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Experienced and new: managing a multi-generational office crew
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For the first time in history, four generations are working side-by-side. Add to this the fourth industrial revolution, gig economy, and changing state of the world and consumer conscientiousness, and there are some seismic shifts catapulting companies’ way. Leaders will need to effectively spearhead change management strategies to adjust the workplace. But that’s only possible if they understand their workforce and the different generations within it. 

​Anita Bosch, Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour and Leadership from USB and part-time faculty member of USB-ED says, “Understanding and dealing with human behaviour in the workplace is most probably one of the most time-consuming and difficult issues that any manager faces. The good news is that we do research on human behaviour in order to assist managers to lead different generations of individuals optimally. There is a whole science behind employee management and we know how to help you understand how you can utilise generational differences to your advantage.” 

With Baby Boomers exiting the workplace and Generation Z just entering it, the focus is currently on Generation Y (millennials, aged 22-35) and Generation X (aged 36-50).  Numerous studies have been undertaken to document the differences – and similarities – between the two. Here are some of the main findings on each: 

Millennials in a nutshell: Known for their technological prowess and hunger for self-development, millennials now account for 25% of the South African population. Soon to comprise the majority of the country’s workforce, Gen Y wants companies to catalyse positive change through ethical, responsible ​behaviour that prioritises environmental and societal progress. This generation is becoming increasingly disillusioned: according to Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey, only 48% of respondents perceive corporates as acting ethically,  75% believe businesses act on their own interests rather than considering society, and 67% think companies pit profit above all else – including their employees. 

Managing millennials: In a time of global political and societal uncertainty, millennials are seeking reassurance and affirmation. This means they’ll respond positively to leaders who demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour and to making a difference in the world. Additionally, they look for an inclusive cult​ure that prioritises diversity. PricewaterhouseCooper’s CEO’s report also shows millennials value: 
  • ​Growth plans, continuous learning and career progression
  • The opportunity to work overseas
  • Work/life balance and flexibility in terms of working hours and working from home
Generation X in a nutshell: Gen X-ers have a strong work ethic and value team-driven relationships. Now accounting for 51% of leadership roles globally, they are actually more active on social media than millennials, with equal technological competency and digital know-how.  Prioritising problem-solving through collaboration and ingenuity, X-ers are also very good at talent grooming.  

Managing Generation X: Known for their loyalty, X-ers value employers who provide them with continuous learning, mentorship, and relationship-building opportunities. They respond well to environments that encourage innovation and experimentation, along with inter-departmental collaboration. Additionally, they like companies that leverage tech to maximise efficiency. 
So maybe Generation X and Y aren’t so different after all? In order to maximise this connection, managers could implement the following strategies:
  • ​Offer frequent training on navigating generational differences and collaborating effectively.  
  • Nurture open communication. All employees should have a voice regardless of age and tenure. Good leaders should welcome all opinions – especially those that differ from their own. 
  • Implement mentoring prog​rams between different aged employees to encourage more cross-generational interactions. Younger employees should be encouraged to seek the experience and wisdom offered by senior employees. Older employees should learn to be open to the fresh outlooks offered by younger employees.
  • Offer flexible working options like telecommuting and working offsite. Generations tend to share different ideals on how to work. Management should focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done. 
  • Accommodate employee’s personal needs when possible. Different generations will be in varying life phases that may require some flexibility – for example, time to fetch kids from school. 
  • Management also needs to accommodate different learning styles. Generation X and Y may learn differently – one generation could prefer a more experiential learning approach, whilst the other could value interactive, tech-led modules. It’s worth investigating these differences and accommodating them. 

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