What leaders need to know about generational differences

Work–life balance has long been a credo for those who advocate change in the
workplace. Although the concept has led to a certain amount of reform over the
years, it has failed to meet a universal need. One of the competing values of work–
life balance is that it suggests an artificial dichotomy between work and life. For
many, this means when work ends at 5:00 p.m., life begins. Conversely, life ends at
9:00 a.m. and work begins.
It is no wonder Millennials like Nawal—a bubbly, happy-go-lucky, can-do woman—
seek a different style of work. Nawal is a human resources professional at LinkedIn,
but she’s abandoned that title and instead goes by either LinkedIn cheerleader,
new-hire soccer mom, or sometimes resident morale captain. But just because she’s
moving away from conventions doesn’t mean Nawal isn’t committed to her job,
organization, and—most important—the people she works with and supports. In
fact, it’s the opposite.
So what? She came up with some entertaining titles for her job. Who cares? Well,
what’s really at play here is the psychological mind-set of Millennials and how they
view work as they move forward. As a young professional, Nawal wants options—
flexibility in her role, task variety, and a basket full of autonomy. She’s not interested
in a large fancy office isolated from the energy and life at LinkedIn. In fact, she thrives
on the buzz. With all of the passion and dedication she gives to her job, she does ask
for one specific thing in return: control over her time. And who is more familiar with
Nawal’s time than Nawal? She knows when she works best and wants to put this
knowledge to use.
In a recent survey, 63 percent of respondents stated that working a 9 to 5 schedule is
an “outdated concept.” The 9 to 5 work approach has been around since the industrial
revolution. It was adopted for the United States by President Wilson in 1916 and
popularized by Henry Ford when he introduced the assembly line. This approach is
still in effect today, when almost everything else about the landscape of working
America has changed. We have a late-1800s/early-1900s work-week practice and a
twenty-first-century working society.
One of the biggest challenges for leaders today is integrating Millennials, as well as
younger Gen Xers, into the Baby Boomer-established culture. Boomers make up the
majority of leaders in today’s corporate world. They hold the power, control the
decision making, and generally lead the direction of organizational culture. With 51
percent of working Millennials currently in some sort of leadership position, further
discussion is needed to understand the stark contrast between different generations
in how they view work. The values and experiences later generations can offer are
sometimes viewed as different or even radical—but the younger people simply
desire a work environment that is a good match for how they work.
Millennials aren’t the only group of working professionals looking for more out of
their work experience, though. Their values regarding autonomy are innate among
workers of every age and background. Research in motivation and autonomy shows
that when they feel empowered, employees across all generations appreciate it and
demonstrate improved performance. Millennials are just being more vocal about it.
Some people in earlier generations are encountering change in their workplace and
are more likely to work longer hours. Boomers have the most difficult time balancing
their work and personal life. When surveyed, only 57 percent of Boomers felt that
they “can be successful in (their) company/organization while maintaining a healthy
balance between work and personal life.” This is different from Gen Xers (63 percent)
and Millennials (66 percent). Boomers tend to have a traditional way of looking at
business, having been indoctrinated to the mantra of “be the first one in the office,
work hard, look good, and be the last person to leave.” Due to these different mindsets
between generations, some approaches to leadership need to be flexible to fit
with who is being led.
Millennials have been pushing for a transition in the way work is generally viewed in
the workplace. Instead of a balance between work and life, they simply fuse them
together into life. And they have embraced this change and adapted it to current
working conditions. It’s a flexibility-by-design approach to work. This kind of work
style advocates a fully organic work and life experience: 100 percent work and 100
percent life.
Flexibility and autonomy at its core, this philiosophy trusts individuals to manage
their own time and work, whether it is working a long day to finish a project or
taking off a few hours on a Friday to visit family. There’s no separation between work
and life, between formal and informal; instead, it’s about the needs of the individual.
When an employer embraces this flexible style, it’s as if they are saying, “We hired
you because you are good at what you do, and we’re going to let you keep doing
that.” Workers feel as if they can be themselves whether they’re at work, at home, by
the pool, or with a client. They don’t bring their whole self only to work—they are
able to be themselves always, in all ways.
As an example of an organization that is fully on board with flexible working styles,
Google has become famous for its indoor slide—not just for display, but for people
to actually use. They bring aspects of life into the workplace with nap pods, diner
booths, and free food. Breaking down the 9 to 5 structure also promotes a fun,
positive environment—and who doesn’t like a fun, positive environment? A recent
survey conducted by Accenture says this about Millennials: “A full 60 percent of 2015
graduates and 69 percent of 2013 and 2014 grads (would) rather work for a company
that has a positive social atmosphere, even if it means lower pay.” Understanding the
Millennial philosophy helps recruit, mentor, and keep these bright young people
working for you.
Practically speaking, an intuitive way organizations have been providing flexibility is
by implementing project-based teams. With project-based work, there are clear,
usually longer-term expectations and high accountability: get X amount of work
done by Y time. There’s no short-term “take your lunch at 12:00 sharp,” “get penalized
if you’re two minutes late” type of micromanaging. This provides Millennials and
other generations the autonomy to manage their own time efficiently while they
complete tasks. Some people may take work home or work late into the night, while
others may take a day off here and there. But in the end, if the project goals are
SMART and the vision is clear, they will get the work done on time.
The United States military has been operating with this work-style model for some
time and it has proven to be one of the most efficient and flexible working
approaches ever created. A whole battalion of troops can be set up and ready for
deployment in another country, fully operable and capable of completing any
mission, within 72 hours. However, the flexible work model hasn’t always been a
viable option for organizations. In a classic organizational model, companies were
extremely hierarchical, with much of the information resting at the top and a
mentality of the one who holds the information holds the power. Employees relied
heavily on upper management, acting on direct orders without understanding the
big picture. This ideology still exists in some organizations, and it can still be
profitable and successful. However, younger generations are generally not attracted
to this form. Instead, they are attracted to fast-paced yet relaxed organizations that
provide autonomy and flexibility, viewing them as progressive and forward thinking.
Millennials also prefer a management style of “stay out of my way unless I don’t know
what I’m doing, then I’ll call you repeatedly until I reach you.” Let them work hard on
their own schedule, but don’t leave them hanging when they need support. The
flexible work perspective didn’t happen by accident. It has been formed through
years of pursuing varying methods toward a more positive, productive, peoplecentered
work experience. Strength-based coaching, positive psychology, and virtual
work spaces, among other practices, have created a framework for this approach.
This stems from Millennials’ overwhelming belief that organizations should focus on
people and purpose rather than fixating on profits, office politics, and corporate
agendas. In other words, they have moved from a systems-and-process-based
approach to a very personalized, people-centered approach.
People-centered leadership, a method that applies to all generations, has created a
forum for progress in our current working landscape. It’s more than just an idea or
philosophy—it’s the future of work. The change is already taking place. From
Millennials to Generation X to Boomers to the Silent Generation, understanding the
values of each generation can go a long way toward meeting the needs of every
person in the workforce.

Source: Kenblanchard.com
Author: Gus Jaramillo

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