As more baby boomers work past retirement age and tech-savvy millennials enter the workforce, the variety of values, communication styles and work habits amongst employees is vast. This can quickly become a barrier to trust and respect – both vital amongst colleagues for positive workplace cultures and organisational productivity. With the employee age of a UK company potentially now ranging from 17 to 70, is it possible to unite five generations into one harmonious workforce?
It’s easy to generalise when it comes to generations – i.e. older people prefer talking face to face or on the phone and youngsters want texts and instant messaging. It’s much more complicated than that, with each generation having an influence on the others as they rub alongside each other. Getting communication right across your workforce depends upon getting under the skin of these complexities.
The first generation in history that have grown up totally immersed in a world of digital technology, millennials are the largest age group to emerge since the baby boom generation and a group that Deloitte predicts will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. As a generation that came of age after the 2008 financial crisis, they are the most educated generation in Western history and are empowered, purpose driven, hyper-connected, entrepreneurial and civic.
Millennials are proving to be so influential in our workplaces (and our world) because, as such a domineering force, their behaviours are being watched, copied and adopted across the generations before them. Think Smartphones, FoodTube, Deliveroo, Uber, online shopping – the list is endless – all millennial driven, but being adopted by society as a whole. Essentially, millennials are changing the way the world, and therefore our workplaces, operate.
Individuality is a big thing for millennials and therefore, a growing force to be reckoned with across all generations. Employees don’t want to treated like groups of people anymore – but rather as the individual that they are. Face to face is still incredibly important for young people, so blindly ‘going digital’ on everything for digital natives is a dangerous strategy and can depersonalise your message and content.
Getting on the property ladder, purchasing a car, buying a designer watch – all staples of the traditional model of ownership, security and status. Well things are changing. Millennials are driving the desire for an experience rather than a product, for example renting a car instead of buying one (this is a growing trend for designer goods too). Craving the experiential and the memories that come with it, the incoming generations want easy, effective, enjoyable experiences. They want relationships, not transactions – and it’s having a big impact on what we all want, as both consumers and employees.
When I think of the amount of digital platforms that have been created to respond to a perceived need for digital it makes me shudder. For all of the hype, digital is just another channel – yes, it’s exploded and still growing, but we felt the same about email not that long ago. Nothing’s changed in that we have to start with the communication objective first and then work on a solution. If digital is a sensible, measured, strategic part of that solution, then great, but it doesn’t compute that digital will always be right for millennials and gen Z (or any other generation for that matter).
There are many things that separate us as people, and generations, but we are all human and that gives us much in common, including the fact that we are all primarily creatures of emotion. Creating an emotional response is a vital part of engagement, no matter how old you are, so this needs to be an integral part of corporate communications. True engagement comes when you touch people via their head and their heart. It’s simple – people remember the things that make them smile (or cry, or gasp etc.).
Related to this is the power of disruption. There’s so much about communication, especially internal communication, that is expected. The quarterly management briefing, the weekly e-newsletter, the monthly employee magazine. It’s why a lot of it becomes corporate wallpaper and stops making an impact, or even being opened. Millennials are themselves a disruption to the workplace, but they also crave that disruption – the element of surprise, the unexpected – and it’s rubbing off on their colleagues too.
So what can HRDs do to maximise millennials and bring a multi-generational workforce together?
1. Personalise – you may have 100 employees showing up to the same event, but each will have a different perception and expectation when they arrive. Think about how you can tap into that and personalise the experience for each of them. Technology and digital can be powerful here
2. Involve millennials in decision making – no-one’s suggesting half of your board needs to be millennials (not yet anyway!) but as critical trend setters and organisational influencers, successful companies are engaging millennials (and all generations for that matter) in their decision making
3. Be experiential – the way people are engaging with brands is changing – that includes your customers and your employees. Create memories with your corporate strategy through experiential events (not just stand and tell) and emotional engagement
4. Talent partnering – a great way of maximising productivity in a multi-generational workforce is through mentorship, cross generation project teams or mixed break-out groups/ team builders at events. Older workers pass on knowledge and leadership skills, while the younger generations share fresh perspectives and technological know-how. It also breaks down stereotypes and builds trust
5. Invest in face to face – millennials may have grown up with texting, emailing and social media, but like their older colleagues, they’re still looking for genuine engagements that go beyond technology. We work with leadership teams who make it their business to get in front of every employee across the world at least twice a year – they value it that much
6. Avoid digital for digital’s sake – digital can be a powerful tool but only to meet certain objectives. Start with what you’re trying to achieve, rather than the idea of digital and you’re much more likely to end up with the right solution – digital or not. Where digital is appropriate, there may be a platform already in existence you can tap into
7. Listen – it’s all about open, accessible, transparent and two-way communication for millennials and gen Z. They want to know how they fit into the business strategy, challenge that strategy with new ideas and play a part in the future development of the company. Creating the right platforms to make that happen is key, one of which can be interactive events
8. Build trust – with 46% of millennials relying on word of mouth as their most credible information source (before Google), trust is key. And with credibility of CEOs at an all-time low across all generations, it’s kind of critical across the board right now. Employees no longer want a filtered, polished version of their leaders – build trust by delivering real information in an authentic way
9. Need for speed – millennials, and gen Z even more so, are used to instant response – whether it’s live chat customer service or same day Amazon deliveries. Create a corporate communication model that is responsive, dynamic and flexible to drive two-way engagement and capture great ideas
10. Bring your strategy to life – it’s back to human nature again. If we feel it, we’re more likely to act on it. It’s vital you engage your people, both emotionally and rationally, so they have the mindset, knowledge and motivation to deliver. Bring your strategy to life through creative, disruptive communications that get remembered.
 Edelman Trust Barometer 2017