Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Generations or Generalisations?



I'd like to think I know something about so-called Millennials. I have four of them at home. I'd like to think I know something about Baby Boomers. Many of my clients are boomers. As for me, I like to think of myself as a Gen X trapped in a baby boomer body but that's for another time.

We constantly hear stories about Millennials as flight risks. I do a lot of work with graduate groups and they visibly bristle when someone tries to label them. They didn't know each other until they came to their employer organisation. They were hired as unique, bright, educated and enthusiastic individuals. To lump them in together is to sell them short.

At times there’s too much naming, blaming and shaming of Millennials for my liking (and mostly from Boomers). A piece with my thoughts on the Millennial Generation featured here in the Sydney Morning Herald. Yes it's true. Many of them are quite confident. They want flexibility, respect, autonomy and meaning in their work. So I ask, how different is that from what anyone else wants at work? 

Dan Pink in his book Drive explodes the myths of the carrot and stick. He provides countless examples of situations in which employers throw money at employees who leave anyway. The carrot and the stick may have worked in the olden days when people were paid to do structured and sequential tasks. But most people in workplaces these days do heuristic (innovative, non-sequential) tasks and the joy lies in the freedom and mastery, not the bonus. If anything, some of the most corrupt book-cooking behaviour we can see in workplaces comes from the compulsion to manipulate results in order to qualify for the aforementioned 
bonuses.

So this is where I return again to the stereotype of the generations. Willem Pruys, the former HR GM of Bunnings talks about the success they've had employing older experienced staff and valuing them, respecting them, giving them flexibility and trying to cater to the needs of the individual. Isn't that the dream job of the Millennial too until they decide they want to travel to Vietnam to teach English for a while. As long as we juggle their absence with the roster so that the grey nomads can do a longish haul in the campervan to Coober Pedy and back, we should have enough staff to get the work done.

Let's not focus on what separates the generations. Let's provide all of our employees with what Dan Pink calls the necessary three motivators: autonomy, meaning in the job and organisational purpose. I've seen the vibe in the funky Apple store in Soho and I've seen it at Bunnings in the carpentry section. Let's love and liberate, not label our people and see them flourish alongside each other for as long as each of them decides to stay.