Our workplaces have a significant number of people in their 20’s and 30’s and are led by managers in their late 30’s, 40’s to 50’s. Given the economic and social changes in the 1990’s, people born in that period, especially in our cities grew up in the digital era. Using technology and internet is their second nature. The way they interact among themselves and their seniors is very different from those who were born a decade before. They have grown up with smart phones and social media unlike their older counterparts who learnt all these well later in life. They are used to quick responses, snappy chats, informality in communication, the world of upvotes and downvotes, emojis, transparency and at the same time, a deep sense of privacy.
Build a Positive Confluence
These behaviours are in a realm which is very different from the older social norms of demonstrating respect while interacting with elders, taking initiatives when asked, operating within set boundaries, fearful consciousness about hierarchy and authority. Our workplace today has people who have grown up in two distinctive realms which are way apart. How can the people born in 1960’s and 70’s and in senior leadership roles align with the thoughts and actions of their direct reports who are in the crucial mid-level leadership roles having grown up in a different era? Similarly how can these mid-level managers lead the millennials who have a very different way of life? In a way, it’s the clash of three distinct ways of doing things. Can we convert clashing ways to a positive confluence?
The senior leaders have to adapt and drive adaptability throughout the organization. The unspoken and unwritten value for all progressive companies has to be adaptability, mutual respect, trust, openness to change and humility to learn. These do not need to be specified. These are the basics of workplace etiquette. Our colleges and families have to teach these to our children as a part of their growing up.
Diversity at work
Understanding one another and learning from one another are key to building harmony. Simple things such as using chats, videos, abbreviations, quick comments are a way of life for the young. Seniors have to learn and adapt their content, frequency and style while communicating to the others. Similarly, the traditional approach of face to face meetings, discussions and presentations are to be used for specific occasions and events. Everyone in the workplace have to learn using multiple methods and tools to get things done.
This is easier said than done unless there is mutual respect and flexibility. We have to discover the goodness in traditional methods and the value of grey hair; similarly we have to appreciate the value of new methods and learn how to deploy them to raise efficiency and speed. We have to value the energy and enthusiasm of our younger colleagues and leverage them appropriately. Leaders have to compose diverse teams to carry out various tasks and activities of a business so that there are enough opportunities to appreciate one another and the confluence starts delivering positive outcomes.
Respect is earned
There are cases where someone in his or her 20’s leads a team having many elder people in there. While the organization and senior leaders have to position the young leader well in the team and clearly vest the authority in the person, this does not ensure that everyone in the team accepts him or her as the boss.
Foundational principles of humanity have not changed. Our workplaces are not led by autocrats and hence, we cannot force others to respect their boss. Respect is earned by the person by his or her contribution to the success of others. Our younger generation is more comfortable than the older colleagues to recognize the boss for his or her competence and contribution. They do not worry much about the seniority, age, power and authority of the person. However, the older colleagues are habituated with reporting to someone who is senior by age and bestowed with power.
As more and more millennials are entering the workforce, it is likely that the boss is younger than many in the team. In such situations, the manager needs to be sensitive towards the mindset of the older colleagues while directing them and earn their respect.
We live in exciting times – we have to work overtime to build a confluence of ideas and positive energy, deploy diversity in work situations and demonstrate sensitivity towards the diverse norms at play.