Creating Healthy Multigenerational Work Environments

Millennial stereotypes are everywhere, especially in the social media sphere.
Statements like “Millennials are not loyal“, “Millennials have an entitlement attitude”, “Millennials don’t know how to communicate”, and a few more, have created a generalised expression of how other generations experience their interaction and engagement with Generation Y (Also known as Millennials – The generation of people born during the 1980s and early 1990s.)
Whether or not these statements are correct, the reality remains that this emerging leadership generation is disrupting how business has been done for decades. Not only are Millennials currently the largest generation in the workplace, but they are also currently the most tech-savvy generation around. As much as the ‘dot-com boom’ has set the foundation for internet advancement, so the application of technology in almost every sphere of business has become the norm, largely due to the Millennial influence.
According to Daniel Burrus, author of ‘The Anticipatory Organization: Turn disruption and change into opportunity and advantage,’ there is no such thing as negative change. Change is only experienced as negative when one is unexpectedly faced with it. The reason for the “unexpectedness” is often due to being too busy with other things, and then we are caught off-guard by the reality of the changes taking place around us. This is true for generational engagement as well.
Engaging constructively with different generations within a business is a topic that has received much too little attention when it is, in fact, a core ingredient to increase staff retention rate, make better organisational decisions, and enlarge organisational impact towards a broader audience.
Currently, we find on average four, and in some cases five generations in the workplace. Experts, however, expect this to increase in the next 20+ years to six, and even seven generations working together. This creates the opportunity for more complex challenges to emerge in the context of employee engagement.
In a study done through South and East Africa, Generation Index discovered four essential cultural behaviours required to ensure a healthier multi-generational work environment. Each of these cultural values was deduced through research done with a substantial sample of people within the business-, education-, community-, religious-, and government sectors.
These four cultural elements are:
  • A culture of Personal Development
  • A culture of Change
  • A culture of Leadership Engagement
  • A culture of Community
When these elements are applied and nurtured interdependently, an overarching organisational culture is developed that leads to increased productivity, communication, creativity, and collaboration.
Organisations today have a tough task in making decisions regarding the way forward. Their many years of experience have taught them immeasurable amounts wisdom, and the question is not what to do with this experiential wisdom, but rather how to apply it in a way that is transferable between generations. Through the creation of a healthy multigenerational work environment, opportunities exist for this wisdom to be communicated between generations, in less of a “top-down” manner, but more like “a jazz combo playing ‘free flow’,  where the lead is transferred with anticipated ease in the production of the whole”.
The greatest asset of any organisation remains its people, and without intentionally accommodating a healthy multi-generational work environment, the transfer of wisdom and experience will be limited.
Adams is a futuristic thinker towards Organisational Development within the context of Generational Behaviour patterns. He is the founding director of the ‘Generational Engagement Index’ and is passionate about Africa and her people. Adriaan holds a Masters degree in Global Leadership; Intercultural Studies from the University of Gloucester, UK. He will participate in a panel discussion on Managing Millennials in the Workplace at Nation Builder’s In Good Company conference on 21 August 2018.