In uncertain times, it is essential to make the most of opportunities and resources.  The world is changing for young and old but it is the youth of today who experience less certainty and potentially less opportunity.  Their future is, on paper at least, economically less strong than that of their parent’s generation.  Organisations recognise the need to keep ahead of the curve, to remain competitive and seize the opportunities inherent in these times of social and economic change.  Into this mix comes the younger generation of ‘go-getting ambitious’ people.  How are organisations to make the most of the attitudes, approaches and capabilities of this new generation?

In the UK, the Times Top 100 employers plan to increase their graduate recruitment by a further 4.3% in 2017, the fifth consecutive year that graduate vacancies have grown. In addition, with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017, organisations across the country are recruiting, training and developing young people. This provides exciting opportunities to grow and develop talent and to gain from the different perspective and ‘generational lens’ of the Millennials and Generation Z. But the introduction of more of the Millennial generation into the workforce brings into focus the potential disconnect of the new generation with the old. In this article, we explore the upsides and downsides of a generationally diverse workforce. How can organisations harness the benefit of this diversity and build multi-generational teams who are working in the same direction?

“This provides exciting opportunities to grow and develop talent and to gain from the different perspective and ‘generational lens’ of the millennials and Generation Z.”

Generational differences have always existed and it is easy for people to see the next generation or the one after, as different, if not alien to their views, values and beliefs.  People were scandalised by the racy flappers of the 1920’s or the long-haired hippies in the 1970’s. Yet many of these same people have evolved into the movers and shakers of their generation.  In our consultancy practice we regular meet with managers who see the new generations as completely different and they are not sure how to motivate, encourage or reward them. Yet diversity in teams can add to a healthy mix of ideas and perspectives. By appreciating and building on the differences, leaders can harness the power of the inter-generational team.

Psychologically, we tend to best identify with those who are similar to ourselves as it is easy to identify and relate to others who are like us.  Yet we often fail to understand those who are ‘different’.  It is one thing to agree with diversity on a rational basis but it is something quite different to make this work in practice.  We need to be ‘comfortably uncomfortable’, to accept that people vary in their motivations, values and style but ultimately we can still have a common way of working.  Often it is the business leaders who put up the barriers rather than the Millennials themselves.  The new recruits may have different ideas and motivators but they still want to contribute, to add value and to be successful.  So how can the leaders of today understand the values, focus and needs of the millennium generation without resorting to stereotypes and assumptions?


What makes Millennials different?

Much has been written about what makes the Millennial generation different.  We are informed that they seek purpose and want to make a difference to the world of work.  A recent international survey (1) indicates that Millennials do not necessarily trust the promises in their respective countries but they see business as a platform for change.  Millennials seek purpose and want to see organisations behave responsibly; to be able to see the impact on a social and environmental level.  They are more loyal to organisations when they can see that impact.  Millennials prefer a flexible environment with opportunities to develop.  They want to base the psychological contract on trust and to have plain speaking communication along with energy and passion from their leaders.  They seek out opportunities for creative thinking.

This socially responsible attitude with a value on hard work coupled with reward provides organisations with significant opportunities to grow and develop the business through the Millennials but, it should also be recognised that other generations will respond to this approach too. It is not only younger people who want to make a difference or see the impact of their hard work.  Change orientation is not exclusively the prerogative of the young. Millennials see the value in growing talent in others and seek to mentor and support Generation Z. But equally, mentoring, coaching and development add significant value across the organisation when implemented well and other generations are keen to contribute. Undoubtedly there is a need for business leaders to respond to the needs and drivers of the Millennials but also be aware of the motivators for the workforce as a whole.

“We need to be ‘comfortably uncomfortable’, to accept that people vary in their motivations, values and style but ultimately we can still have a common way of working.”

Embrace diversity: getting a fresh perspective

Diversity, of people and of ideas enables organisations to explore new approaches and solutions. It is a foundation for innovation. By encouraging diversity across the organisation, businesses are able to seek out new opportunities and be responsive to changing demands in the business environment. Millennials can provide a different perspective on what is current, new and possible and can challenge inherent organisational assumptions.

It is in the self-interest of the leaders to harness this different perspective and to channel ideas into a meaningful dialogue within the team. Of course, not every manager will feel predisposed to do this. As one manager said recently, “These graduates know it all.  I am the voice of experience!”  It is not that they know it all but we can all learn from different viewpoints and ideas.  So, bring out the ideas of the older generations as well as the Millennials. Good ideas often come from unexpected sources. Age does not matter, it is capability, talent and solutions that count.

Within each generation we find significant differences and the Millennial generation, is no different.  It is not a homogenous group.  There is underlying diversity, we seek to understand them as a group but we need to recognise that the drivers and motivators are different for different people whatever their age.  Indeed, with recent age discrimination legislation and with no fixed retirement age, organisations have the opportunity to tap into talented people of any generation.  This highlights the value of good talent identification and development.  Getting the right people in the right roles and building effective teams will add more to the organisation than worrying about ‘being on trend’ with the next generation.


Develop a ‘Generational Framework’

So, look at how to ensure the balance between appreciating the needs and styles of the Millennials whilst encouraging broader diversity and inclusion.  Be open and flexible, use technology but in conjunction with good solid leadership coupled with effective HR practice.  Attracting a range of applicants and recruit on the basis of talent and potential.  Grow talent from all generations in the organisation and provide opportunities to learn, grow and develop.

Listening to our clients’ experiences, the top three tips for a generational framework are:

1. Engage with people of all ages across the workforce – use technology, social media and a variety of communication channels to energise people and gain involvement and commitment.  The OE Cam digital research shows that older people may take longer to ‘get to grips’ with the technologies but they will get there.  The use of a variety of communication channels will open up possibilities.  But do not forget the obvious communication options; the water cooler and coffee room discussions are often very fruitful for idea generation and commitment to action.

2. Encourage learning and development of all generations within the workforce – the Millennials will be attracted by this but other generations will also value a learning culture.  The use of blended learning options and Apps to reinforce new behaviours can provide the impetuous that people need.  Technology is moving at a pace so make the most of it.

3. Build opportunities for growth and empowerment by facilitating cross-silo working groups and teamwork with a diverse range of people –  Diversity can bring out conflict but also be rich in terms of solutions.  Enable people to challenge their own and others’ thinking.  Build on this by considering how to make the most of office/workspace layouts, flexible work patterns and different ways of working.  By getting people to work together, to make mistakes but to learn quickly, leaders will foster a team spirit and encourage sharing of ideas and information. This is evident in many less traditional and non-hierarchical organisations but there is more opportunity for this to permeate across different sectors and businesses. The younger generations look for flexibility and respond well to it.

Each generation brings new thinking; it makes sense to embrace the change and to look to smarter ways to operate and gain that competitive edge.  Stereotyping people of any age does not add to business success; everyone has their strengths but also makes mistakes.  The focus is on learning from those mistakes and moving on.

Make space for the Millennial generation and build on their unique perspective to enhance the flexibility and capability of the organisation as a whole.  As Franklin D Roosevelt said “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for the future”.

“Diversity can bring out conflict but also be rich in terms of solutions.”


1. The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey