How to adapt your leadership to a multigenerational workplace

The writer is a former Google executive and angel investor

Recently I announced that I was quitting my job and taking some free time. After posting the mandatory LinkedIn update, I noticed something curious in the responses. I’m 41, and while younger friends have praised me for putting me first, older peers have been sorry to hear the news.

Generational differences often go unnoticed in discussions about diversity and building resilient work cultures. But attitudes to work vary depending on when people are growing up. The challenge for leaders is to adapt their style to meet the needs of Gen Z employees who expect more from their jobs and those who hire them.

“The times are shaping who we are and what we expect from our employers and our careers,” said Abadesi Osunsade, vice president of the global community and member of consumer intelligence firm Brandwatch. In most industries, for example, lifelong jobs are a thing of the past: as people work longer, they will have multiple careers and will need to refresh their skills as sectors and roles change.

Abadesi Osunsade of Brandwatch: “The times shape our identity and the expectations we have of our employers and our careers”

Even the tech industry faces generational challenges. Technology has historically been dominated by young talent and created trends for new approaches to working life, including remote working. But the World Wide Web is over 30 years old. There are senior talents with decades of experience and leaders who dropped out of school in the 2010s: both will likely have both older and younger team members.

Work-life balance is one area where generational expectations tend not to match. Many older leaders today began their careers at a time when the progression to management came with long hours of work and frequent travel. But research suggests that younger employees are less willing to accept this compromise. Indeed, 38 percent of Generation Z employees consider work-life balance to be the most critical factor in choosing an employer.

Young workers are also asking more questions about organizational values. Ten years ago, it would have been unusual for one interviewee to ask a potential employer about their policies on diversity, equity and inclusion, but this is quite common today.

“Generation Z sets higher standards than ever on leaders when it comes to transparency, social and environmental impact and their own progress,” said Alex Stephany, CEO of Beam, a start-up that supports the homeless. shelter.

Remote working during the pandemic has highlighted different generational expectations regarding careers. While some professionals balanced meetings with home schooling, those in shared accommodation fought for space, while others had more free time. This uneven experience, which has largely fallen on generational lines, has contributed to the poor communication, tensions and burnout seen in some workplaces.

As we head into 2022, the focus on the well-being and retention of staff across all generations becomes even more important. Workers are questioning their choices, leading to a trend some are calling the Great Resignation. In addition, with around 953,000 job vacancies posted in the UK between May and July of this year, a record high, creating work cultures suitable for all generations is high on leaders’ agendas.

So how should today’s leaders react to generational differences?

Listening – and understanding – the motivations and challenges of a team are essential skills. “Recognize the reality of stress and pressure in today’s workplace,” advises Connor Swenson, resilience and productivity consultant.

Technology can help executives keep tabs on trends that may affect workers. “Platforms like Culture Amp make it easy for managers to take the pulse of issues impacting employees – from cultural events happening in the news to personal issues like mental health – to understand what employees need to be successful. feel safe, ”Osunsade said.

Proactive measures to help employees build resilience and manage their mental well-being are also important. “Having a meditation class isn’t enough,” says Swenson. “You need to equip your teams with the mental and emotional skills to deal with adversity: the shift from preventive training to capacity building is important. “

Transparent and honest communication is another goal, as young employees want more clarity on the expectations and parameters of their work. More than half (60%) of Gen Z employees want to meet with their manager at least weekly, or even daily, research shows.

Sarah Drinkwater:

Sarah Drinkwater: “Generational differences often go unnoticed in discussions about diversity” © Alexandra Cameron

Leaders who are both available and genuine are also important. “Become a leader who practices vulnerability,” advises Osunsade. “Show that you don’t have all the answers, but that you are committed to improving the work culture of your employees. “

Stephany agrees, noting that “leaders need to be more accessible, speak openly about failure and show their vulnerability at work.”

Most importantly, understanding that culture cannot be created from the top down, but must be built by and with workers of all ages and types, is essential. This can be done through open consultations, employee-led groups, or other mechanisms designed to create a space for learning together.

Brandwatch regularly hosts “couch sessions,” Osunsade explains. He is “a great leveler because everyone from suite C all the way down to share their experiences on issues such as burnout and micro-aggression.”

Some wonder if there is a difference between the generations, or if the challenge is more about the identity, privileges and voices of who are heard. “What Gen Z expects at work are like familiar versions of what people of color were saying in the ’90s,” says Anil Dash, managing director of coding and collaboration platform Glitch. “We just had to be silent.”

Ultimately, the transparency, ownership and balance that young employees seek, if not demand, benefits all workers. “Generally speaking, we all want an environment of trust, honesty, cooperation and the feeling that we are making a difference,” says Swenson.

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