Ever since the arrival of Generation X (Gen X), there’s been a wealth of analysis on what each new generation of employees wants. The information is there for us to use, the strategies are simple, and we all nod our heads sagely whenever we hear that Gen X want authenticity while millennials want flexibility.
But for all this knowledge, there’s a huge gap between what we as leaders know and what we do.
Millennials Want Flexible Working
Let’s start with the wave of employees businesses are most focused on right now – the millennial generation. Born in the 1980s, they’ve been raised on the hype of freedom and flexibility, the idea espoused by both left-wing social liberals and right-wing economic liberals that you can and should create the lifestyle you want.
Making this a reality means flexible working, and many companies are trying, or claiming, to provide this. But the reality doesn’t live up to the hype. Recent research by EY found that one in six millennials had suffered negative consequences from using flexible working, facing negative impacts on their careers, while 47% said that their hours had increased in the past five years, a change that makes it harder to work in a flexible, balanced way.
The Smartphone Generation Want Personalization
Attention is starting to turn toward the upcoming Generation Z, sometimes referred to as the iGeneration. Brought up in a world of smartphones, internet access and social media marketing, this generation wants and expects things to be personalized for them, as shown in recent research by Schneider Associates and The Pollack PR Marketing Group. Joan Schneider has provided insightful if unsurprising analysis into how marketers can make use of this, and as I’ve discussed in my book Nothing Short of a Necessity, marketers are often the first to learn these lessons, and other areas of business need to learn from their insight.
When looking at the iGeneration as employees, this means that we cannot take them and try to fit them into existing approaches to work, or in some cases even job roles. If we are to retain employees of this generation and get the most out of them, we need to adapt around their skills and personalities. It’s flexible working taken even further, and having failed to live up to the flexibility challenge, we’ll find this one even harder.
Generation X Want the Genuine
This disconnect between what we provide and what the up-coming generations want isn’t down to lack of effort. After all, thousands of hours have been spent analyzing and discussing millennials and implementing strategies built around them.
So what’s going wrong?
To understand that it helps if we take a step back and look at Generation X. One of the most often repeated truths about Gen X is that they want leaders to be genuine. It’s such a common insight that it’s now talked about as an across-the-board necessity, and yet it’s one we often don’t live up to. Think about the last time you went on a communication and persuasion course, or prepared for a big presentation. Was it really all about being open and genuine, or were there things you were exaggerating and trying to hide?
We avoid being truly genuine because that means taking the risk of opening up and, in doing so, exposing ourselves to risk. It’s the same reason we don’t take flexible working far enough or genuinely adapt around the needs of employees – because it’s risky, and we fear risk.
But if we aren’t willing to take those risks, to be open, adaptable and willing to build business around our individual employees, then we’re never going to provide the leadership future generations demand.