Kids these days.
The phrase gets tossed around a lot while working with younger generations. Their hyper-energized tendencies can draw flak and ire from their older colleagues but the “kids-these-days” effect has been happening for millennia going as far back as the time of Greek philosophers. Older people often criticise younger generations because of preconceived notions and biases1 and we’re seeing this even in the workplace. Millennials now form 50% of the global workforce2 and by 2025, Gen Z will account for 27%.3 For the first time in history, 4 generations (Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z) are working together. Companies have to devise strategies to mitigate intergenerational conflict. Leaders have to adopt a multigenerational approach in developing employees.
I talked to Agustina Samara, Chief of People & Corporate Strategy in DANA Indonesia, a fintech company transforming the country’s digital economy and moving it closer to a cashless society. She told me about how businesses can leverage the strengths of a multigenerational workforce. Tina has 24 years of diverse work experience with roles in Customer Service, Operations and Business Analytics, and Human Capital Management. She is also a Certified International Trainer, Coach, and Public Speaker. In this conversation, Tina shares her observations of the younger generation. She also suggests how we can reach out to these colleagues and how management should view intergenerational development.
Instant vs Process
Millennials and Gen Z grew up in interesting times. They consumed a lot of things in an instant form - from milk to food to information. From birth to adulthood, they enjoyed the speed and efficiency by which things can be achieved. The ease of connecting with a friend or ordering food is within reach with just a tap of a screen. Now imagine placing these same groups of people in the workplace. The familiarity of achieving anything instant is frustrated by the reality of experience and process.
Having two Gen Z daughters, her personal situation fuels her passion and mission in life. Consequently, she chose to work in DANA where 70% of the workforce is Millennials and has an average age of 27 years.4 Sometimes struggling to understand the way her children talk and think, she observes similar challenges working with people around their age. She found that establishing authority and systems were key to addressing these issues.
Most organisations will have some form of structured learning for their employees. Tina explains that these usually cover development on two fronts - IQ and EQ. The former may be a bit easier to pin down with scoring systems but businesses need to pay particular attention to emotional growth. Leaders will need to be intentional in developing maturity, agility and people skills by creating hands-on learning opportunities. Webinars won’t cut it.
Tina recommends creating small groups to support learning and bringing these young employees into the field. She explains that there are skills, like dealing with conflict, collaboration and leadership, which are best learned through experience. She remarked that empathy might be low in some individuals, particularly those who may have had privileged upbringings, sheltered from the realities of life. To expand the worldview of her own daughters, she exposes them to different social situations including visits to the local orphanage.
In some ways, fast-paced world of startups is a natural habitat for the young. Startups thrive on innovation and are driven to improve the way we live, traits shared with both Millennials and Gen Z. As a leader in this space, Tina has encountered the “instant" mindset on several occasions as younger staff approached HR asking for promotions because they achieved milestones in a short period. The thinking behind this is that delivering output needs to have a commensurate reward in place. She explains that everything needs to have a process. Doing well in work does not automatically translate to an incremental increase or a promotion right away. Factors such as scalability and adding responsibilities to job titles need consideration as well. Excellent individual performance does not always correlate to the organisation’s growth. What is important, she stresses, is to listen and understand what they want and clarify why a process is in place.
Open-mindedness to be Young (at Heart)
Undoubtedly, Millennials and Gen Z are well-equipped with technical knowledge and tech savvy. Baby boomers need to understand the psyche of Millennials and Gen Z and how a different era ushered in the formation of their unique skillsets and qualities. To bridge this generational gap, some companies formed programs called "reverse mentoring" in which a younger employee coaches a senior executive on IT, social media, and the latest workplace trends. It resulted in lower turnover rates with younger employees gaining valuable management insights from an exclusive top-level source.5
The rich experience of more seasoned employees brings maturity and wisdom to organisations. Coupling this asset with the energy and enthusiasm of younger staff results in diversity and innovation. For this to happen, we must continuously tear the walls down and refrain from branding younger staff with derogatory terms. Instead, be open-minded in listening to their concerns and understanding their pain points. Find a sweet spot where shared experience and collaboration bring the team closer together.
Tina was conscious about making inroads with her younger colleagues. Initially, they viewed her as an archetype of the Baby Boomer generation. They saw her as a mommy or an auntie type. She changed that impression by reaching out to them on a peer level taking a more casual tone, like a partner or a friend. She sets aside time to do 1-on-1 coaching. While she sits above them on the hierarchy, she tossed aside notions of seniority and took a genuine interest in what they had to say.
Millennials will eventually graduate into senior leadership and more Gen Zs will join the workforce in the coming years. The trick to future-proof the workplace is not in pandering to younger generations. Rather it’s creating a culture of inclusion which allows us to take the best of each generation as we press forward. Our systems need to support that.
Reflecting on the new dynamics of a multigenerational workplace, DANA rolled out specific programmes to support their staff. They focus on 4 core aspects of their employees’ wellbeing: physical, psychological, social and financial. All team members, regardless of age, benefit from this. Support comes in different forms, and varies based on the person’s needs. For example, they provide access to professional counselling onsite, offer guidance on building healthy social networks and give wellbeing allowances.
Tina also sees more targeted training being delivered in injections over the next 2 to 3 years to steer corporate culture in the right direction. Respect and adaptability are values that will be important to both young and senior employees. For the older staff, the focus of training will be on appreciating the skills of their junior colleagues and developing openness. As for the younger employees, understanding the significance of process and patience shall be important aspects of their professional development.
While differences in thought and manner exist among generations, the focus should be the complementary nature born from these contrasts. The process is not immediate and takes years to instill. But in looking ahead, alleviating the tension can mean retaining and developing good talent. Good culture and leadership matter to the younger generation. By adopting a multigenerational approach, leaders benefit from empowering younger employees by involving, respecting, and treating them as partners. Tina observes that the younger generation has heart and values. They look up to seniority when authentic bonds form. It encourages loyalty and retention. Coupled with a holistic well-being program, Tina shares that this is the fertile soil to nurture good talent.
Multiple generations working together can leverage their strengths and learn to complement one another.
- Explain that nothing happens instantly. Career promotion takes time and has a process.
- Be open-minded and listen to the concerns of younger employees. Understand where they are coming from.
- Identify generational strengths and allow them to complement each other through collaboration.