Are younger generations truly so different? Or is it possible that as they age and gain experience at work, they begin to behave a lot like their older peers? To tie in with the release of our new eBook, Brave New Workplace, which explores modern organizations with three generations working under one roof, we would like to offer four research backed recommendations that employers can use to integrate and manage a multigenerational workforce.
State purpose, early and often
For years we’ve heard that younger professionals want to work for a cause – they want to feel their work matters. Companies not tied directly to social causes feel pressure to adopt them, whether through CSR type activities, volunteer days or some other format. Yet our research shows “causes” need not be social causes. Rather, your employees want to understand how their work contributes to your organization’s larger vision and goals.
Your cause – if well-articulated and worthwhile – can rally and motivate your employees, even if it’s not tied to traditional social causes. Consider David Kalt, CEO of the music marketplace Reverb.com. Kalt motivates his employees by giving them real-time access to information about how the company is performing. He believes sharing how each person is contributing to the bottom line motivates them and gives them a sense of shared purpose. He explains in The Wall Street Journal: “To help employees reach their full potential, leaders have to give them always-on access to important data. An annual review shouldn’t be the only time responsibilities, successes and failures are out in the open.”
Your organization can share its vision and purpose in a number of ways – whether through real time data sharing, a once-per-year retreat, or any number of events or activities. The important thing is for employers to realize that “purpose” comes in many forms, and CSR is but one manifestation.
Make the issue of “fit” not a nice-to-have, but a strategic priority
Our research shows professionals (and students inching closer to work life) care deeply about whether they’ll find work that suits them, or “matches their personality.” One in two students (both Gen Z and Gen Y) and Gen Y professionals feel this way. The fear subsides somewhat among Gen X (40 percent cite that fear).
How do organizations support “fit”? First and foremost, by a clearly articulated, authentic culture. Do your employees know what your organization stands for? What unites their work effort? And is it something they believe is worth working for? Building culture is part art, part science – a delicate balance of reality plus aspiration. But done well it can lower turnover, raise levels of satisfaction and attract top talent. And a well-crafted culture creates internal resonance, much like an orchestra tuning their instruments to a single note. Those who “fit” will be drawn to you, and over time these employees will reaffirm that culture.
Make large organizations feel small and nimble
The research shows an astounding entrepreneurial impulse among all generations. While we were surprised by the numbers, it also makes sense in light of the gig economy. The statistics behind the
growth of gig work are surprisingly hard to come by, in large part because labor agencies don’t track it. But research from the Brookings Institution in the United States shows some cities are experiencing
a gig-work explosion: in San Jose, for example, gig work rose by almost 145 percent in two years. The rise of the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit) and a parallel growth in technologies that support freelance work means traditional, employed work is not the de-facto choice for any professionals.
For employers, this is a critical issue because often professionals who have an interest in starting their own companies are also those who are self-directed, interested in innovation and want to have an impact. How do you attract and retain individuals with an entrepreneurial bent? Some organizations are applying Agile project management principles. It’s a concept borrowed from the software development world but is now being adopted across many industries. Essentially, Agile teams use a structure that allows them to adapt quickly. For example, Agile teams often work in sprints, focusing on a specific set of time across one or two weeks with no distractions. (Many other Agile structures and processes exist.)
Other companies foster what they call “intrapraneurship,” or the idea that even inside large organizations, companies can help employees carve out time and resources to “tinker” or focus on innovation work that’s outside the bounds of their day-to-day responsibilities – both for the good of the company and to support employees’ interests and passions. The overriding idea, however, is to have large organizations become more nimble and creative. Given the overwhelming interest in starting a business, it’s clear that such activities are more important than ever.
Investigate and root out feelings of fear in the workplace
Some employers are taking steps to combat fear and stress because of its negative effect on the quality of work output.
Research shows financial stress is a big issue among millennials, and fear about money can lead to under performance at work. Employers can help by offering access to platforms like Student Loan Genius, a way for employees to manage and pay off student debt much like they contribute to a retirement plan, and PayActiv, a cash flow assistance program that lets employees access funds earned but not yet paid. Millennials also report being overworked; some employers force their employees to take vacation time – even enforcing “go dark” vacations in which employees cannot access work emails or phones, ensuring they truly rest during their time off.