Normally, if you can summarise the outcome of a meeting by saying:
“So, we’re all the same. But we’re all different too.”
I wouldn’t say that it had been the most productive.
However, the opposite was true on Monday, when I attended the latest instalment of the ‘Zebra Project’, an initiative that challenges thinking around the future of work, hosted in the City by tech law firm Taylor Vinters. This time around, attendees took part in a campfire discussion on ‘Millenials in the Workplace: from stereotypes to strategy.’
While the media is obsessed by the supposedly incalculable differences between Generation Xers, Millenials, Gen Zs’, Centennials etc. this meeting served as a reminder that regardless of age, we’re all human beings with similar motivations, desires, and concerns in the workplace. But changing technology has made it possible to recognise the small, unique preferences and motivations that differ from worker to worker, and more importantly, to implement these while maintaining a profitable business.
Matthew Swash from JLL, Tom Owen from Fausto and Simon Dunn and Jes Less from Hoxby Collective led the discussion at points, but there was an excellent level of engagement and meaningful debate without antagonism. If I recall, the word ‘entitlement’ was only mentioned once!
Here are some contributions that stuck with me:
• “We’ve only started talking about mental health and mental wellbeing in the workplace comparatively recently, so people can think it’s just a ‘millenial’-led issue – in reality it’s something that benefits, and should be applied to, every employee in an organisation.”
• “We’re more connected than ever before, making flexible working not only possible, but oftentimes easier for businesses.” (this from Tom Owen, who until last year hadn’t met every person he employs at Fausto).
• “I sit at a desk with colleagues about twice a year – and I’m no Millenial!”
• “It’s often said that Millenials want everything yesterday, but from my experience what they value most is learning from experienced old hands to further their own capabilities, and it’s when this is cut off that problems occur.”
• “When people, of whatever age, don’t feel that they are making a valuable contribution to their employer, that’s when they are most likely to leave.”
• “Making workers feel valued is becoming easier in the connected world. Tailoring your expectations to an employee’s needs is possible in a way it probably wasn’t 30 years ago.”
What became clear as the discussion moved along was that grouping employees by when they were born, and offering different working experiences accordingly, is at best a lazy, and at worst a divisive solution. Rather, understanding that sweeping changes in technology are making flexible working practices available (to everyone), and embracing these developments instead of spurning them as ‘millenial’, ‘GenZ’, or any other label, is the way forward.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from the excellent minds on show at the Zebra Project – I look forward to the next one.