As millennials grew into the largest generation in the workforce over the past few years, we’ve been treated to a deluge of breathless media coverage about how uniquely difficult they were to deal with and how they were ruining everything. From chain restaurants to jewelry, along with job loyalty and the 9-to-5 workday, the list of American institutions millennials are charged with killing is nearly endless. Meanwhile, business leaders have wrestled with the seemingly vast complexities their entry to the workforce has created. Most of the work-related challenges have proven to be more myth than truth, as our research at CEB (now Gartner) has found, along with other investigations by the Economist and the Pew Research Center, but the conventional wisdom endures that millennials are entitled, need constant hand-holding, and are therefore unusually hard to manage.
It appears the newest generation entering the workforce, Generation Z, is being similarly prejudged, according a recent survey of managers profiled by SHRM’s Dana Wilkie. In it, 36 percent of managers said they believed that Generation Z would be more difficult to manage than previous generations, while 29 percent believe it will be more difficult to train employees from Generation Z, 26 percent say it will be more difficult to communicate with the newest generation, and even 20 percent of millennial managers believe Generation Z represents a threat to company culture.
“There is a tendency and expectation of instantaneous gratification,” said Jeff Corbin, CEO of APPrise Mobile, the employee communications company which conducted the study. “They want the answers now. They are all about tweets and short responses. As a result, many Gen Zers are going to be too quick to respond rather than deliberate and thoughtful. … [T]he concept of professionalism, formality and quality in communications may be a foreign one to many in Gen Z, which could be problematic to older generations.”
CEB's Clare Moncrieff (L) and Mazars CLO Tyra Malzy (Simon Meyer)
According to recent research from CEB (now Gartner), in order to create an inclusive climate for teams, organizations need to focus not only on climate quality (the average level of inclusion that employees feel) but also on climate strength (the variation between how different employees perceive the inclusivity of their team). In a session on building inclusive leaders at our ReimagineHR conference in London on Thursday, we heard from Tyra Malzy, Chief Learning Officer at Mazars, about her experience integrating inclusion into her company’s business practices and engaging its younger workforce in decision-making. Here are some of the strategies she shared:
Normalize Inclusion in Leadership
As Malzy explained, Mazars needed to reach out to its millennial employees and help senior leadership see the business value of including these employees in its decisions. To meet these goals, the company made several key choices.
- Start with saying “yes”: Mazars found that when leaders were concerned with the impact of change, they often responded in a risk-averse manner, usually resulting in saying “no” to ideas that deviated from the organization’s typical decision-making process. By making a habit of saying “yes” more often, this helped generate a more open environment for co-developing solutions.
- Crowdsource ideas from employees: An important component of making leadership more inclusive is empowering employees to lead from the ground up. Mazars created an app for individuals to share their ideas with others within the company, vote on those which they like the best, and then have the top five presented to senior leaders. Finally, the executive team picks which business ideas to implement. Mazars also surveyed employees to understand their thoughts on management preferences and organizational culture. They then used this information to create specific projects associated with the interests of the employees.
- Bring visibility to functions and individuals that are doing this well: By sharing examples of diverse groups that are outperforming other teams or functions, Mazars challenges teams with limited diversity to step up their diversity of thought and improve their outcomes.
Create a Culture of Inclusivity in Decision-Making
Recent surveys of the US workforce show that more Americans are working or planning to work past the conventional retirement age of 65, driven by a mix of increasing life expectancy, a preference for work over retirement, and financial concerns about their ability to retire comfortably. Looking at data from the latest US jobs report, Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman observes that the upward trend in older workers is holding steady, with almost 19 percent of people 65 or older working at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017:
The age group’s employment/population ratio hasn’t been higher in 55 years, before American retirees won better health care and Social Security benefits starting in the late 1960s. … Certainly baby boomers are increasingly ignoring the traditional retirement age of 65. Last quarter, 32 percent of Americans 65 to 69 were employed. Even past age 70, a growing number of seniors are declining to, or unable to, retire. Last quarter, 19 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds were working, up from 11 percent in 1994.
Older Americans are working more even as those under 65 are working less, a trend that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to continue. By 2024, 36 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds will be active participants in the labor market, the BLS says. That’s up from just 22 percent in 1994.
The trends look strikingly different for men and women, however. While workforce participation is on the rise among older Americans of both genders, Preeti Varathan remarks at Quartz, men over 65 are still working at much lower rates than they were half a century ago, while older women’s participation is reaching record highs:
McDonald’s made headlines last week when it revealed that it would be accepting job applications this summer through Snapchat, in an effort to attract more candidates in its key age demographic of 16- to 24-year-olds. Recruiting through social media is a promising tool for companies looking to put job opportunities before the eyes of younger millennials and Generation Z, as that is where most of their media attention is focused—not TV, newspapers, or job boards.
Another millennial-targeted innovation in recruiting is gamification, where candidates prove their skills and compete for jobs through online platforms and mobile apps where they solve puzzles or participate in simulations that demonstrate their ability to do the work. The latest example of an employer gamifying their hiring process is Jaguar Land Rover, Amie Tsang reported for the New York Times this week:
The carmaker announced on Monday that it would be recruiting 5,000 people this year, including 1,000 electronics and software engineers. The catch? It wants potential employees to download an app with a series of puzzles that it says will test for the engineering skills it hopes to bring in. While traditional applicants will still be considered, people who successfully complete the app’s puzzles will “fast-track their way into employment,” said Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors of India.
All of these new, tech-savvy approaches to recruiting are deliberately meant to appeal to a younger crowd, but not every applicant is a Snapchatting millennial raised on video games, Steve Boese points out in his take on McDonald’s “snaplications,” and employers who rely too heavily on these novel techniques might find that it has an unexpected and potentially unwelcome impact on age diversity in their organization:
So argues Jo Faragher at CIPD’s People Management, where she urges employers to rethink their urge to divide employees by generation and target workplace policies to specific generational groups—millennials, parents, older employees, and so forth:
Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of coaching and consultancy at My Family Care, suggests making policies around flexible hours or remote working ‘age agnostic’ rather than allowing managers to assume they’re just for those with families: “You need to show managers that flexible working is a way to deliver, not a favour that certain individuals have. Show examples of people making it work – but not just parents. Perhaps someone is taking time out to train for a triathlon. It’s wrong to assume certain generations need certain things.”
And as the way we work becomes less predictable – whether that’s down to businesses taking advantage of the growing ‘gig economy’, greater automation or economic wobbles – it’s likely we’ll have to factor in a more age-agnostic workforce anyway. “Generational lines will definitely become less delineated,” says Professor Vlatka Hlupic, author of The Management Shift. “We’ll see more fluidity and more of a focus on skills and attitude than whether you’ve been with the company for 30 years.”
Last month, a Silicon Valley executive told me she didn’t feel she could dress the way she dresses normally at work; she has to dress down to fit in with the “younger” culture. She said she never dressed that way in her 15-year career, and doesn’t dress like that outside the office.
For all the challenges they have faced in improving the diversity of their workforce and leadership, most of the major players in Silicon Valley have made a point of demonstrating that they take diversity and inclusion seriously both as a matter of social responsibility and as a business imperative. Diversity initiatives in the tech sector have focused on increasing the representation of both women and minorities, and these issues have gotten the most media attention.
The steps these companies have taken to make themselves more welcoming to disadvantaged groups are commendably, but there’s another diversity problem in the tech sector that I rarely hear spoken of as a focus of D&I initiatives there: namely, age discrimination. Until recently, this issue was easily overlooked, but a growing risk of litigation is making it more urgent for the Valley to factor age diversity into their D&I strategies. As Jon Swartz points out at USA Today, ageism has been the subject of 28 discrimination lawsuits filed against major tech companies since 2013:
The spate of suits are a reminder that Silicon Valley’s tendency to celebrate youth and newness can also veer into charges of discrimination based on age. It’s a problem that could deepen as companies pursue M&A activity and spin-offs. As established companies like HP, Oracle and Cisco snap up specialized companies to expand their business in newer fields such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things and augmented reality, they increasingly face the tricky task of streamlining operations and re-evaluating which employees to retain. …
A recent study by McDonald’s in the UK found that employees who work with peers of different generations tend to be a bit happier at work, while customer satisfaction seems to improve as well. Jo Faragher outlines the findings at Personnel Today:
In a survey of 32,000 of the restaurant chain’s employees, those who worked with a cross-section of ages showed a 10% increase in happiness levels compared with those who worked with a peer group of similar age. In a comparable poll of customers, 84% said they liked to see a mixture of ages in the restaurant team, with 60% expecting a better service as a result.
McDonald’s research also found that 58% of workers felt it was a priority to have an opportunity to work with people of different ages. This was more important for those born between 1900 and 1964 (a priority for 67%), and 16-year-olds (a priority for 57%). More than two-thirds (70%) of employees who responded to the poll expected to work with people who have different life experiences and views of the world, the research found.
Advocates of age diversity tell the CIPD’s Greg Pitcher that this survey underscores what they already know about the value of keeping senior citizens in the workforce:
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, hopes other employers will recognise the benefits of a multigenerational workforce. She said: “Research backs up the benefits of a more age-diverse workforce and also shows many older workers have no intention of taking it easy and are still looking to progress with their careers.