Connecting Boomer Leaders and Millennial Staff
Setting the Stage
As Singapore marches forward in an age of uncertainty and ever-changing developments, she faces a dilemma of retaining her history and forging a new future. Singaporeans are quick to evolve in their identities, with the new generation of workers and leaders swiftly adapting to a brave new world.
The changing nature of the workspace and expectations have been expedited by the Covid-19 pandemic, as we move towards a “New Normal” of an agile work environment. This shift in nature may exacerbate the problem and tension that might arise between boomer leaders and millennials due to differences in mindset, values, and communication styles. Based on a study, 3 out of 4 workers globally will be millennials by 2025 (Asia Travel Leaders’ Summit, 2014) and hence it is crucial to bridge the gap between boomer leaders and millennials.
Boomer leaders are often caught at the crossroads of “I do not know what to do” or “How do I better manage the millennials I am working with”. They may often have good intentions, but their way of response may no longer be appropriate in current times. I have classified the challenges faced into two broad categories: Difference in Motivations and Communication Styles.
Different Motivations and Expectations
Boomers value individuality and material success. They also expect millennials to commit and work long hours and to respect a hierarchical structure. Millennials, on the other hand, value social activities, freedom, engagements, flexible work hours / less supervision and personal progression. Based on a recent study, millennials prioritize three things when choosing where and how they work: money, the opportunity for promotion and holidays / time off. Furthermore, 87% of Singaporean millennials also foresee taking breaks longer than four weeks at a stretch, mostly for personal reasons (Manpower Group, 2016). These differences basically set the stage for a potentially challenging atmosphere. Millennials have different capabilities, strengths and weaknesses and it is an opportunity for leaders to leverage and complement these. Instead of clamping down on the ideas by millennials, leaders should try to embrace these suggestions and evaluate the value for the organisation.
Different Communication Styles
In an age diverse organisation, there are bound to be new workplace challenges such as miscommunication amongst team members, which could lead to divisive sentiments. To mitigate such circumstances, it would involve older colleagues sharing and applying their extensive experience, alongside younger employees, who can value-add with new skills, techniques, ideas, and fresh perspectives. One stark difference in style would be millennials preference for social media or conversing in a casual manner, as opposed to boomers favoured approach of business meetings or face-to-face conversations; the resulting effect might be for the latter to feel that they are not being respected.
Bridging the Gap: Aware, Accept and Adapt
Being aware of the differences and the consequence of such, either positive or negative, can create a compelling case for change. It takes two hands to clap and if we continue to turn a blind eye to these differences, negative sentiments may manifest and trust levels would fall, thus resulting in sub-optimal performance. As a millennial, I accept that it is important to embrace the right attitude and beliefs. An individual should exercise humility and understand that leaders do not need to have all the answers. Having a learning attitude is important for both boomer leaders and followers as we can learn from one another. Boomers can learn from the digital proficiency of millennials while millennials can learn from the wealth of knowledge and experience of boomers. This would enable an environment of learning and agility, which provides a competitive edge for organisations seeking to thrive in the future.
This brings me to the last “a”, adapt. Both boomer leaders and millennials need to adapt to one another. There is simply no one-size-fit-all approach. Individuals need to learn to connect with one another beyond work, including what motivates them. This is where a healthy mentor-mentee relationship can exist, where coaching (and reverse coaching) and 2-way feedback exist for the purpose of leader and staff development, and not solely for better work performance. In my company, the directors and seniors often put in the extra effort and personal touch to coach us and their efforts have resulted in better company performances, innovations in products and services, and more importantly, loyal employees and customers.
In conclusion, there is no denying that our generations are divided in many aspects such as values, communications, competencies, etc. But with the aware, accept and adapt framework put in place, I believe that an effective workplace environment can be created for boomer leaders and millennials. Inter-generational clashes are not a new phenomenon as generations come and go. With each new phase of development, there would be differing views and opinions. This does not necessarily translate to increased difficulties for the company nor does it represent a time of gloom and doom. If harnessed well, these inter-generational differences can create the impetus for companies to grow and be successful. In a world where millennials are increasingly finding a voice in society and the workplace, we must embrace these changes and work together towards creating a future where boomers and millennials find a space to thrive as one.
Author: Danial Goh, Analyst, aAdvantage Consulting
Danial Goh is an Analyst at aAdvantage Consulting Group, a boutique firm partnering clients in achieving impactful transformations.
He has worked closely with various clients in the areas of Research and Insights and Culture Transformation.
Advisor: Vincent Ho, Director, aAdvantage Consulting
Vincent Ho is the Co-owner & Director of aAdvantage Consulting Group, a boutique firm partnering clients in achieving impactful transformations.
He has 25 years of business advisory and coaching experience and focuses on organisation transformation, customer experience, leadership team and culture development, senior leadership team coaching and change management.
His motivations are driven by his core values of Respect, Agility and Collaboration.