I recently had the privilege of witnessing the CAANZ ‘Strategies for Success – Generational Perspectives’ panel discussion, facilitated by the brilliant Derek Parkin of Notre Dame University, with Lenox Hill’s own MD, Jane Muirsmith, as a panellist. I was almost as impressed with Derek’s ability to memorise the esteemed panel’s list of achievements, as I was with the participants themselves.
The discussion’s premise was to take two business leaders from generations X, Y and Baby Boomers – and fire them several (potentially controversial) questions to gain insights from their staggering collective experience.
Here’s my most compelling takeaways from the discussion – (aside from feeling professionally inept at failing to head up my own multinational corporation by 21 years old)
The general consensus was that there’s a disconnect between Gen Y’s increasing reliance on social media and the drastic decline in its usage by older generations. Gen Y believes social media can be leveraged to an organisation’s advantage, with your employees potentially becoming your biggest follower base and brand advocates. Gen X voiced concerns around deteriorating productivity in workplaces where social media usage is widely accepted. Personally, it comes down to top-down trust and individual work ethic – if you can’t trust your team to work autonomously, then perhaps you’re not surrounding yourself with the right one.
Evolving workplaces and emergence of technology
Interestingly, as ‘hot-desking’ and agile workplaces continue to trend amongst the big corporates, it was the Baby Boomers who seemed to be the biggest supporters for this cultural shake up. However, over-reliance on email / other digital communication methods – even within an open plan space – has raised the issue of technology still driving a wedge between workplace teams. The use of online communication led to reduced social interactions, misinterpretation (particularly across generations) and a sense of isolation within the busiest of work environments. The highly topical issue of mental health was raised, with a fair bit of finger-pointing at technology use and resulting communication breakdowns as the culprit.
A comment from Gen X about the psychological impact of technology on stress levels stuck with me – “I’d trade a Friday today for a Friday 10 years ago anytime.” It was agreed that while tech has revolutionised corporate life exponentially, recognition of its pitfalls is becoming as important as leveraging its benefits.
Gen Y attributes their inexperience to an ingrained lack of confidence when engaging with older generations (formally or informally). While most Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers have the reassurance of hindsight and experience – it’s important to also recognise their role in simply being approachable and encouraging the younger generation to feel ‘safe to fail.’
On reflection, the panel didn’t generate quite as much controversy as I’d anticipated. Perhaps this means there really isn’t as much of a generational divide as we initially thought? More likely – it’s the commercial acuity of the panel members in recognising the immense value in each generation’s contribution to the workforce.