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Finding Balance Between Different Generations in the Workplace

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AGH Press

In 2016, the millennial generation surpassed the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. Last year, Millennials topped Generation X as the generation making up the largest section of the US workforce with approximately 33 percent of the US workforce being made up of 18-34 year olds. In a few years Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the global workforce. This means that without a doubt Millennials – and their values – will influence and perhaps even redefine the workplace as we know it. We now sit on the precipice of what is potentially one of the largest workplace shifts in recent history, and we, as Firm Managers, find ourselves in a unique and exciting position. We have the ability to proactively guide this transition and help find a much needed equilibrium between the different generations, while establishing and maintaining a cohesive workplace culture conducive to recruiting and retaining top talent.

Our greatest challenge as Firm Managers during this generational shift is finding a professional balance and respect between the different generations. Millennials are now infiltrating a greater number of leadership positions within firms, and, as a result, mandating compromises and collaborative decisions be made for firms to move forward successfully. Mutually beneficial decisions between generations who have been consistently told how different their values are can be hard to come by. Each generation may see a compromise as a zero-sum game because they are unable to see the similarities they share. However, similarities in values do exist. By identifying, highlighting, and focusing on the likenesses each generation shares and how they can be applied to enhance the overall workplace, we can shift the scenario from a zero-sum game to a win-win situation. For example, at AGH we recently instituted a “Dress for Your Day” policy. The policy gives employees the option to dress casually on days when they are not meeting with clients.  At first glance this does not seem like a mutually beneficial decision with multiple-generation allure. However, upon further analysis it can be seen that the policy appeals to the following often talked traits such as the millennial value of individuality, the Gen. X focus on work/life balance, and the Baby Boomer belief that institutions deserve to change.

In addition to focusing on generational similarities, mentorship can be and should be leveraged to help during this generational workplace transition.  In a world where information is instantaneously available, younger generations have taken to expecting this in the workplace as well, and regular feedback is now expected. For example, millennials do not expect to sit down with their boss once a year to hear their praises sung or be told they need to step up their game. Instead, they expect regular open feedback from those they work with. A mentorship program can be a less formal medium to help facilitate regular feedback between the younger and more seasoned employees. A mentorship program with strategically matched individuals can also help facilitate the development of not only professional skills, but also personal relationships which have the potential to lead to a higher level of engagement, increased emotional intelligence and empathy amongst the different generations in your Firm. A greater understanding for one another can be crucial when it comes time to make firm-wide decisions that the affect long-term trajectory of the company.

Effective communication is also vital to finding equilibrium between different generations during a time of flux. Just like individual employees — who are motivated and learn through different means —, different generations are motivated in different ways, and they also communicate and learn in their own unique styles. As you forge ahead in managing the generational transition in your Firm, make sure your methods for communication are effectively received by each generation. This means sometimes emphasizing the same message in several different ways because you recognize each generation is receptive to different forms of communication. For example, perhaps to properly communicate your company’s core values you need to write them out in a flow-chart, send them in an email, make an infographic, discuss them at a firm-wide meeting, and create a word-wall in your front lobby to reiterate what drives your firm’s mission and purpose. Regardless of the means you use to convey your message, it is crucial to make sure that the way you communicate with staff is fundamentally understood and that it also comes across in a genuine and authentic manner.

The Importance of Balance

Helping find and maintain the delicate balance between generations will prove crucial to maintaining your firm’s culture and overall growth in the future. By identifying and focusing on inter-generational similarities, emphasizing a culture of mentorship, and establishing multiple communication touch-points you will help guide your firm to find the equilibrium it needs during a time of change.

*This article originally appeared on CPAFMA.