As the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement, it is particularly important to institute hiring practices and workplace policies that attract and integrate the younger generations. Many have talked about how Generation X and Millennials always seem ready to leave one company and move onto something better as soon as there is a new opportunity. While it is true that people in the younger generations will usually not stay with a job if they are unhappy (unlike stability-focused Baby Boomers), this does not mean they are not serious or loyal. It simply means that if you want to keep the best and brightest leaders in your organization, you need to offer them an environment that is geared to their values.

Whereas Baby Boomers and Traditionalists have historically appreciated more structure, the younger generations tend to come equipped with a more entrepreneurial, self-motivated skill set. Additionally, while older generations may have experienced a predominantly formal work environment, contemporary work environments tend to be more relaxed and less hierarchical. Interactive workspaces, open floor plans, communal environments, and remote working opportunities are all characteristics of this new work environment.

Quite a few Fortune 500 companies have changed the way they work to meet the needs and values of these new generations (Hoffman et al., 2014) who are less likely to accept rigid hierarchical structures and more vocal in their desire for an environment that makes them feel valued, even though they may not be there forever.

Here are some examples:

  • A major United States chemical company has eliminated its corporate ladder approach to management. There are no bosses, and there’s no top and bottom in the chain of command. Instead, authority is passed around through team leaders, so everyone in the company has a sense of equality and involvement.
  • A large United States accounting firm gives 4 weeks of vacation to every new hire (most U.S. companies offer only 2 weeks). This firm also offers new parents classes on how to reduce their working hours to spend more time with their families.
  • A software company in Silicon Valley has no set office hours. Staff come in and work when they choose. Everyone gets paid time off every month to do volunteer work, and he or she receives a 6-week sabbatical every 4 years.

These are all profitable, highly productive companies with low staff turnover. They have simply made new rules in accordance with the lifestyles and values of their employees, and have reaped a great deal of success as a result.

New Generational Leadership

Generation X and Millennials are unlikely to lead in the same way Boomers did. They encourage collaboration, they want to understand their peers and other people’s perspectives, and they greatly value teamwork and open communication. They will spend more time building relationships with their teams than their predecessors did. Because they value their family time, they will also give their staff enough time for their personal lives outside of work. As a result, corporate culture might become less rigid than it is currently, offering more flexibility and a sense of fun.

The incoming generations, including Millennials, value action; they also work more efficiently and productively to earn time off. They expect their team to work hard as well, but they also know when it is time to leave the office and go play. One of the ways in which they gain this efficiency is by using technology.

Although there are technically savvy people in every generational category, you may need to remind some new generation employees that other members of their team need more training and support around technology than they themselves might. You may also need to remind some leaders from older generations to be apprised of changes in technology and workplace practices so that they can stay abreast of innovations.

As a leader that effectively leverages diversity and inclusion strategies can be integral in helping to leverage generational differences in the workplace. By encouraging intergenerational mentorship (e.g., Baby Boomers can pass on institutional knowledge and well-earned wisdom to their millennial colleagues, while the latter can infuse the workplace with a sensibility that is focused on the efficient use of technology and transparent, non-hierarchical communication), you can better identify gaps in knowledge and ensure that processes and resources that will enable employees to share their expertise are in place.

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