fortunately for managers, EY officials say, the survey also delves into the strengths and weaknesses of each generation that can be leveraged to build a successful multigenerational team.

"As management shifts to younger generations, the research reveals areas companies can focus on to enhance skill sets, address the challenges of managing multiple generations, and retain and engage employees by understanding which workplace perks they may value most", Twaronite said. 

According to the survey, there are several "perceived strengths and weaknesses identified with each generation", including several associated with the newest players on the managerial scene: Gen Y.

"The most significant positives we uncovered about Gen Y are they are perceived to be very entrepreneurial, they scored very high on collaboration and being adaptable, and they received high marks for valuing diversity and inclusion", Twaronite said.

"Those are all incredibly important traits for managers. The findings mean Gen Y is able to cross borders on a team, which is a huge win for bigger and smaller organizations alike", Twaronite said. 

While Gen Y didn't rate as high as other generations for productivity, their high marks for being perceived as entrepreneurial indicate they possess essential skills to bring new opportunities and new clients to organizations.

"The fact that Gen Y is entrepreneurial means they are willing to adapt to change and try new things. They don't always need someone to tell them how to do things, and that's especially helpful for smaller firms when manpower is tight", Twaronite said.

On the flip side, the study reveals most challenges with Gen Y managers tend to be centered on their perceived lack of communication skills.

"I think to some extent it's miscommunication among generations that creates some of these challenges, along with different work experience and lack of comfort with different work styles", Twaronite said. "Because of time constraints, Gen Y has also had less opportunity for job shadowing to learn about decision making, executive presence, and how to present at board meetings." 

Managing the Mix

Once organization leaders understand how the survey explains the forces at play in their multigenerational workforce, Twaronite said they can use that information to refine the day-to-day operations of managing their age-diverse crew.

Twaronite and Darrington Hobson, a senior manager in assurance at Ernst & Young LLP, say EY's management techniques can be specifically honed for small to midsized accounting and financial organizations looking to enhance their teams.

Twaronite said the first step to managing the generational mix is to take a proactive approach to informing the diverse brew of ages and perspectives in your office. EY found it was critical to formally educate employees on generational differences and similarities, and, if possible, to tailor recruiting, talent development, and communications practices to best appeal to an increasing Millennial population. 

"Investments like these are a prerequisite for building high-performing, generationally diverse teams", Twaronite said.

For smaller to midsized organizations, Twaronite said it's especially important to formalize job shadowing for younger managers and intentionally build cross-generational teams that offer a diversity of thought and perspective.

Ultimately, Hobson said, he believes it's important that managers combine a common sense approach to dealing with people as well as exercising understanding backed by research to establish a truly cross-generational team.

Hobson says it's important for people to get to know each other, it's important for team leaders to know what motivates their people, and, as simple as it sounds, it's important to make everyone – regardless of whether they were born in the "summer of love" or came of age in the era of social media – feel their opinion is "valued, appreciated, and sought after." 

"I think of myself as a coach. As a coach, you know every position on the team is important to win. You have to identify people's strengths and weaknesses and focus on both. You have to put people in a position where they can be successful and, at the same time, challenge them to grow", Hobson said. "You have to understand each person's diverse experience isn't required on every project, but you always have to have a diverse set of experiences to adapt to different situations." 

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