How to Lead a Multi-Generational Workforce in the New Normal
When my office first went remote, I expressed strong opposition. But I'm starting to see that hybrid and remote workplaces have a lot to offer.
When Covid first challenged the traditional workplace environment and sent everyone home, as a leader, I was adamant that being in the office was necessary to support company culture. Getting past the idea that coworkers would no longer be in the same physical spot was hard for me. Since then, I've come to embrace new ways of doing the same things. In many ways, I have the younger generations to thank.
With their ability to disrupt models and question anything worth questioning, younger generations — Millennials, Gen-Z's — have brought new insight to the table that I think no one was expecting. Now, I see how breaking old rules can have its advantages. By adopting this youthful adaptability, anyone can keep up with the new multi-generational workforce.
Challenge the sacred status of authority
One of the attributes I admire most about this younger generation is how they have figured out how to break through bureaucracy in the corporate environment. They don't let it frighten or intimidate them. For me and others in my generation, we had to gain some level of success in our careers to feel that confident. Instead, they come out of the gate questioning bureaucracy and looking for ways to do things better.
Of course, this is a reflection of the different generational attitudes toward institutional authority. We were rule-followers; most of us were raised to be that way. Members of this next generation look at rules that might have made sense a few decades back, but make less sense today, and ask why they still need to exist. Especially in the remote and hybrid Covid workplace, this approach is probably for the best. This isn't to say that we shouldn't have rules, but the ability to question those we've assigned sacred status is an asset. To keep up with the changing world, we have to accept that very little can be allowed to remain sacred.
Job hoppers bring more to the table
When the younger generation first entered the workforce, I was pretty critical of their job choices. A year here, a year there — all this job hopping, I thought, was counterintuitive to a company's success and the advancement of their own careers. As the phenomenon played out, however, I came to change my mind.
Companies hire these job hoppers, and in each unique environment, they gain a smattering of knowledge that expands their base and accumulates into a set of valuable experiences that they bring to their next job. This seems to be how they figured out corporate bureaucracies: After witnessing and participating in so many, the job-hopping generation learned how to navigate them in a way that my generation only managed after years at a single company. It makes you wonder whether staying in the same place was ever an optimal strategy.
Adapting is a responsibility
Managers can lead great teams, but to do that, they have a responsibility to keep up with changing employee demands. As Richard Branson said, "Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they won't want to." Keeping good people longer is the magic any company has to work at, but as the times change, that magic might need changing too. One employee left our company for a great opportunity, and even though I wanted to keep him, I couldn't help thinking, "Good for him. I must have done something right." Even if the good ones leave, take what they brought to the company and write their departure off as another contact in the industry, but never stop adapting your methods to keep them.
With hybrid environments here to stay, companies are already forging new ways of nurturing culture in a hybrid workplace. We might have lost the "go out for a beer" factor without an office, but that doesn't mean we can't change our approach in the ways we bond. The hybrid workplace gives you opportunities to do more events with purpose, which can be harder to execute in the office. Schedule out-of-work activities to volunteer at a senior center. Spend a Saturday morning cleaning the beach, or an afternoon at a food bank. Get involved where the community needs your help for positive public exposure and an opportunity to bond at a deeper level with your team.
Everyone can come along for the ride
Growing up with technology developing all around them, younger people have cultivated a more fluid mentality around adapting to change. My generation came into it after we had already settled into our old ways, and we've been catching up ever since. If you're really struggling to catch up with technology, take an online course. If I have a problem sending Zoom invites, there are likely others at my company who feel the same. Identify the key areas where people are having issues with tech and the top people who are capable of explaining them and host a webinar to get the whole company on the same page.
When the workplace shifted to hybrid, I also had trouble adapting from home. I was caught up finding a million things to do besides work until I learned a whole new way of disciplining myself. Meanwhile, my son travels the world and manages to work every day. In an airport, on a train, in a bad AirBnB — nothing seems to bother him. When change comes, he just figures it out, so I did too. I created a space where I could walk in, close the door and say, "Now, I'm focused on business," and my outlook started to shift. My generation might have to think more about it than younger people, but we can adapt too.
With age, experience and knowledge, older generations might feel like we know everything, but time matters, and everything changes. Younger people may approach employment differently than our generation, but the leaders of tomorrow are the ones disrupting the old patterns of today. We should listen to them consistently and learn from youthful insights to stay adaptable because, whether or not we're ready for it, their generation will shape the future of business.
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