Generational divides are nothing new. Boomers like myself find Steve Jobs to be iconic. Millennials — also known as Generation Y — idolize Mark Zuckerberg. My generation sources news via print papers and cable television while digital natives see Twitter as their trusted news source. Many of my employees don’t even have a cable subscription. This collision of demographics is now infiltrating the workforce, and companies face the challenge of integrating five generations into one office space.
The disruption is occurring as companies transform their business from analog to digital. The jobs of nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce, that’s about 50 million people, could be transformed by 2020 due to technology, and digitization encompasses far more than the physical workforce. Assets, including infrastructure and data platforms, and operations, like processes and customer and supply chain interactions, are converting too.
Discordant generations need to work together in embracing the digital imperative, or companies will fall behind in a rapidly changing economy. Generation Y’s skills fit seamlessly into this wired business world, and more than a third of the current workforce are millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force and a key component to a successful company.
In 2005 I founded Workforce Opportunity Services, a nonprofit committed to developing untapped talent from underserved and veteran communities through partnerships with organizations dedicated to diversifying their workforce. The type of sector we work in varies greatly from corporation to corporation, but one challenge pervades– successfully integrating generation Y into an aging and evolving workforce. Creating harmony among generations and successfully integrating millennials into the workforce is the key to maintaining and boosting productivity across sectors, but how do you do it?
1. Accept the move towards work-life balance.
Attracting and retaining talent depends on the acceptance of a modernized work environment and altered management styles. Currently the average age of a typical CEO is 50 — that’s 15 years younger than me. My generation deeply respects the chain of command and is fiercely loyal to our employers. To us, work-life balance is skewed heavily towards long hours in the office. Gen Xers believe promotions are rooted in the concept of time put in and respect the typical 9-to-5 work day.
Millennials do not have patience with hierarchical promotion policies. They resign nearly twice as often as older generations, and typically because a promotion isn’t coming quick enough. Second to pay, digital natives greatly value work-life balance. They are of the mentality that work is a space, not a place. In a recent Deloitte study, 88 percent of millennials desired a greater opportunity to dictate their work hours, and 75 percent wanted the flexibility to work from home or other locations where they feel comfortable and productive. As Generation Y floods the labor force, older leadership needs to adjust to their priorities.
2. Scratch micromanagement.
Upward mobility is among the top career priorities for younger generations. A stifling work environment is detrimental to integrating and retaining new talent. Give them ample responsibility and freedom. That includes creating an environment that values autonomy and has a clear path for upward trajectory. That last point is especially important. Creating “rewards” for millennials is key. Boomers don’t need affirmation or a defined way forward. Millennials do. Show them there’s a way upward. My organization works closely with corporate partners to provide potential employees — veterans in particular — a one-to-two year plan detailing how they can advance within the company.
3. Step up and transfer knowledge.
It is high-time older generations step into mentor roles. Leaving emerging generations high and dry when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of a company is disastrous. As they prepare to exit the workforce, individuals who have put 30-plus years into companies have invaluable knowledge to pass on to digital natives. In 2017, the U.S. entered a top-heavy age distribution and retiree surge. According to recent census figures, there are 25 Americans 65 and older for every 100 people in their working years, meaning Gen X employees are taking the helms of companies and millennials are cascading into now vacant managerial roles with very little guidance.
The more complex an organization, the more crucial an organizational knowledge transfer. Millennials are highly capable if provided the necessary tools and information. They possess attributes that align with the needs of today’s businesses and will drive organizations through the digital revolution. But unless companies leverage tacit knowledge — or knowledge unique to existing employees — millennials, and companies, will not reach their full potential.
By Arthur Langer
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