Many workplaces are unintentionally negating their own staff. How often have you heard someone complain that Millennials are entitled? Or Gen-Xers are lazy? Or that Baby Boomers resist change? For me, I hear it nonstop from clients looking to fix their workplace. The truth is, the biggest issue they are dealing with isn’t the lack of capability in any one generation, it’s the lack of value being assigned to having them all together in one place.
The best thing about a diverse workplace is the ability to collaborate for innovative ideas. Below are some tips to help create the inclusive environment that sets the stage for all generations to contribute at their highest levels.
Don’t confuse career maturity with generational differences. It’s so easy to forget that we all were once at the beginning of our careers. Our focus was on trying to figure out the best course of action and choosing the right path. And few of us, if any, had the patience to do it with lots of grace. Some of the challenges we assign to the Millennial generation are just part of people at the beginning of their career path.
In Peakon’s latest study, “Working Better Together: Understanding the Experiences and Needs of a Multigenerational Workforce,” a key finding was that Millennials found less meaning in their work. That can be concerning considering that being inspired by a company’s mission is critical to employee engagement levels. However, I can’t help but recall my attitude in my 20’s towards my career. I was so busy trying to find my purpose in life through my career, I really wasn’t that inspired by any organization’s mission. That included my time serving in the military or even working with major entertainment companies. I had to find it in me before I could connect it to them.
Create a career planning process. There’s no one career path that fits all anymore. Add the different generations and you have people at all different junctions in their careers. Oddly enough, to handle all these different needs, there should be a process put in place that is consistently applied to all employees. The process should focus on how people meet and plan for their careers, leaving what their career plan ends up being to be tailored between the individual and their managers.
Some steps to consider for instituting a career planning process include:
1. Require at least an annual career meeting that is separate from performance conversations between managers and staff.
2. Ensure employees take the lead on sharing their goals and motivations.
3. Normalize the concept of changing jobs and get rid of the unspoken rules that penalize employees for wanting to go after other opportunities, inside or outside of the company.
4. Create opportunities for people to get exposed to other opportunities across the company, outside of their own functions or teams.
5. Train everyone on how to develop and manage a career development plan.
Focus on the value different generations bring to the workplace. Though I encourage you to not get so focused on the supposed negative aspects of generations, that doesn’t mean that focusing on the differences is such a bad idea. In fact, I recommend you embrace the Millennial generation’s openness to be flexible in their roles and skepticism of whether leadership has all the answers. In the Peakon study, it showed that Boomers were actually the most engaged generation. This flies in the face of the idea that Boomers are just clocking their time to retirement or solely opposed to change. And as for Gen-Xers, speaking as one of them, we can play a critical role in creating a culture of autonomy and removing the roadblocks of overly hierarchical structures. That’s not even mentioning the latest generation to enter the workforce, the Gen-Zers.
Value conflict. Regardless of whether the differences exist because of our generation, age, socio-economic status or position within the company, the differences exist. Instead of trying to stamp them out, begin to value conflict. This isn’t about fighting with or against one another. Conflict is just about being able to debate a difference of opinion. The goal should be to get to a place of connection and alignment, not to win or punish another person. The safer people feel to discuss their differences, the more it can be fuel for creativity and broadening perspectives.
Prioritize employees the way you prioritize customers. Peakon co-founder Kasper Hulthin recently discussed their study’s findings and stated, “Treat people metrics with the same priority as finance and customer metrics if you want to get the most out of having a multigenerational workplace.” That’s a bold request for some companies and leaders to take on. But if you want to the end results of satisfied customers, you may want to start with the source, your staff.