31 July 2015
Generation X, Generation Y, Z, Millennials, Peter Pan, iGeneration, Boomerang… words that sound like they should be from some sort of children’s TV programme are actually terms thrown around to describe everyone born since the end of the second world war.
While there are mixed views on where these generation brackets actually fit, we’ve come up with one way of looking at it:
1945 – 1960: Baby Boomers
1961 – 1980: Generation X
1981 – 2000: Generation Y
2000 onwards: Millennials or Generation Z
Generally speaking, however, many sources lump the last two generations together, and although these people may be similar in a lot of ways, the needs and values of the younger members of society are starting to change as indicated through research by the West Midland Family Centre. And how could they not? Kids born from the late ‘90s onwards will have grown up with the abundance of digital technology being more accessible, the normality of social networking and things like online shopping being commonplace. It’s almost second nature to them. They can operate different tablets without thinking, fill in their card details online without fretting about security and automatically know how to find everything they could ever need on Google.
So, how can you make sure your company is welcoming to Millennials, while not becoming unsuitable for your older employees?
At Unum, we recently had a couple of Generation Z work experience students, so took the opportunity to ask them their thoughts about what they’ll look for when they enter the workplace:
“As more and more students enter the job world, flexibility and job hours are always commonly asked questions before committing to that job. Generation Z are regarded as the technological generation and will have a vast knowledge on technology rather than what it is like to work in an office. This contributes to what they are looking for as more and more people expect to be able to work from home”.
While the ease of using this technology applies to many from other generations, Baby Boomers, Gen Xs and a proportion of Gen Ys generally know what the working world (and society in general) was like before the explosion of the digital age. And a technology burn-out could be on the horizon for many young people entering their careers.
How often do you see someone walking down the street, not looking where they’re going because their eyes are fixed on their phone? Have you been sitting in a restaurant where everyone on the surrounding tables all have their mobiles out proudly as a centrepiece. People are connected to their phones 24/7 and for young people especially, this means a constant link to friends, family, photos, videos, their location and a walking encyclopaedia. So when you add work into this mix, what will this lead to? People can have an unbreakable connection to their emails, business matters and important calls.
As the generations go on, the more and more important a healthy work-life balance is. Baby Boomers and to a certain extent, Gen Xs, have shown to be highly driven and in some cases perhaps working 60-hour weeks, usually at the office for visibility. They might feel pressured into not taking too much time off, maybe because they’re worried about losing their place in the team. And as a result, family life may suffer. Most Gen Ys and Zs will be the children of these workaholics and maybe their escape to university (another institution that has changed over the years) has given them a different outlook on what they want out of their career.
Years ago, it was arguably much easier to get on the property ladder than it is for young couples and families now. With so many extra hoops to jump through, it’s probably quite comforting for these individuals to know that if they have to pop away for an afternoon to sort something out, they’re not on a timesheet stamping in and out and conscious about how they’re going to make up the time. For parents, expensive day-care means maybe working a day or morning from home, so flexibility will be something that younger candidates will certainly be looking for.
Nowadays, it’s very likely that someone of a baby boomer age will not only be responsible for school-age children, but also an elderly parent or relative. Rising care costs mean either families are funding retirement home bills, or physically looking after their family members in between holding down a job (which may also be paying for their kid’s university tuition). So while their early career was about going that extra mile, perhaps it’s worth thinking about how their personal situations might change the perception of their day-to-day job.
Managing the changing generations
First of all, it’s important to recognise that everyone’s different. One 22-year-old employee may want to work flexibly and remotely with little input from a manager, whereas another may work their 9-to-5 day religiously, with concrete 1:1s in the diary. So the key is not to bundle people together with labels. But it is hard to ignore the changes that are beginning to creep in with the influx of younger people in the workplace. And maybe it’s their influence that’s helping Generation Xs and Baby Boomers realise what they want from the company they’re loyal to.
- A good benefits package – Do you want to have the edge over your competitors: a company which attracts the best of the best because of what you offer to your staff? Flexible working is something that is ideal to many, but probably for lots of different reasons. While older people may need to be flexible for aging relatives, younger people may need that option for other personal reasons. With money stresses weighing heavy on the nation, perhaps more so for Generation X, financial protection will be highly valued – things like a good pension, income protection and private medical insurance.
- Healthy workforces – With the workforce becoming more sedentary, younger people may be shocked to learn that 64% of the UK are now classed as being overweight or obese, compared with around 40% in 1980. And as the media is even more focused on body shape and size than ever, going to the gym could have more of a draw. Subsidised gym memberships and healthier canteens at work might also be something to consider to tackle a ‘growing’ workforce.
- Mindfulness is key – With a devotion to technology, companies will need to recognise that it’ll be difficult for people to switch off, especially as remote working becomes more commonplace. The normal eight hour routine is becoming stretched and disjointed as employees check their emails in the evening, early morning and sometimes during the night. Something that’s cheap to implement would be a series of mindfulness exercises communicated to staff, or perhaps a couple of sessions a month offered to staff within the office. Encourage them to switch off once they’ve left the office and lead by example – this not only benefits the employee, but research suggests working longer hours has a detrimental effect on productivity.
- Workplace culture and recognition – A study into young people entering work for the first time found that they sometimes lack confidence and can be intimidated by their peers. It might be that Generation Y and Generation Z need more regular feedback than perhaps their older colleagues. And that’s ok – another common quality in this generation is that they’re usually highly tenacious and want to make a difference. So if they have something to improve on, having a chat about their performance can only mean good things for the both of you.
- Training and development – As Richard Branson said: ‘train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to’. With things like Twitter, LinkedIn and websites like Business Insider, it’s easy to see what kind of training and career development different companies are offering in a range of different industries. With younger people valuing a sense of purpose and transparency more than a good salary, investing in your staff not only benefits them, but also gives your business a highly skilled and enviable workforce.
As all these points could be easily argued for members of other generations, maybe it’s not about managing younger people with a separate set of rules to people of 45. Recognise that your workforce is made up of individuals who’ll perceive things differently, require specific benefits, prefer certain types of company communication and work in different ways, whether on their own, or part of a team. Maybe there’s no one solution for ‘managing Millennials’, but understanding how society is changing as a whole is key to putting you on the right track.
Why not check out our Future Workplace report for more insights into what’s coming up in the world of work.