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Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Myths and Realities Part II

Posted By Sharon Lewis, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Comments following the NYHRPS 2nd Millennial Forum, October 6, 2015

On Oct 6, the NYHRPS organized a follow up Forum to the one we held in July on the subject of Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Myths and Realities.  Gratitude to Monica Chan, Manager of College Recruiting at HBO for skillfully facilitating the discussion.

  • A key point of differentiation between the two events was the number of millennials in the room participating in the conversation.
  • One of the most telling statements made by a millennial participant: “I have had my quarter-life crisis.”
  • Two overwhelming commonalities in the take-away from both Forums: Avoid generalizations and “Give something new a chance”

Avoid Generalizations

When our multi-generational Forum attendees were asked how many of them check their phone within 30 minutes of waking up, there was an audible gasp in the room. “Thirty minutes–try immediately”, was the response from all generations.

  • There are 80 million millennials in the US, outnumbering 78 million boomers. Within 15 minutes of waking up, 89% of 18-24 year olds check their mobile phones. (Source #1)

This is a simple but powerful example of the downfalls in making generalizations – EVER. Generalizations in the workplace can impact productivity, engagement and overall trust.

Give Something New a Chance

A millennial manager shared his surprise upon receiving an email from a Boomer asking permission to take a vacation day and further notating such on the manager’s calendar. “That was helpful in my daily planning” said the millennial. Many at the table chuckled: “What other way was there to inform you of my need to take a vacation day?”

A Porous Career Path

If millennials look at their career track as porous, with no expectations other than an ability to try new things, what are the implications for the corporate career path model exemplified by sequential steps within a functional bandwidth?

Again, the consideration becomes: Give Something New a Chance. How do you transition to new profiles for filling open reqs across functions? Millennials are demanding this assortment of opportunities…and non-millennials are realizing that such opportunities might indeed be an attractive career option.

  • Career mobility and loyalty is less generationally driven and more a function of the individual management team to provide growth and workplace options.
  • Consensus at the table was that people do not hop across employers because they are/are not loyal to a particular employer. Rather the environment was not conducive to providing them with new opportunities. Too many managers pigeon-holed staff members in roles that were no longer of interest to them.

Attitudinal changes, driven by millennials, technological capabilities and the realization by non-millennials that some of these new approaches make sense will have HUGE implications on training. We were reminded that those managers who suggest “that you have no experience in that line of work….. What makes you qualified to do that job”…..will soon find themselves at a crossroads.

Good people can be trained in anything. Our millennial participants commented on their appreciation for a variety of online training tools and their use of such programs to expand their skillset.

  • On-going bursts of new learning are likely to be appreciated by all career-focused individuals, regardless of their age
  • Especially important in the framing of training modules is the upfront declaration of “What is in it for me to take this training?”

Communications is the Root of All Evil

Embedded across our conversations was the importance of clear communications. This is a subject that is readily generalized and assumed to be easy to deliver.

  • For example: If a millennial staff member leaves you a message about their late arrival on your personal cell phone, are they crossing the boundaries of professional and personal outreach? Or does it imply that you are likely to check your personal cell phone as often as your business cell phone…and the personal messages left for you during the day may be fewer than those received on the professional cell phone. Hence the millennial staff member felt that using your personal phone to inform you of their altered schedule had a higher likelihood of being noticed????

Technology has forever altered the fine lines in the way we communicate. Across the generations, we hold many common human values and goals. Yet, we view others through a lens that says ‘what experiences have we shared” and in turn, we apply judgements that are often broad brushed and untrue when we see behaviors that appear unfamiliar to us.

To truly be effective, we need to utilize IQ, EQ and SQ skills (Intellectual, Emotional and Social Intelligence skills). Society uses the word transparent to describe a level of honesty in today’s exchange of information. That means that all generations need to be willing to share their preferred style of communications, as well as the clarity in that knowledge transfer taking place.

  • Kudos to our participants who recognized the importance of instilling this sort of sharing in their own work groups — nurturing the expression of individual communication preferences — a situation that benefits all generations, all participants and is invaluable for present and future group dynamics. The simplicity of this ask can clarify situations previously assumed.

Ask Yourself to be Part of the Solution

Participants reflected on the conceptual value of approaching a conversation with “an empty cup”. The cup gets filled with the pertinent facts that are uncovered in the specific interaction versus a pre-filled cup of generalizations and assumptions that alter the conversation before it even begins.

In closing, we share some key questions that HR practitioners need to ask themselves in an effort to consciously reverse the human tendency to generalize. Here are a few:

  • How can we provide mentorship or training to our high-potential staff so that they can transition into another skill set?
  • How can I ensure that everyone involved in the conversation “is on the same page”….going beyond the use of similar words. What can I do to validate the internalization of the intended sentiment?
  • As the industry seeks to identify new forms of performance feedback and career pathing, is there a better way to develop and communicate a clear list of competencies that one must acquire to move their career into new spheres of influence? One of the participants suggested a rating of “not yet there” which would be accompanied by a prescriptive set of competencies that allows someone to “get there.”

Thank you to Monica Chan, the Forum participants and the NYHRPS Forum Event Team.

Take a moment to review the post event blog post from the July Forum and take a moment to note your reflections on the topic.

(Source #1) 100 Youth Market Statistics by Graham D Brown and Total Youth Research

Sharon Lewis wrote this post: Sharon Lewis is an independent consultant specializing in branding and communications strategies. Sharon sits on the Marketing Committee of NYHRPS and has an appointment on the Executive Council of AARPNY. Follow her @sharonlewisnyc.

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