Working with generations to create a cohesive environment
If you’re a mum who’s just returned to the workforce after several years off, you may find you are one of the “older” women in the job. You may also find you’re surrounded by a group of (gasp!) millennials. Or, you’ve got older kids who will soon be entering the workforce and the playing field has changed since you landed your first job. How do you navigate these new workplace situations? We sat down with millennial Expert and Coach Fyiona Yong to tell us how she became a “Generational Bridge Builder” and how she helps organisations and leaders bridge multi-generational gaps to create a more inclusive and engaged work environment for everyone.
What’s the most common problem you see in the workforce today?
Working with my clients, the most challenging aspect is the fast-paced environment we are currently in. This includes disruptive technology that changes the way we work. Employees need to be more resilient in order to positively adapt to changes and challenges.
Apart from that, we are facing an unprecedented situation; for the first time in modern history, our workforce consists of four different generations working side by side, and the differences among them are one of the greatest challenges managers have to face today. Employers and managers who are primarily Baby Boomers and Gen Xers generally have the perception that millennials are lazy, entitled, impatient and want to fast track their careers.
With 60% of executives retiring in the next five years and millennials making up majority of the workforce, companies need to focus on supporting both the emerging millennial leaders and current leaders of millennials to bridge generational gaps.
Managing perceptions, communication, technology and work-life-effectiveness is [key].
A lot of women who go back to work find themselves older than their bosses these days. What advice do you have for being a successful team member in a multi-generational team?
Millennials are moving up the career ladder and into leadership positions much faster than the previous generation. Deloitte’s global research with 2,400 respondents shows that 50% of the millennial respondents are already managing teams. Here are my top three tips:
- Treat your millennial boss like you would any other boss – with respect. Your boss got the position because he or she has the right competencies and displayed a successful track record. It’s important to get over the age-based stereotypes.
- Be open-minded. You may feel that your younger boss isn’t credible due to their perceived lack of experience. Again, there’s a reason your boss has achieved their rank in the first place. They may not have the same number of years of experience as you, but they possess other skills that makes them good at what they do. Focus on the positives of having a young boss like the energy, new ideas and fresh perspectives.
- They’re your boss, not your kid. For many Boomers, working for a younger boss will mean working for someone who is the same age as your son or daughter. Be mindful of how you deliver constructive feedback and avoid the typical dreadful phrase “When I was your age…”
As more older workers stay on the job longer, I believe employers need to provide more leadership training and coaching for younger leaders to work with older team members, as well as invest in unconscious bias training to create a win-win scenario.
Is it best to stay at a company for a few years or to move as soon as a better job opens up?
Long gone are the company lifers who spent their entire careers in a single position within a single company. Today, job stability is a thing of the past and we see that regularly changing jobs is not just tolerated, but often times encouraged. Moving from job to job also serves to speed up your career development and very likely career advancement. The broader your portfolio of work experience is, the more likely your compensation can increase. Also, job-hopping is a great way to expand our networks as we observe that majority of us find their next gig through networking.
Another benefit of job hopping is that it brings new ideas to the table and questions the status quo for continuous learning opportunities instead of hiding behind the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset.
But before you all start writing your resignation letters, it’s important to understand the other side of the coin. Sometimes job-hopping can be harmful to your career. If you decide to job-hop, make sure you have a good reason and can articulate it effectively.
You’ve written about establishing connections instead of networking. Tell us more about that.
Despite being an extrovert and enjoying being around people, I find it challenging to jump into conversations at networking events. Having grown up in Germany, I had to adjust to the Asian business etiquette of distributing business cards – sometimes without having a conversation with the other person prior to that. Often times, I felt being in a competition of collecting as many business cards as I can at an event.
As an entrepreneur, I need to expand my exposure through meeting new people. Luckily, I have found a more effective and also meaningful approach for myself: I make sure I re-connect with someone who I felt instant connection post event – either via LinkedIn or email– and then schedule a coffee date. I prefer deeper one-on-one conversations and focus on “making meaningful connections” rather than just networking.
A lot of mums have children who will be entering the workforce soon. What advice do you have for those young adults who are looking for a job?
Begin updating your skills before you start looking for a job. You can look into volunteering, taking online courses, or even explore internships. After spending all that time updating your resume, you need to put your resume and yourself out there. Also consider updating your LinkedIn profile and upload your resume on websites like jobsdb.com. But an awesome resume is not enough. In order to land a great interview, you may have to ask for informational interviews. Consider reaching out to companies you are interested in or HR departments. Inquire about jobs you saw posted online, express your interest and ask for an informational conversation.
Making a good personal connection will definitely help you to stand out from the crowd and hopefully move your resume to the top of the pile. When you land an interview, be ready to articulate how you differentiate yourself from other candidates.
The reality of reentering the workforce is that you might have to make compromises. Be open to part-time, project or contract work. Stay flexible because these short-term jobs could provide great experiences and new contacts that can help you land a job that is a perfect fit for you.
In terms of what to expect from the millennial workforce, what advice do you have for mums who have left the workforce and are now getting back in?
The way to find millennial talents and retain them is not through the offering of bean bag chairs, free food, beer pong table or a bar in the office. Actually, what millennials want from the workplace is not that different from any other generation. We all want to feel we belong, that our ideas and opinions are respected and that we are recognised by our colleagues and bosses for our contribution.
There are plenty of misconceptions about the millennial employee, but if you are able to overcome the biases and focus on leveraging their passion and purpose-driven approach, you will be surprised that what we hear from media is often times just generalisations. In fact, we are all just unique individuals.
Here are some tips to effectively manage millennials:
- Be transparent: Ensure that communication is regular and transparent to gain trust – with all employees not only the millennials.
- Offer growth opportunities: Two out of three millennials do not feel their strengths and skills are being used. Millennials don’t join companies based on the compensation. Make sure they have room to grow in your company.
- Career development conversation: Millennials have the label of being impatient and are perceived as wanting to fast track their career. [Talk to them regularly] to to understand their career aspirations and uncover their strengths as well as areas they can develop.
- Mentoring and coaching: Provide regular and transparent feedback so they know where they can improve. Feedback does not need to only come from the direct line manager but can also be provided through a mentor.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Here are some mantras I live by (in a deliberate sequence):
- Self-awareness is the first step to an abundant amount of options.
- Shut up your inner negative self-talk and show more kindness and compassion towards yourself and others.
- It’s not only knowing what to do, but doing what you know.
All photos courtesy of Fyiona Yong