Your Management Will Change Dramatically in the Next Five Years - Here’s Why
Whether you run a business, nonprofit, or government agency, your employee base will undergo a massive change in the next five years. Organizational leadership will experience great pressure to adapt to these changes, and many leaders aren’t prepared to adapt.
There has been much discussion among executives and directors about changes in technology, misalignment of skills, and concerns about workers - and the conversation is reaching a fevered pitch. Whether focused on education or trying to obtain and retain qualified employees, these conversations frequently miss some fundamentals because of a generational gap in understanding the social dynamics which are about to converge.
The Baby Boomer generation occupies the majority of C-level positions and Boards of Directors. When paired with Generation X, nearly all established corporations and institutions are led and managed by persons over the age of 40. While many of these leaders have adapted to changes in technology and are working hard to integrate modern advancements into their organizational practices, they share a common set of workplace values. Hard work and dedication to the job, highlighting individual accomplishments, and honoring time-served are important markers as they attempt to achieve work-life balance.
When upper-level managers are weeding through applications for employment or considering promotional advancement, they tend to look for the resume that shows a person has performed the task before, has had significant experience in a similar lower-level position, or has an educational profile which provides a degree of study which matches the job. They have spent decades in a system which focuses on risk management and successful results.
In 2015, Millennials (Generation Y) overtook Baby Boomers as the largest percentage of the workforce, and in 2018 they became the largest block of eligible voters. Within 10 years, Millennials and post-Millennials (Generation Z) will outnumber Baby Boomers and Generation X, combined, in both of these metrics. As this major change takes place, we will witness a significant revolution in leadership, policymaking, and employer-employee relationships. The intensity of this change which is already being felt by leaders will increase exponentially in that time.
Since the mid 1970s, Baby Boomers have held the power of being the largest voting and workforce block, controlling both policy and employer-employee relations. In 2018, most Baby Boomers are age 55 and older, making them eligible for retirement. Their exit from the workforce will create open positions which can be filled by Millennial workers - ready to shape the workforce of tomorrow according to a new set of core values, and with the experience to lead.
Millennial and post-Millennial workers have a decidedly different set of core values, which they expect to be reflected in their employment.
Instead of highlighting individual accomplishments, Millennials tend to give credit to the various components of a functional team. Although they can be fiercely competitive, this generation values relationships over titles, and personal contribution over individual accomplishment.
Instead of focusing on work-life balance, Millennials tend to focus on family and social engagements with work providing the resources (money) required to support those activities. Work is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Moreover, family has become a very broad definition which goes far beyond the “nuclear family” which was the focus of prior generations.
Instead of focusing on time served, or proven competency in a specific role, Millennials tend to respect the application of learned skills to a new task. They have confidence that any untested area of expertise can be supplemented by ubiquitous information available through online resources, and view new opportunities as a means to develop new skills which can be applied throughout their career.
Instead of managing and mitigating risk, Millennials are more apt to take risks where there is reasonable evidence that success is possible. Millennials are much more comfortable with minor failures, which they view as opportunities to learn and build future success. Failure is more often seen as a necessary stepping-stone to innovation and evolution in their personal and work lives.
Instead of believing that face-time and being seen is a necessary component to advancement, Millennials are comfortable with working remotely and through asynchronous systems. They tend to believe that work product and contributions to a team should be the measure of a job well done. They understand through observation that the time an employee spends sitting at a desk does not equate to good performance - and despite (or as a result of) the abundance of “participation trophies” in their youth, they recognize that people work at different paces to accomplish the same objective.
Instead of being told the steps required to efficiently accomplish a specific task, Millennials prefer to be self-driven toward an objective. They recognize that the methods which work best for each person are not the same, and that individual efficiency is achieved when their personal skills can be applied to the task without constraints which appear to be superfluous.
For traditional managers and executives, these values can be frustrating. Millennial workers can appear to be disinterested, obstinate, and unfocused. However, this is the result of a misalignment of expectations and a misunderstanding of the workplace needs for younger employees. The rise of the gig economy and 1099 workers underscores the disconnect between existing workplace environments and the culture which is most conducive to Millennials. Practically speaking, there are some environmental changes which will make your organization more attractive - and more effective - as we move into this new dynamic where the majority of your workforce was born after 1980.
Perhaps first among these necessary changes is showing workers that your organization respects the relationships which are important to your employees. To many Millennials, family includes grandparents, parents, siblings, close friends, pets, and their community. Civic engagement is at its peak among Millennials who volunteer for local organizations, take on political issues, and seek ways to help those less able to help themselves. Much less tethered to religion than past generations, Millennials focus on community through other means.
Therefore, an organization which creates flexibility in the workplace will attract, retain, and empower Millennial employees. Their engagement with family and community is hindered by the standard 8-5 office workday. Because Millennials are comfortable working remotely and during odd hours, they want to be able to participate in their children’s after-school activities and in volunteer positions. The use of flex-time and objective-oriented tasks can allow employees to work part of the day in the office, and part of the day whenever and wherever is convenient for them (such as after their kids have gone to sleep). Taken further, Millennials may want to work 10 hours on Tuesday so that on Thursday they work 6 hours and are free to coach two hours of soccer practice.
The old model of punishing failure with write-ups, reviews, and establishing the “paper trail” you may need to eventually terminate employment creates an environment of fear and stifles innovation. Instead, change your policies and practices so that they empower employees to take reasonable risk, and be specific about accepting reasonable failure. Build a process which supports innovative approaches, allows for the reporting of failure, and encourages a lessons-learned approach to review. So long as the lessons are used to refine processes, build skills, and prevent relapse, encourage a sense of job security. Hire employees for the skills they can bring to your organization, and trust that they can do the job for which they were hired without micro-management. The test of their ability is in the product of their work and whether they accomplish the objective set out for them.
Many organizations have created policies for tuition reimbursement, or corporate giving campaigns. While these incentives seem to partially address the values of Millennial workers, many have found that participation is low. Millennials want the freedom to invest their time and money in efforts that reflect their personal values - not the predetermined values of the organization. Providing paid time to pursue education, preventive or diagnostic health, caregiving, and volunteerism - as determined by each individual - demonstrates an investment in the employee. While the perceived cost to the organization appears to be substantial, dividends will be realized when knowledge gained from the variety of activities is applied to workplace objectives. Furthermore, employees who feel valued and are able to advance skills or pursue personal interests are more invested in the quality and quantity of work they can provide for their organization.
Most important to the evolution of your organization is a concentrated effort to build a communications bridge between C-level executives and lower-level managers. As evidenced by the differences in workplace culture and values, those over 40 speak a different language than the under 40 Millennial generation. Many organizations use communications professionals to translate the work of the organization to outside entities, but few have an internal communications team dedicated to building a bi-directional pipeline between upper and lower level employees. In order to bridge the gap which exists, a team should be established which serves two purposes: (1) listening to and engaging employees to understand concerns and elevate ideas; and (2) translating policies and needs developed by leadership into objectives and reasonable deadlines for employees. It may seem that such positions are non-productive, but the reduction in friction and improved outcomes will foster an environment of trust, innovation, and respect which leads to greater overall productivity.
As often as you try to squeeze a Millennial worker into a pre-defined box, you’ll find resistance. Too often planning meetings and conferences ask the question “how do we make our employees work better for us”, instead of “how do we make the employer-employee relationship work better for both”. Making an effort to understand the needs of the Millennial and aligning your organization’s practices to create a link between their needs and yours will help you to weather the coming storm and be both successful and innovative.