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Dear Baby Boomers: The Old Ways Of Working Won’t Fly Today

Work has changed, but some still cling to old ideas

30Jun

The baby boomer generation is defined as those born between 1943 and 1960, people who are between 57 and 74 today. The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is 58, which puts them squarely in this bracket, so although they are no longer the most dominant generation in the labor force in terms of numbers, they are probably the most dominant in terms of agenda and strategy setting.

However, these agenda’s often clash with the largest generation in the workforce: Millennials.

Where certain common business tactics and approaches would have been fine 15 years ago, today they are despised and do more damage than good. Where representing one thing 15 years ago would have been seen as progressive and positive, today it is seen as regressive and damaging.

So we take a look at some of the practices common for the workplace that many baby boomers would have known, but that simply do not fly today.

Ignorance is bliss

The last 20 years has seen the rise in new business operating models, but these changes are nothing compared to the impact that the internet has had in the same timeframe. Within 2 clicks anybody can speak to somebody on the other side of the world. If a person does something bad in Australia people in the US will know it within 5 minutes and within an hour the entirety of the world will know about it.

It means that poor labor practices, humanitarian crises, and environmental destruction by companies are no longer something that anybody can get away with. This has created a situation where businesses who would have previously been able to simply claim ignorance of practices two or three steps down the supply chain must today be aware of everything that happens in every part of their business, whether they directly control it or not.

However, there are still companies failing in this regard, especially electronics companies, with Samsung, Apple, and Sony all taking a hit because they didn’t check far enough down their supply chains in the last 2 years. This resulted in significant bad publicity, from potential slave labor from third parties to dangerous working conditions in mines that provide materials for their products.

15 years ago companies could claim ignorance, but today if a journalist or citizen can find wrong-doing there is absolutely no excuse for multi-billion dollar companies not being able to do the same. Despite this, there are still several stories that come out every year showing that it is still taking place.

Money Money Money

Businesses exist to provide value to the market, which roughly translates into profit. This is not a fact that passes millennials by, but having lived through the disaster of the global credit crash in the last 2000’s they are fully aware that concentrating on making money above all else is poor business practice today. It leads to poor decisions, short term-ism, and ultimately destruction.

It is why, according to Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey, half of all millennials would take a pay cut for a job that matched their values and 90% want to use their skills for good. Millennials can look back at the huge mistakes of previous generations in far more granular detail than their ancestors thanks to the internet, meaning that they don’t simply get anecdotal evidence in the form of stories, but they can see certifiable facts. Most millennials would rather work for the greater good and create a community in the workplace working towards a common goal, rather than having a bit more money in their pockets and can look back and can clearly see how when lust for more money and breaking from these values had disastrous consequences.

This development means that running a company for the sake of shareholders or senior management is no longer prudent, instead creating a company that does good and creates a community is what millennials would much rather work towards.

Factory Floor

The traditional way of looking at a job is a way of making money - you go somewhere, do your job, then go home. However, millennials want variety and they want to be challenged every day and to have learnt something new every time they leave the office. It means that the old ways of ‘use, wash, repeat’ tasks will only keep millennials engaged for a limited period. If you are simply giving them a task to do over-and-over, they will switch off and decrease productivity.

Instead companies need to offer challenges and the chance for millennials to do their own thing and grow organically. Schemes like Google’s ’20% time’ which allow employees to innovate beyond their stipulated roles, is a prime example of what millennials are looking for. Being stuck in increasingly narrowing lanes for the rest of their career is not something that interests them, they need to be engaged and challenged every day or they will leave for a company that does.

Nobody Cares About Your Gut

We’ve seen where gut feelings alone take us. Being emotive has led the UK to a potentially economically disastrous exit from the EU, it was a key reason for the global recession, and has been the cause of countless company failures. Today everything is data-driven, not because it is a cool new technology, but because it allows people to make better decisions.

Millennials want to be able to point to something tangible for decisions, whether that’s one they are making themselves or one made by somebody else that directly impacts them. Millennials have grown up around data, its no longer something for management alone to discuss behind closed doors, it needs to be open and the reasons behind decisions need to have lights shone on them.

This is something that many company leaders are unwilling to do. They see their position as almost infallible, they make the decisions and others should execute without question. This is a dynamic that no longer holds a huge amount of weight, millennials are accustomed to having all the information for making any decision, whether that’s the future of their career or which headphones to buy. Trying to keep the ‘trust me, I’m the boss’ dynamic no longer works and all it will do is demotivate a millennial workforce. 

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