The generational divide doesn’t need to mean an organisational one

Our granddads saved every rubber band and ate every scrap on their plates. World War II and the resulting hunger, trauma and population decimation defined their generation. Our parents are Baby Boomers. Born in the shadow of rationed food, they witnessed a brave new world where women (allegedly) burned bras, and single-income households could afford to buy a home. 

Kristen proudly identifies as a Gen X. Latchkey kids, Kristen and co saw the rise of cable TV, divorce and women working outside the home. Nat, a millennial, was among the last to grow up without computers, smartphones and the internet and the first to be poorer than their parents.

Now? Gen Z is joining the workforce (and Alpha isn’t far off!). Their virtual worlds are as real as, well, the real ones – which may prove lucky because they’ve also inherited the burden of climate change. 

Generations are a social construct

We group the population by age to understand how we change over time. Yes, there are some obvious flaws in assuming similarities between hundreds of millions of people – but there’s also some logic. Our grandparents would be well into their second century if they were still alive. When you realise the iPhone is only 15 years old, you start to understand how much we’re shaped by the decade we’re born.

When you lead people from a different generation, you become very aware of how that impacts everything from values to behaviour. 😅

Deloitte has recently released their 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, and last night they asked us to speak about our experiences growing a generationally diverse team. While we’re at it, we thought we’d share them with you:


Impact

Gen X and Millennials

We started at the bottom and quietly worked our way up hierarchical organisations. Authority was top-down, and we identified as leaders only once we got the title.


Gen Z

Wants to lead and have an impact today – they want to connect the dots between their work and organisational outcomes. Ambitious and collaborative, they value recognition, learning and frequent lateral and vertical career movement.

How to create win-wins


Mission


Gen X and Millennials

We tend to focus on our roles (and job titles). We build our careers around what we love to do, but we prefer to work for prestigious or known organisations.

Gen Z

Cares less about their roles and more about the mission and values of the organisation. Purpose-led, they’re motivated by meaning.

How to create win-wins

  • Regularly (and we mean VERY regularly) repeat the story of why you’re here and why it matters.
  • Take those values off the wall and inject them into daily work life. Challenge your team to identify tangible ways they contribute to them.
  • Take the time to explain how every piece of work contributes to broader social and environmental benefits.


Style


Gen X and Millennials

We experienced life on repeat in an office, often a cubicle. We lived as close to work as was feasible and spent hours commuting. A 9-5 workday required all of our energy and focus and meant after-school care for kids.

Gen Z

Only know a hybrid and flexible working environment. They expect workplaces to adapt to them rather than vice versa. The cost of living crisis may make a side hustle necessary, and flexible work makes it possible to juggle several gigs.

How to create win-wins

  • Seek agreement, don’t set expectations. Instead of banning hybrid or remote work, agree to rules of engagement (tools, hours, etiquette).
  • Invest in planning: how are you inclusive to different cultures, life stages and expectations? Actively design new ways of working that focus on productivity, not bums on seats.
  • Encourage personal and professional growth opportunities with lunch and learn sessions, mentoring, and networking.


Balance


Gen X and Millennials

Remember when burnout was a badge of honour? We worked long hours and correlated success with sacrifice.

Gen Z

Started their careers during a global pandemic. Mental health is top-of-mind and (finally) openly discussed. Social media is responsible for boosting anxiety, loneliness and stress. 

How to create win-wins

  • Get comfortable being vulnerable. Empathetic leaders move from the ‘harden up’ mentality into a ‘how can I help’ mindset.
  • Actively give permission to turn off Slack/Teams on weekends, taking mental health days and holidays (and model that behaviour!).
  • Consider creative team-building activities like volunteer days and tools like ClearHead – and engage your team in deciding the right approach for them.


Leadership has to look different 

One of the most challenging tasks of a leader is realising that you’re responsible for the success of people who have fundamentally different values, behaviours and beliefs than you do. It’s tempting to try to wrangle others into our way of doing things – but it’s about as productive as explaining to a 5-year-old what ‘hanging up the phone’ means. Diversity extends far beyond gender, and leaders who embrace it will reap the benefits of productivity, engagement and retention.

30 second action:

Get curious about generational differences with icebreakers at the start of team meetings. Try ‘what was your first job?’, ‘favourite kitchen utensil?’ or ‘most loved podcast/book/movie?’.

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