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WEFF Executive event: Generational divide risks turning workplace into ‘dysfunctional Christmas dinner’- Dr. Eliza Filby

  • 17/04/2019
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WEFF Executive event: Generational divide risks turning workplace into ‘dysfunctional Christmas dinner’- Dr. Eliza Filby
Employers need to adapt to the challenges of having four different generations in the workforce concurrently or risk disputes and tensions among staff.

That was the conclusion of Dr Eliza Filby, academic and generations expert, who spoke at the latest Women’s Executive Finance Forum (WEFF) leadership event, looking specifically at the issue of millennials.

Filby noted that there are currently four different generations – baby boomers, generation X, millennials and generation Z – operating in the workplace, all with different ways of communicating, knowledge of technology and understandings of how the workplace should operate.

She added: “Actually some workplaces feel like a dysfunctional Christmas dinner.  There are intergenerational conversations, tensions, misunderstandings, miscommunications, that are an obstacle to productivity and a harmonious workplace.”

Is millennial a dirty word?

Filby noted that when she works with people that fall within generation Z – roughly defined as those born between the mid-90s and mid-00s – they are often emphatic in pointing out that they are not millennials.

This wasn’t just because millennial is seen as a pejorative term either, but because there are fundamental differences between these two generations.

“Whereas I say millennials are optimists, generation Z are realists. They’re realistic about their prospects, their careers, how the world will affect them – they have quite negative attitudes towards how politics for example will affect them. Partly because of the time at which they came of age.”

Filby pointed out that if businesses are to tap into the talent pool within generation Z, they need to change the way they communicate with them, moving away from corporate websites and onto YouTube.

She said: “Over a third of generation Z look on YouTube to find out about a company, not Google.  So all these shiny websites that companies have saying come and work for us, look at our diversity and inclusion record, look at our CSR, it’s lost.”

In addition, workers of this generation actively use social media to hold businesses to account, whether that’s for objectifying women, misrepresenting customers or bad service.

“They are using and harnessing social media and guess what, they do that in the workplace.”

What will young workers want?

Filby pointed out that there are a handful of things that these younger generations are likely to look for from their employers.

These include a multi-stage career, which will enable them to enjoy a variety of experiences, and agile working, allowing them real flexibility in both their working hours and environment.

As Filby explained: “They want that agility, that ability to move around, talk to different people and have a working environment that isn’t constrained by structures and procedures.  And that type of flexibility is something they are seeking.”

Younger staff are also more demanding about the training on offer. As these generations are more likely to have enjoyed higher education, they are also less likely to be satisfied with “substandard training in house”.

Filby explained: “What they want is a bespoke learning programme that develops them into the kind of worker, into the kind of leader, into the kind of person they want to be.”

Money’s too tight to mention

One audience member quizzed Filby on how millennials handle their finances, asking: “You spoke a lot about millennials and their approach to life. What about the approach to money in terms of the financial side of thing?”

Filby described millennials as a “financially squeezed generation”, noting that where boomers were encouraged to invest in assets and save in pensions, young people now prioritise short-term experiences.

She added that while millennials have been “infantilised by their baby boomer parents” which has stopped them making big financial decisions, this is changing as they become parents, and that as they get older they are more likely to favour traditional options.

“They’ll want face-to-face human interaction, fundamental education about what all this means and they won’t want to go completely online. They won’t want to go to an internet start-up. That’s great for small savings but I’m buying a house, I’m thinking about my pension, I’m thinking about my son’s or daughter’s tuition fees.”

Healthy on the inside

Another attendee asked Filby to talk about the importance of mental health to younger staff members, and why it has become such a big priority for these generations.

Filby noted that one in four undergraduates suffers from some form of mental health issue, and there is now an expectation that they will be able to talk openly about these issues, even in the job interview let alone after actually getting the role.

“There is the culture of openness and a desire to see mental health being spoken about and dealt with in a way that physical ailments are,” she added.


What WEFF attendees learnt

  • Millennials are optimists and Generation Z – those born between the mid-90s and mid oos – are realists. They communicate differently too. Use You Tube to communicate company ethos or recruit, not your website.

  • Generation Z is preparing for a multi-stage career. Continuous professional and personal development and high quality training will retain younger employees.

  • Pay rises are less of a carrot to this generation if the short term employment experiences are not there.

  • Millennials are growing up and beginning to value face-to-face experiences, including financial advice

  • With one in four undergraduates suffering with a mental health issue be ready for an openness from employees and as a company be ready to help find solutions

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