Part – 2 (Generational Diversity Challenge)
Whilst researching on the generations of the modern history era (for writing this blog), I learnt that besides current Gen Y, X and Baby boomers there are clear terms for many more generation preceding them. First one is the “Lost generation” born 1883 – 1900, the “Greatest generation” born 1901 – 1924, the “Silent generation” born 1925 – 1942, the “Baby Boomers” born 1943 – 1960, the “Gen X ” born 1961 – 1980 and the “Millennial” or “Gen Y”, born 1981 – 2002. Most of these terms were coined and used in Europe and USA, however, the latest three generational terms (Baby boomers, X and Y) are now being used universally to segment the working population (by academicians and management practioners).
I am a Gen X and have two college going kids both are Gen Y. One thing I have learned fast is that, just coz you have two children who are Gen Y and coz you have read and consumed various research reports and articles available on generations – it doesn’t make you an expert on the subject. Secondly I have learnt not to stereotype people just coz they were born in that generational time frame. I have witnessed many baby boomers exhibit attitude, traits and behaviors as described for a Gen X or Gen Y. So, No Stereotyping! Following are my own opinions and perspectives based on my experience, observation and insights that I have got from people of all ages.
With 50% of India’s population below the age of 25 years and 65% below 35 years, means India’s is a young nation. Very soon the same stats with begin to reflect in the segments of your organizations workforce. In my organization in India, we are almost similar to the national stats. Having a young workforce (mainly X and Y) – and most of its leaders not so young (baby boomers) pose some real and practical challenges. In my opinion the main challenges can be categorized and described as follows:
1) Diversity of mindsets, views, attitudes, styles and preferences (of Leaders and their young team members – at times opposing). For example I have seen many Baby Boomer Generation leaders think and believe that working from home is inefficient and unproductive versus the Gen X and Y believe that (at times and when necessary) – working from home can be more efficient and productive. I don’t blame the baby boomers for this mindset about working from home; before you blame them for being rigid lets understand the basis of this mindset. I remember when I started my career 24 years ago – manual time and attendance recording was such an important system in almost all organization. Time office, was one of the most important functions within the HR department. The technology used in those days to record attendance and then pay the employees was based on manual punch cards. All manufacturing locations and most offices had time punch clocks and every employee had a paper card, which you had to punch and record your attendance. Senior executives would sign in a register and were exempted from punching cards. Time and attendance recording was a big deal, because that was the only way of ensuring that people are checking in to do what they are being paid for. Also there was no better technology avaliable those days which could facilitate remote working. Now with advent of technology everything has changed. Remote working is very much possible, people can check-in for work from remote locations (be it their homes or some other place) and are able to perform almost almost all roles except a few that need to be performed in a physical workplace. The Gen Y was born with this technology at their workplaces and they are only witnessing it improve – so they can’t understand why remote working (especially at times) is such a big issue.
Having divergent views isn’t an issue – but ignoring divergent views of all segments of your workforce is an inclusion issue. For example, all policies in an organization are made and approved by senior leaders. Now imagine, If an organization doesn’t take views, styles and preferences of all its people into consideration then it’s likely to come up with polices that are suited to one or few of its workforce segments and hence that policy is likely to be rejected by others. So this is clearly an inclusion issue, which can lead to ineffectiveness of policies and practices in a workplace.
2) The Gen Y is different and I find them to be very secure and confident. These people haven’t probably stood in long queues at the Indian railway stations and hence haven’t had the disappointment of not getting a train reservation of their choice when they reach the window after almost half days wait (Gen X ers like me who have experienced this will know what I am saying). These people just go on-line and book their travel and they have multiple choices. So they don’t fear shortage as much as the older generation does – I call it the shortage mania. Gen Xers and Baby boomers in urban India seriously suffer from this shortage mania – you will often see these people rushing and running around and you will wonder why they are doing it. Such is their impatience that they find it difficult to wait at the elevator door and first allow people to come out of it – they just rush into the elevator as soon as the door opens, they will always want to be in the fastest moving queue at the security check of an airport or at the cinemas and if their queue is moving slow the discomfort is visible in their body language. I think we do it coz we are prisoners of that shortage era (1960 to 2000) and at times we still continue to see it. The Gen Y sees it as a demand and supply issue or even an overconsumption issue but they don’t see or fear shortages. So if you don’t see a Gen Y rushing or running, it doesn’t mean that he/she isn’t driven or is lacking in energy. So don’t doubt and take the confidence and security of the younger generation as their arrogance or over-confidence. In fact constant negative strokes can damage their confidence. Also it helps to have people around who feel secure and there is no need to remind them of the miseries you went through in life during the shortage era and force them to count their blessings.
3) The Gen Y in addition to feeling confident and secured is relatively more exposed, knowledgeable and competent. The Gen Xers like me grew up as a children going to school, playing field sports and after school during the evenings – sitting next to a valve radio of Philips, which could tune in at best two to three radio stations and the radio was always operated and controlled by the senior most male member of the house – so all you could do was to sit and listen to what was being played. If you are not keen on the radio the you could either read, play board games (Sankes and Ladder or Ludo), do your homework or sleep. My children grew up not only having a television and its 140 odd channels to choose from, but they choose between a TV, Internet, Radio, Personalized Music (iPod), read a hard copy or a soft copy (on their Laptops or iPads) of a book, play on a Play station, have access to atleast 20 different type of board games or Sleep. So Imagine the speed at which they are/were gaining knowledge as children. Therefore, when these Gen Y ers come to work they come with the same expectations of having multiple choices and flexibility. They are very keen to work and will often do it very well, but they also want to have access to Internet at work so that they can surf and stay connected on the social media, have long coffee breaks and discuss and learn informally from each other. But a Gen Xers or a Baby boomer who is very different just finds it very difficult to understand and comprehend.
I have observed and also learnt from some research carried out that Gen Y learn very differently as compared to their previous generations. For example they do not like to learn in formal and long sessions such as a three days classroom based training session. They like to learn in short modules as the attention spans are short and even getting shorter. Companies are spending a lot of time in studying and getting insights into what is the most effective way of making all its employees learn. It’s becoming clear that whilst there are some common principles and practices which make learning effective irrespective of any generation (such as learning by doing is more effective as compared to learning by observing, reading or being told). But there are certain generation specific learning needs and nuances. For example Baby boomers are not very comfortable with e-learning offerings they find dealing with technology and learning on it more stressful as compared to learning in a formal setting with a instructor and a workbook. Gen Y on other hand are absolutely comfortable and enjoy e-learning. They also find e-learning very suitable especially when they can take the session or a course anytime and anywhere. On anytime and anywhere learning – the Gen Y prefer to learn on-line during evening/nights as opposed to the Baby boomers who like to learn on-line during 9 to 5. I have seen companies figure out these generation specific needs and then design their learning content and offering for classroom and e-based learning offerings nicely and it’s only going to improve. But it’s important that you understand it and do something about it. Otherwise you won’t be able to create a true learning organization.
Most progressive organizations have moved to the 70-20=10 learning principle/practice. Which means 10% is formal and class room based learning (including e-learning courses), 20% is leader led learning where leaders mentor and coach their employees and 70% is action learning where employees learn on the job (Formally and informally). What’s tricky and complex is that, when you go to the 20 and 70 part of learning in an organization. Coz if the leaders aren’t aware, sensitive or insightful about the learning needs, styles and preferences of their employees (mostly Gen Y) then the effectiveness could be compromised. I have seen some progressive companies build skills and technique of coaching and mentoring amongst their senior leaders and teach them how to be effective with employees of all generations. Doing this can be very helpful.
4) They have their own set of beliefs and values. For example Gen Y people may not believe too much in being loyal to their organisation or the person they work for. They believe in being loyal to their job and their craft. They would rather focus on delivering terrific results compared to spending a lot of energy in managing all kinds of stakeholders. At times they want to change jobs and companies just for the sake of variety and different experience. They get bored very fast. They are responsive and communicative, but you have to figure out what’s their preferred channel of communication. They are informal and they don’t like hierarchy not that they are disrespectful, not at all!. Just because their beliefs aren’t in sync with yours – don’t ever judge them and pass value judgments on them.
Core values such as ethics, honesty, caring etc are not to be confused with the beliefs of different generations. Coz these core values remain sacrosanct and consistent across generations. And I have seen a very high standard of these core values even in Gen Y. There are always exceptions in every generation and they prove the rule.
In conclusion, I would say that the difference in generational thinking and beliefs isn’t something new – its existed for ever. It existed between you and your parents and it exists between you and your children. What’s important is to understand and respect these differences and not be dismissive of them. Any organization and its leaders – who make an effort to understand it and do something about it will only benefit and become more effective. The diversity in generations exists and is a reality – its all about being inclusive. What some organizations have effectively done to bridge the generational diversity gap is as follows:
- Work place innovation – The physical workplace can create or break many barriers. WIP is a very progressive concept about creating a hierarchy free, cool, efficient, environment friendly and sustainable workplace. WIP also caters for working from home, for example if you employ 100 people then the office has only 80 working seats and its free seating every day (assumption that at least 20% of employees will be away from work or working from home) and ofcourse you have top-notch technology which enables people to work from anywhere with just their laptop and mobile phone to connect them with work. Philips has been a pioneer in this regard and I live and work in it every day and I just love it!!
- Policy making needs to be inclusive – Most progressive companies have policy formulation committees/groups which are represented by employees of diverse backgrounds(including gender, age, etc) and they are empowered to study and evolve polices for the company.
- Reverse Mentoring – Many organizations have put the process and practice of reverse mentoring in place, where employees of younger generations mentor and coach senior level leaders on subjects and areas which are supposed to be strengths of the younger generation (such as social media, technology etc). Reverse mentoring actually helps senior level leaders understand the younger generation people better and vice versa.
- Balance it nicely and don’t go overboard – To be inclusive it’s important to balance it nicely between needs of all generations. Some companies went overboard in creating a workplace which again became lopsided (more towards the needs of the younger generation) and that doesn’t help either. As it’s said, your customer diversity segmentation should also reflect in your organizations ratios – it helps.
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”: Stephen R. Covey