Generations in the workplace
10 October 2016 by Ellen Petersen
I recently read a piece about the generations in the workplace – you know how it goes: “a survey of workers across different generations to show their strengths and weaknesses”. I thought the concept was very interesting, given that in my place of work – about 170 people spread over four offices in Essex and one in London – we have a real mix of generations in our workforce.
Apart from heading up the commercial real estate team here at Fisher Jones Greenwood, I help to recruit and am responsible for training our trainee solicitors in accordance with the SRA Training Regulations 2014. I meet and work alongside the “Millennials” (aka Generation Y) all the time. I am part of “Generation X” and (shhhh), some of my partners are “Baby Boomers”.
Research has been carried out for years on the concept of inter-generational working and notably, in 2013, the Economist published a piece which, whilst garnering evidence from an Ernst & Young survey and various PR agencies, gave the impression of a swirling mass of resentment between the generations at work.
For example, Ernst & Young, asked American professionals from each age group their opinions of each generation, and found significant differences: “Baby-boomers, born between 1946 and the mid-1960s, are not slacking off as they age; they are seen as hard-working and productive. The middle ranks of Generation X-ers, who might be expected to be battling their way up the corporate ladder, are viewed as the best team players. Opinions on the youth of Generation Y, also known as “Millennials”, are less surprising: good at tech stuff but truculent and a bit work-shy.” We must be careful not to ratify these perceived stereotypes.
More recently, PwC says that “…Millennials will be a powerful generation of workers and that those with the right skills will be in high demand. They may be able to command not only creative reward packages by today’s standards, but also influence the way they work and where and how they operate in the workplace. They may also be one of the biggest challenges that many organisations will face”. Presumably, this latter point means that we have to harness the perceived unpredictability of these Millennials and become more creative in training and coaching our people.
My own experience of working inter-generationally is that I am learning all the time and am constantly astonished at the resilience and focus of my Millennial colleagues. I understand that in order for people to perform well and have successful outcomes, we (as employers) need to adapt to change and create strategy that deals with that.
The Wall Street Journal (June 2016) agrees: “The key is to be able to effectively address and take advantage of the differences in values and expectations of each generation.” We should:
- Facilitate mentoring between different aged employees to encourage more cross-generational interaction;
- Offer different working options and focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done;
- Open up the office and ditch rigid management structure. We are told that Millennials prefer open collaborations that allows everybody to share information and contribute to decision-making;
- Take advantage of the Millennials’ preference for teamwork and to encourage more solidarity throughout the workplace;
- Accommodate personal employee needs. Different generations of employees will be in different stages of life and may require that employers offer some scheduling flexibility to manage their personal time.
We all need to think about the future and partners in law firms like ours, no less so. Succession planning is key – so, attracting, developing and retaining a diverse and energetic workforce is what we must all strive for, because of (and not in spite of) the differences.
Commercial Real Estate team – Colchester office
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