WASHINGTON, May 14, 2014 – As the career doctor, I spend a great deal of time advising people how to deal with the new generation of workers. For the first time, I am hearing senior personnel at work saying that times are likely changing forever and “we need to adjust.”
I have never heard this so strongly and sincerely as I am hearing it now. To begin with, we need to understand that the younger generation has a set of views that include:
- Family and social life is more important than work
- Technology must be part of work and all parts of life
- Communication is faster by texting, face-timing or emailing (email is pretty old-fashioned)
- Verbal and written communication (e.g., reports, memos) are not very important and are too time-consuming
- Those in a position of authority must earn respect
- Younger employees feel entitled to certain outcomes at work
- Diversity in work and life is normal and expected
- Instructions, directions and any type of information can be questioned frequently
- There is little or no information that should be kept private (e.g., facebook)
Here is a “mature” (pun intended) set of ways that senior personnel are starting to modify their behavior and work strategies to better involve the younger generation. They recognize that it is important that younger employees be included in decision making. The way the younger generation wants to be heard is reciprocal and continuous. Some create managers have begun to more routinely solicit junior employees’ input. Next, they inform those employees about how the decision making is progressing and obtain additional feedback from the employees as the decision making proceeds, and so on……until the decision is implemented. Even after the decision is implemented, progressive managers are remaining open to continuous input, questioning and modifications.
Another way senior management is adjusting is by providing more technology and supporting, rather than criticizing, communication at work using technology. For example, companies are creating social media policies that permit the use of social media for work as long it is used within specific guidelines. These guidelines focus mostly on non-disparagement of the company and preventing illegal activity online. These policies should also remind employees that once information is placed in the public domain, it becomes impossible to remove. The companies are offering more technologies, and the good ones are also providing consequences for inappropriate use.
Senior leaders advise “be careful what you say or do online because you cannot take it back.”
In organizations that have had historically strong hierarchies, they are rethinking how to obtain input from younger employees. Do managers open their doors and allow easier access to them? Hierarchies were invented to prevent information overload. For example, if everyone in the company has ready access to the company’s managers and leaders, the managers and leaders will be overwhelmed.
Progressive managers are finding ways to overcome these problems. For example, managers can solicit input on a regular schedule, such as on a monthly basis, from their employees. They can create a time period in which younger employees have personal access to them. These times must be controlled so that it does not become overwhelming. There must be very strict rules of engagement.
For example, perhaps the younger employee must make a formal appointment through their immediate supervisor, or send an email through their immediate supervisor. Or perhaps, the younger person must call the senior person by their title. And clearly, the younger employee must treat the manager or leader with respect as determined by each individual manager, or the access will be eliminated.
If a younger employee thinks that higher management has not automatically earned their respect, how do strong managers and leaders deal with this? In today’s world, many young children call adults by their first names. Many young children spend more time with adults than they had many years ago, and this removes their inhibitions toward authority.
Senior managers are trying to accept that this lack of respect for authority was created, in large part, by their own generation so they accept that authority at work does not automatically earn them respect. They, instead, are trying to be ethical and inspiring leaders who the younger generation wishes to emulate.
There are two additional strategies that help to incorporate the new generation’s viewpoints. First, allow regular questioning of decisions – to a point. Accept that questioning of decisions is part of the new normal. But, there are a certain number and type of questions that crosses the line or pushes the envelope. Each individual manager has a “question threshold.” Each manager must know his or her limit and define it for their subordinate employees. This is another example of setting new guidelines. In today’s environment, senior managers who lack patience for questioning may win the battle, but they will lose the war.
Finally, there is this new (over the last twenty years) belief that work is not a part of life that one should devote oneself to; it should not be prioritized first. This has occurred particularly in the middle class because the middle class is not being rewarded as well as they were 20 years ago. As a result, the middle class worker does not wish to devote themselves to work. They do not see the point.
The best way to reward personnel so that they increase their loyalty to the company is with rewards that come in the form of time off to spend with family, flexible work hours, salary and benefit increases if possible, time on the job to devote to personal needs, time to work out, and other creative ways to demonstrate that the company is just as devoted to family and personal life as the employee.
Any employee who perceives that their company shares their values will be more devoted to their company.
In years past, senior managers would never modify their behavior for the new generation of workers; they would force the younger workers to change. This no longer works; the new generation will not be forced into anything. There is a new set of managers who are willing to accept the new and there are those will continue to fight it.
Who are most likely to succeed?
This week’s prescription: Change your approach to the younger generation
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