Home' HR Monthly : July 2017 Contents July 2017 HRM magazine 7
Our working lives will span 70 years in the future, and not
the usual 40-year careers experienced at the end of the last
millennium. Retirement from everything will be postponed until
we are in our late 80s, meaning five different generational groups
will be working together for some time ahead.
How important are the different thought processes of these
generational groups to harmony in the workplace? How well do
these different groups actually get on together?
Barack Obama was the first Gen X US president. Then a
‘back to the future’ moment arrived with the election of Donald
Trump. It’s hard to imagine two US presidents more different
than Obama and Trump, but evidence available to AHRI is that
the differences between Boomers and Gen X in the workplace
are much less, on average, than they are between these older
groups and millennials.
As a consequence, many organisations are investing more
heavily in training their ‘40-plus something’ leaders to better
cope with, and also to manage millennials.
Five critical differences exist bet ween the thinking and
workplace approaches of millennials and that of previous
Millennials prefer to use digital media over face-to-face
approaches, and can become quite annoyed if their electronic
questions don’t get answered quickly. Leaders of millennial
teams are being encouraged to blend communications forms,
and not to get sucked into abrupt or angry responses to annoying
follow ups from millennials.
Younger people also like to learn continuously and often in a
way that seems more random and flexible than traditional and
structured approaches. They like to acquire knowledge and skill
as they go along, and tap into sources and advice from their
peer groups rather than higher authorities. They eschew formal
pre-planned review points, and prefer to ‘figure it out’ in their
Therefore their communications to leaders tend to come when
they are looking to plumb sources and resources to define an
issue, or when they have reached their own breakthrough point.
Millennials measure their own success by the critical
assignments they get allocated from their bosses, and not from
what formal position they hold. If they deliver on top priority
tasks – they expect both reward and advancement to be given
and given promptly. This requires leaders to emphasise tasks,
and not time-based management and to evolve a style that
provides continuous, informal feedback rather than formal
half-yearly and annual performance management systems.
The more effective leaders now find they are spending as much
time out circulating with millennials as they do their work, and
also being flexible and making time to stop, post replies and
chat when that’s needed, and not to be too hidebound to formal
Millennials have a strong preference for open systems. They
prefer to tap into digital crowd-sourced media, and also engage
in group brainstorming discussions at critical junctures, that
share all data and viewpoints regardless of how confidential,
or necessar y. They understand proprietar y competitive
information, but not complicated, bureaucratic silos within the
Many older leaders are being advised to take on mentoring
roles with millennials which AHRI evidence shows is effective,
and that two thirds of such mentors learn significantly from
their mentees. Sometimes that means walking away with half
a dozen highly-valued new apps on your phone that you never
knew existed. More often it means getting closer to millennial
at titudes, hopes and fears – which enhances the fiduciar y
stewardship bet ween generations in the workplace.
Millennials will break boundaries to explore and
source innovative solutions for their employer, to
whom they will be professionally loyal. However they
expect instantaneous feedback, development and
reward as they make major achievements in the work
allocated to them. This reflects their growth as young
adults in the digital age, and also the clear knowledge
that a restructuring announced today can take their job
away tomorrow. So the ‘quid pro quos’ expected
by millennials are actually reasonable and
unsurprising. It’s better to acknowledge and
build on that, than it is to fight it. •••
A version of this article was first published
in The Australian in April 2017.
How to work
Mutual understanding across generations is key to future productivity.
BY PETER WILSON AM FCPHR AHRI CHAIRMAN
To read past Perspective columns by Peter Wilson,
22/6/17 4:06 pm
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