As Singapore marches forward in an age of uncertainty and ever-changing developments, she faces a dilemma of retaining her history and forging a new future. Singaporeans are quick to evolve in their identities, with the new generation of workers and leaders swiftly adapting to a brave new world.
The changing nature of the workplace and expectations have been expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic as we move towards a “new normal” of an agile work environment. This shift in nature may exacerbate problems and tension that could arise between boomer leaders and millennials due to differences in mindset, values and communication styles. Based on a study , 3 out of 4 workers globally will be millennials by 2025, thus making it crucial for the gap between them to be bridged.
Boomer leaders are often caught at the crossroads of “I do not know what to do” or “How do I better manage the millennials I am working with”. Although they may often have good intentions, their way of response may no longer be appropriate in current times.
Boomers value individuality and material success. They also expect millennials to commit and work long hours, as well as respect a hierarchical structure. Millennials, on the other hand, value social activities, freedom, engagements, flexible work hours/less supervision and personal progression. Based on a recent study, they prioritise three things when choosing where and how they work: money, the opportunity for promotion and holidays/time off. Furthermore, 87 per cent of Singaporean millennials also foresee taking breaks longer than four weeks at a stretch, mostly for personal. These differences set the stage for a potentially challenging atmosphere. Millennials have different capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, which presents an opportunity for leaders to leverage and complement. Instead of clamping down on their ideas, leaders should try to embrace these suggestions and evaluate the values that they can contribute to the organisation.
In an age-diverse organisation, there are bound to be new workplace challenges that could lead to divisive sentiments, such as miscommunication amongst team members. Mitigating such circumstances would involve older colleagues sharing and applying their extensive experience alongside younger employees who can value-add with new skills, techniques, ideas and fresh perspectives. One stark difference in style would be millennials’ preference for social media or conversing in a casual manner, as opposed to boomers’ favoured approach of business meetings or face-to-face conversations. Such differences could result in the latter feeling that they are not afforded the appropriate levels of respect.
Being aware of the differences and the consequence of them, either positive or negative, can create a compelling case for change. It takes two hands to clap and if we continue to turn a blind eye to these differences, negative sentiments may manifest and trust levels would fall, resulting in sub-optimal performance.
As a millennial, it is important to accept and embrace the right attitude and beliefs. An individual should exercise humility and understand that leaders do not need to have all the answers. Having a positive attitude towards learning is important for both boomer leaders and followers as we can learn from one another. Boomers can learn from the digital proficiency of millennials while millennials can learn from the wealth of knowledge and experience of boomers. This would enable an environment of learning and agility, providing a competitive edge for organisations seeking to thrive in the future.
This brings me to the last point – both parties need to adapt to one another. There is simply no one-size-fits-all approach. Individuals need to learn to connect with one another beyond work, including what motivates them. This is where a healthy mentor-mentee relationship can exist, where coaching (and reverse coaching) and two-way feedback exists for the purpose of leader and staff development, and not solely for better work performance.
In conclusion, there is no denying that our generations are divided in many aspects such as values, communication, competencies, et cetera. But with the aware, accept and adapt framework put in place, an effective workplace environment could possibly be created for both of them. Intergenerational clashes are not a new phenomenon as generations come and go. With each new phase of development, there would be differing views and opinions. This does not necessarily translate to increased difficulties for the company, nor does it represent a time of gloom and doom. If harnessed well, these intergenerational differences can create the impetus for companies to grow and be successful. In a world where millennials are increasingly finding a voice in society and the workplace, we must embrace these changes and work together towards creating a future where boomers and millennials find a space to thrive as one.
A version of this article was originally published by aAdvantage Consulting on its corporate website.
About the Author
Danial Goh | Analyst | aAdvantage Consulting
In his role at aAdvantage Consulting, Danial Goh has worked closely with various clients in the areas of Research and Insights and Culture Transformation.
Vincent Ho | Director | aAdvantage Consulting
Vincent Ho has 25 years of business advisory and coaching experience, and focuses on organisation transformation, customer experience, leadership team and culture development, senior leadership team coaching and change management. His motivations are driven by his core values of respect, agility and collaboration.