Good Leadership requires Generational Consciousness

In my most recent dinner outing with a group of work members, I could not help but feel tension amongst the culturally diverse group ranging from early twenties to late fifties. It appeared for a brief moment that the idea of placing individuals from various backgrounds within the stress-laden confines of a team tasked to push the edge of competition may prove to be innovative in theory but poorly functioning practically – but then the drinks came in… Soon enough, i saw the great potential for competitive behavior when quality individuals are able to find purpose in their voice, opportunities to genuinely communicate their ideas and appraised constantly for doing so.  Author Natasha Nicholson provides insight to the dynamics of organizations today.  She states that today “we have four generations in the U.S. workforce – All of them in motion.  These generations include the traditional generations or those individuals born between 1946  and 1964, Generation X those individuals born between 1964 – 1981, and millennials those individuals born between 1982 and 2000.  Each of these generations can differ in manners such as communication styles, beliefs and values.  Yet their presence in organizations are a necessary force for adapting to an ever changing environment as well as sustaining stability and ultimately success.  A perspective in to the beliefs and values of millennials for instance can provide insight to the impact belief and generational characteristics impact organizational value and potential for success.   

It has been said that today’s new generation of workers may appear to value work more than past generations. Such a belief would appear to differentiate them from previous generations and shed light to their potential impact for organizational success.    Today’s generational differences differ not only in beliefs inside of the workplace but outside the workplace as well. Younger generations of today also known as millennials  have been described as viewing the work place as more than an occupation but also a religious rite. The youth generation have strong beliefs toward work commitment  and they are likely to see themselves as more aligned to work than their counterparts. Authors have used terms such as “work matrys” to provide insight to the perception for which youth generations seem themselves.  In a New York times piece author Erin Griffith writes that Youth “participation in organized religion is falling, especially among American millennials. In San Francisco, where I live, I’ve noticed that the concept of productivity has taken on an almost spiritual dimension. Techies here have internalized the idea — rooted in the Protestant work ethic — that work is not something you do to get what you want; the work itself is all. Therefore any life hack or company perk that optimizes their day, allowing them to fit in  even more work, is not just desirable but inherently good.”  (Griffith, E, 2019)

Such a belief is likely to have a measurable impact on the culture of an an organization and can conflict with the norms of the past and/or generational demographics of an organization. For instance, culturally acceptable  practices such as paid time off are now being challenged by students.  In a recent report in Harvard Business review, one author denotes the prevailing attitude among workers The researchers surveyed roughly 5,000 full-time employees who receive paid time off as a benefit, and found that millennials were much more likely to agree with four statements they used to assess work martyrdom. “No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.” “I want to show complete dedication to my company and job.” “I don’t want others to think I am replaceable.” “I feel guilty for using my paid time off.” (Carmichael, 2016)

The differences between work life balance between young generation and older members is apparent.   Millennials were also more likely to want to be seen as work martyrs than older workers; specifically, 48% of Millennials wanted their bosses to see them that way, while only 39% of Gen X did and 32% of Boomers did.   This belief  shape by today’s working youth that “productivity capability — our ability to work, rather than our humanity is  a measure of human worth and can have a significant impact on organizational culture (Carmichael, 2016).

One can argue that such a belief is a powerful vehicle for work productivity. Establishing such a belief can be a useful engine for slow companies looking for success.  Additionally, establishing such a belief is effective at attracting and retaining quality performers.  “The technology industry started this culture of work zeal sometime around the turn of the millennium, when the likes of Google started to feed, massage and even play doctor to its employees. The perks were meant to help companies attract the best talent — and keep employees at their desks longer. However, research may not support this theory. Working Harder or perceiving oneself to working harder may not increase work productivity. 

  “This makes it all the more important to underline that the study also finds that sacrificing vacation time has no net benefit on your career. In fact, work martyrs are more likely to be stressed at home and at work, and less likely to be happy with their companies and careers. And they were less likely to receive bonuses — 75% of work martyrs reported receiving a bonus in the past three years, compared with 81% of overall respondents. Previous research by P:TO showed that people who take fewer vacation days are also less likely to get a raise:” (Carmichael, 2016).

Nonetheless, the beliefs and cultures of generations such as millennials can improve the competitive edge of organizations in a constantly growing world.  Finding methods to ameliorate the differences between generations while maximizing productivity is a fundamental to organizational success. Providing clear and purpose is one of the most effective ways in which we can help to improve the ability to communicate across culture and generations. This requires leaders to delve deep and to search individuals for value, to recognize this value and promote it publicly as a key component for the future of an organization success. In other words the action of providing purpose to individuals that is publicly recognize to different members of the group is an opportunity to engage them.  In some ways this can be understood as leveraging leadership. Author Leah Reynolds writes “it should be no surprise that tech-savvy Gen Yers in your organization want to feel  connected, updated and involved.  The technology they grew up with game them real time access to information, and their boomer parents and teachers socialized them to speak up and contribute their ideas.”  (Reynolds, Campbell Bush, Geist, 2008)

Reynolds  provides us indication with why these individuals specifically want to be recognize with purpose.  Generations Yers in particular were taught to follow their purpose and to value themselves in this fashion. However we must realize that such a desire isn’t specific to any particular generation. It is human nature to seek purpose.  Perhaps the difference with generations is not whether they yearn for purpose but the frequency in which they want to be reminded or informed of their purpose.

Reynolds reminds also reminds us that frequency updates may be a powerful tool for alleviating the differences between generational groups,  She writes “ Generation Y likes to be informed and  feel plugged in If they sense that leadership is not sufficiently updating them..”  (Reynolds, Campbell Bush, Geist, 2008). It should be no surprised that for a generation mired in technology which constantly provides information within a blink of an eye, millennials would also have similar demands for understanding their role in a similar capacity. This observation reminds us that we often should look at communication as a resource for improving  organizational function.  It is important to constantly ask ourselves “how effective are our communications in connecting with members of our workforce, an how are we measuring that effectiveness.  Reynolds demonstrates that communication is more than providing statements of veracity, it is also looking at effective ways to consider the interests and communications styles of different individuals.  We may find ourselves attracted to a form of communication that is ineffective. Communication can hold many forms and should be provided in a comprehensive manner.   Concepts such as  “idea campaigns” , individuals meetings and group outings represents variations in communication tactics that target  discussion. More importantly these opportunities provide manners in which  individuals can communicate more effectively. 

Ultimately, we must realize that organizations will consistently have to address  diversity in an increasing competitive market.  Diversity provides and edge toward success. The ability to master diversity lies in ones ability to understand human nature and the complexities of communication. Those can be understood as elements of  adaptability.  Adaptability can be understood as one’s ability to  better connect workforce by building a sense of community, drawing out insights. It is also an important adoption that we should always expect that  things will never be what they used to be. Just as we should be focusing on understanding the generational changes we should also be preparing for the generations to come.

References:

Carmichael, S. G. (2016, August 22). Millennials Are Actually Workaholics, According to Research. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/08/millennials-are-actually-workaholics-according-to-research

Durkin, Dianne (2008), “Youth Movement”, Communication World, Vol. 25, pp. 23-26.

Griffith, E. (2019, January 26). Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/business/against-hustle-culture-rise-and-grind-tgim.html

Lovely, S. (2005). Creating synergy in the schoolhouse: Changing dynamics among peer cohorts will drive the work of school systems. School Administrator, 62(8), 30-34.

Reynolds, L., Campbell Bush, E., and Geist, R. (2008), “The gen y imperative”, Communication World, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 19-22.

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