How can inter-generational collaboration be achieved at the workplace of the 2020s?

Generations are not planets swirling around in their separate orbits. They intersect, influence and change each other’s course.

An organisation’s health depends on how various generations synergise their strengths. To achieve this end, every generation should know every other for what it is, and this may require sifting facts from assumptions.

The younger generations, which consist of the millennials and generation Z, have to be particularly freed of the prism of assumptions through which they are often seen. Some of these assumptions have already ossified into unhelpful beliefs.

So, let them speak for themselves, launching into certain unflattering assumptions about them.

The Voice of the Younger Generations

Assumption #1: “They are rolling stones”

While it is indeed true that we want to try out different roles, and define meaning largely by new learnings and experiences, we would want job-hopping to happen on our terms. In other words, we would want the job market to be stable, and we should be in a position to choose and leave organisations and not the other way around. And, as regards leaving organisations, contrary to popular belief, we are not internally programmed to fly the organisational nest, every two or three years. Listen to what a millennial-professional has to say about this. “Millennials and generation Z would not want to leave an organisation that is growing, offers stability, and provides learning opportunities,” says Shradha Puri, corporate head, human resources, Hitachi Systems Micro Clinic.

Assumption #2: “They don't value hierarchy”

The desire to have flatter organisations is born out of the necessity of having to meet challenges posed by changing market realities. Continual changes and uncertainties in the business environment require organisations to be leaner and swifter, ensuring greater flexibility in reporting and decision-making systems. The reality of distributed teams is also promoting such flexibility. For the older generations — baby boomers and generation X — organisational structures must be looking a lot flatter than they did only a couple of decades ago. It is a structural shift that these generation may be getting accustomed to. In contrast, millennials and generation Z are born into such a corporate world, and are therefore at home functioning in structures that have only a few hierarchical markers. “Millennials respect hierarchy. It is important to have a hierarchical structure. Without that, there can’t be learning. It promotes progress, as it provides employees with the motivation to reach the next level. Millennials don’t mind hierarchical structures, but they would want the organisation to be flat in its style of functioning,” says Shradha.

Assumption #3: “They see the world in pixels”

The majority of us do have a vibrant online-social life. It is particularly true of many Gen-Zs, the smart-phone generation. However, we are not blind to what we are missing out on, by staying online longer than we should, and are often remorseful about the time wasted in this manner. A few findings from The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, which quizzed “3,416 millennials from 42 countries, and 3,009 Gen-Zs from 10 countries”, put our views on this question in perspective. While showing that 71 percent of the millennials viewed social media in a positive light, the Deloitte survey brought out the nuances that form the youngsters’ assessment about being digital and connected. Sixty-four percent of the millennials said cutting down screen time would lead to benefits on the health front, as it would mean taking up outdoor activities. The Survey further discovered that four out of every 10 Millennial-respondents wished they could turn their back on social media.

As the seniors in the midst, the older generations — the baby boomers and generation X — would make two resolutions that would promote inter-generational collaboration at the workplace.

The Voice of the Older Generations

Resolution #1 “We will focus on the similarities”

Essentially, all generations are similar, in that they make the most of given circumstances, and make the necessary adaptations whenever required. Gen-Z is called the YouTube generation, and together with the millennials, they are called “the DIY generation”. The phenomenal rise of information technology is making it possible for people to pick up certain skills, often with minimal guidance. As digital natives, they may have it in their DNA to make optimum use of this situation. Having said that, the older generations can’t be far behind in adoption of new technologies. In fact, it is a world we have created, for better or for worse, that younger generations are born into. For example, the do-it-yourself culture has existed, in varying forms and degrees, earlier. The world of music provides a ready example: In the 1980s, music bands were able to circumvent the elaborate and difficult process of music production by making copies of their songs and albums through do-it-yourself cassette-making technology. In other words, there is a lot in common than we often believe, and generations adapt to changing situations. Here is a generation-Xer who explains this. Kiruba Shankar, social media entrepreneur and digital-marketing professor, says, “Adapting to something that will enable one to work smarter and live better is a very human thing to do. With Internet connectivity spreading across the globe, the geographical relevance of doing work in one place has become irrelevant. Sixty percent of the people at the consulting firm I run don’t come to work; they remote-work. This way, as an employer, I am able to get people with specialised skills, from other parts of the country and even abroad. Born in the 1970s, I am not a digital native, but it is a world I have adapted to, and would not want to trade for anything else. And, I certainly would not want to set the clock back.”

Resolution #2: "We will try to understand their unique needs”

We believe there should be an effort to understand the younger generations, but without bringing them under undue scrutiny. Ganesh Chella, who specialises in executive coaching and, was born in the early 1960s, and therefore belongs to the younger section of baby-boomers, thinks millennials are “being treated like laboratory specimens. It has been going on for a decade.” Ganesh explains: “There is an undeniable need to have a proper understanding of younger generations, because they represent the future and therefore define the context. For its survival and success, every organisation has to adapt to the future. However, it has realise that the context younger generations help create, defines the older generations too,” says Ganesh. “At the end of the day, it is about creating an organisational culture that will be responsive to the unique needs of all generations, and ties them together as a successful unit.” It should be a culture that would allow every generation to easily adapt to systems that are put in place for the larger good.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 10:34:55 AM |

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