Generational divide: How to adapt to a changing office landscape

Cultural fit: Multi-generational workforces have their benefits, and their challenges   (HBO/Sky)
Cultural fit: Multi-generational workforces have their benefits, and their challenges (HBO/Sky)

Gen Z’ers (born between 1996 and 2012) are rapidly filling offices with digital fluency. They have a new word to get your head around every week. And the most senior and seasoned generation of workers, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), are still driving best practices.

With Gen X and Millennials tucked neatly in between, many businesses now have four generations of employees. Combining skills and perspectives from across each has created a new “best practice,” building deeper, richer, and well-rounded company cultures. But hiring and onboarding fresh faces - particularly from younger generations - in a hybrid work environment is presenting challenges.

Many Gen Z’ers have missed out on in-person learning. They’ve spent much or all of their university days learning online in a dorm room, lost years of social interactions, never attended face-to-face networking or even spent time in an office five days a week. The value of learning through osmosis, the way many of us did at the start of our careers, is a concept lost on many.

After years of disruption, it’s no surprise that the workforce is experiencing a huge cultural divide. So how do we gain the best from a multi-generational way of working in a hybrid world? Here are some thoughts.

Employers

  • Get it right from the start. The interview process is crucial not only for finding the right talent with the right skills, but to clearly communicate how your business operates. From the hours and location your new hire will be expected to work, to typical communication with clients, colleagues and others. It’s also a chance to gauge how your candidate responds and engages with expectations and whether you think they’ll be committed to meeting them.

  • Onboarding. If you relayed expectations during the interview stage, onboarding provides you with the chance to set them. Explain that deadlines are commitments, encourage client meetings to take place in-person as much as over a screen, and create buy-in by relating these expectations with your new hire’s responsibilities.

  • Mentorship and development. Good mentorship or coaching educates, empowers, and encourages. Pairing newer and more experienced professionals gives leadership opportunities to senior staff and helps junior staff find their own way of doing things in the safe confines of best practice and workplace principles.

  • External training. Sometimes hearing what works and what doesn’t is more impactful when it’s heard from the outside - whether it’s soft or hard skills, technical learning, managerial training or something else. Identify what you think your talent most needs and invest in their development and workplace contentment - and your retention at the same time.

  • Office time. Need I say more? Yes, hybrid working models have great benefits, but it’s only “hybrid” if your workforce actually goes to the office. Setting a precedent for your talent to be there a few times a week will mean they learn directly or through osmosis, build stronger, more productive relationships, and in all likelihood, have more opportunities organically arise.

Employees

  • A new chapter. If you’re new to the workforce, it’s worth reminding yourself that this is a new, potentially more demanding stage of life. You’ll be faced with different social expectations and professional demands, so open mindedness is key. Having goals is great, but some flexibility in how and when you achieve them, and what sacrifices you might need to take along the way, will take you far.

  • Ask questions. During the interview stage, ask the right questions to better understand the culture, the needs and objectives of the business, working patterns, what success looks like and more. More importantly, offer some insight into whether this will suit you or if you may not be the right fit.

  • Prioritise the office. Full remote working can create segmentation. It might amplify misunderstandings often caused by different viewpoints and communication styles. So prioritise face-to-face time to build knowledge, address potential conflict, and cultivate stronger relationships. Being in-person regularly is usually a great equaliser.

  • Educate yourself. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to teach you about the industry, market trends, or emerging technology - take the initiative and expand your knowledge yourself. This will develop your capabilities, idea and/or solution contributions, and strengthen your position in the team and with clients.

  • Basic communication goes a long way. It’s like they say: manners cost nothing. Thank your colleagues or peers when they give you a helping hand, send follow-up emails to clients and customers (and quick thank yous after a meeting go a long way) and present yourself with how you’d want to be remembered. Effort and enthusiasm means everything.

Good habits and mutual respect

That’s the key. Multi-generational workforces may be a novel idea for some of us, but everyone in the workplace has the capacity and capability to lead and inspire others, regardless of experience, perspective, or what year they happened to be born in.

It’s also worth noting that stereotypes can be reductive and inaccurate. For example, there’s a lot of research to suggest Gen Z prefer in-person communication over text or DMs, and technology proficiency amongst Baby Boomers rose significantly during the pandemic. Your opinion should only ever be based on the individual - not the messages we see about different generations in the media every day.