Millennials, Gen Z and Managing the Multigenerational Workplace
Lindsey Pollack took inspiration from the music world to describe a successful multigenerational workplace.
She says that she learned from DJs that, to get people onto a stale dance floor, remixes usually do the trick. The classic, or the original song, appeals to the older crowd. The remixed version of the classic is updated and appeals to the younger generations.
“And you don't say the classic is wrong or bad or outdated, but you add in modern elements to make it new and fresh,” she says.
“The Remix” became the basis and title for her most recent book on multigenerational workplaces. The idea is that, to be successful, managers have to adapt and update their leadership styles to keep millennial and Generation Z workers around.
The generational divide can create frustrations from managers on down. NOLN spoke with two millennial and Gen Z experts—author and speaker Lindsey Pollack and Coaching Millennials president Warren Wright—about what older workplace leaders should know about those younger workers.
It isn’t about changing a business’ workflow to accommodate younger workers. It’s about making simple adaptations that will benefit both the employee and employer.
Understanding Skill Sets
First, it’s important to understand the different experiences that younger generations had. Those lead to different expectations in the workplace.
“You cannot assume that a young person coming in has the same skill set that previous generations walked in the door with,” Pollack says.
One example is that fewer teens have part-time jobs, Pollack says. Some haven’t had any formal job in lieu of tightly scheduled extracurricular activities.
“If you're hiring a kid out of high school or college, you are more likely than not going to be the first boss they ever had,” she says.
That might create some issues that appear to be poor work ethic but could just come from different experiences. For example, Pollack says that an 18-year-old today likely never had a landline phone in the house.
If that young person avoids or ignores the landline phone at a shop, it might just be that they have no experience paying attention to that setup.
“That might be literally the first time he’s ever done it,” she says.
Space to Train
A manager who’s from Generation X or older might not be able to just look back at themselves at a younger age and tailor training strategies to that former self.
The expectations are different. Wright says that millennials and younger will be more accustomed to very formalized, step-by-step training that’s not always present. While a large corporation might have strictly guided, interactive video training courses, small businesses might have more low-tech, casual approaches.
Wright says that younger workers will need a little more than a learn-on-the-fly approach.
“I think the biggest mistake that managers make is underestimating the amount of training and development and hands-on guidance that these young people need,” he says.
Millennials and Gen Z workers might also be slower to dive into new things and learn from mistakes. Wright says that they want to be fully prepared before taking on new jobs, and that might mean a little extra oversight from managers.
“They’ll be more reluctant to do things and be more careful,” he says. “They hate to make mistakes so much that when they make them they tell you they’ve made them. And you have to kind of watch that.”
Pollack said that some of that extra oversight time can be gained in other aspects like computer programs and other tech devices in the shop.
“Now you probably won’t have to do as much training on the point-of-sale or software system you use,” she says. “But you might have to be more explicit in how you communicate.”
Show, Not Tell
Both experts say that being more explicit is key during training and beyond.
If a Gen Zer hasn’t worked with a landline phone before, Pollack says they will benefit more from seeing it done than hearing about how it’s done.
“I’m not going to make a script of what to say on the phone, but I want you to sit next to me and listen to me answer the phone 50 times,” she says.
If the job involves a lot of writing, show an employee examples of preferred writing style rather than offering general guidelines. That will give the worker a model to work from.
The “show, don’t tell” strategy is well used in the mechanical aspects of the job, but it will likely be useful in other areas as well.
But being clear and explicit isn’t just for the benefit of the employee. It’s also a way to make sure a manager gets his or her word across.
“I think the quantity and frequency of feedback needs to be there to motivate the second-wavers,” Wright says, referring to second-wave millennials, or Gen Z. “No. 2, I think it’s important for them there’s a purpose in what they're doing. They want to know that what they're doing is making a difference.”
Just as important as the message managers communicate is how they communicate it.
It can start at the application or job interview stage. Ask a younger worker how they prefer to receive business communications outside of work. A text message might simply be more effective than a phone call.
“One size does not fit all,” Pollack says. “If you really want people to get the information, making it available in different formats is a great way to reach employees of different generations and different personality types.”
She adds that if accommodating several different formats becomes an issue, modes of communication is still at the manager’s discretion. The idea is to acknowledge that younger people have different habits and try to meet them halfway.
At the end of the day, if operators are able to create an inviting environment for those younger workers, they will be eager to help reach shops’ goals.
“Here’s the good news about small businesses,” Wright says. “Young people are very attracted to mission, purpose and personal brand. If the leader of a small company is really excellent at what he or she does and really believes in what they do, service is king.”