The Age Factor: sparking meaningful change

Charlotte Ling, Head of Change, Celesio UK

Whilst the 30% Club's primary focus is on diversity in terms of gender, our strapline is “growth through diversity”. We believe that businesses that genuinely embrace diversity in its widest sense are more likely to achieve better outcomes. For this latest blog we asked Charlotte Ling, Head of Change at Celesio UK to drill down into the age factor:

Barely a day goes by that you don’t see some humorous quip maligning the Millennial generation, who moan too much about being unable to afford mortgages because of their expensive breakfast tastes.

The gulf of empathy between Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964 and Generation X (born 1965-1979), versus Millennials (born 1980-1994), may make for a humorous byline, but the bleak reality for these up and coming business leaders is that their management struggle to understand them. This fear of the unknown is leading to a divisive hierarchy that isn’t driven by gender – it’s driven by age.

This article seeks to bridge the gap in generational understanding, and offers some practical pointers on how to reverse future years of damage in your millennial workforce.

Every generation is dependent on the understanding and willing of its predecessor to pave the way for its success.

UK corporates are generationally divided. With only 8 leaders in the FTSE100 under the age of 50 last year, Baby Boomers are dominating the board whilst Gen X are occupying senior levels of management, ready to rise. The disparity perceived by Gen X is gender inequality, and campaigns like the 30% Club are successfully raising that agenda upwards. Yet on the ground we can see that the gender pay gap is thankfully so much narrower for Millennials, it’s virtually a non-issue.

Gen X are often credited with being the founders of work/life balance; their working ethos (an honest day’s pay for a honest day’s work) was driven by seeing their workaholic parents tied into punishing schedules to succeed. Yet in workplaces dominated by Millennials, you frequently see the building buzzing outside the hours of 9-5, with exasperated Gen X managers trying to encourage them to go home.

These are just some examples of the “intergenerational grudges” between Gen X and Millennials, which, if left unchecked, could lead to major disruption in the UK corporate workforce. Gen X management are (in the main) responsible for nurturing up-and-coming Millennial talent in their organisations; this requires the understanding that each other’s motivations are different, that their respective problems are real, and their approach to each other requires fine-tuning to have the best effect.

Whilst Gen X may be caught thinking Millennials have it far better than them, in fact life for your standard Millennial is pretty miserable – they have the highest rates of suicide and depression of any generation alive, due in part to being trapped by mind-boggling levels of debt from higher education and increased rent.

Heartbreakingly, 41% of Millennials would end a relationship in order to achieve a significant promotion; they are also 50% more likely to relocate away from their support networks in the hunt for greater pay or opportunity.

In corporates, this translates to a significant portion of the workforce being trapped in low-paid jobs, and for those fortunate few who have managed to get out of debt and onto a corporate ladder, they’re unable to be promoted and succeed at the pace they expect. This is causing high levels of workplace depression, sickness, and eventually attrition, and all the beanbags and free lunches you can throw at them won’t buck the trend.

Successful corporate organisations are very similar to ant supercolonies, where the smallest unit of responsibility must be the individual. With each worker empowered, leaders have the ability to build vast neural networks that can be pointed towards achieving phenomenal strategic goals. When this power is divided, it rapidly descends to weakness and chaos. Gen X leaders urgently need to span the generational divide, and offer true stewardship to Millennials in their workplaces. But how?

Simon Sinek has explained why (no pun intended) Millennials feel the way they do in this 20-minute interview (alternatively here is the transcript). He blames a “bad hand” of Gen X parenting strategies, technological advances and the impatience they breed, and current corporate environment as the drivers for Millennial failure at work.

Whilst you can’t change the external factors, you can change what happens in your own teams from today. His suggestions, plus some others, are simple hands-on things you can do to spark a meaningful change for the Millennials in your organisations.

Digital Detox your in-person interactions
Unless you are presenting or dialing someone specifically, there is no need for anyone to have a mobile, laptop, or tablet out – that means not even having it out on the table face-down and awaiting a ping. Give your full attention, and encourage your team to do the same.Deep-lasting relationships that lead to trust, creativity and innovation are sparked through communicating with one another without interruption or distraction. Encourage that idle-small talk before everyone has sat down, ask people how they are and pay attention to the response.

Actively permit opportunities for Millennials to make an impact
It sounds grandiose, but it’s what Millennials crave, in some cases more so than a payrise. Whilst Millennials can vote with their feet, Dan Pink has famously pointed towards three requirements to motivate this new workforce: the provision of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Allow your Millennial workforce to explore beyond your Corporate Social Responsibility agenda: encourage team charity days rather than offsite meetings for your teams, hold group hackathons to generate new ideas, or allow them to take the time to spark up initiatives you are not currently taking. All of this may feel like an effort-drain on your resource, but it could mean the difference between them wanting to come to work or not.

Create an authentic discourse on mental health
A record-breaking 64.7m items dispensed by the NHS last year were anti-depressants, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue, and 1 in 5 of us has suicidal thoughts. This is not an ignorable minority. It may not feel corporately acceptable to “confess” to mental health issues, but Millennials need Gen X-ers to lead the way and speak about their feelings sensitively and bravely. This will lead to a virtuous cycle of greater awareness, understanding, and feeling of “permission” to share in the same way.

Lastly - have patience
Millennials need great mentors and coaches, to teach them the value of hard work over time, and to teach them what building an effective and trusting set of relationships looks like. Gen X have these tools readily available in their make-up, and that can lead to frustration at times. When you feel yourself resenting the cocky upstart in front of you who is complaining that they haven’t been promoted after 8 months – take a breath. They know no better. With your expert guidance and tutelage, you can forge the Millennials into a workforce who will keep your stocks rising well into your retirement days.