Intergenerational Success in Work

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Vanessa Gavan By Vanessa Gavan

With workplaces employing for the first time four generations of people, there is often an obsession to highlight the vast differences, conflicts, and challenges working together brings to an organization.
Yet with job vacancies remaining high and productivity low – and the desire for younger workers to chase more than a nice job title and decent salary– we have a burning platform to solve. 
The ABS figures show total job vacancies were 390,400 in August 2023, a decrease of 8.9 percent from three months prior.
However, it remains true that it takes longer to fill each vacancy than say five or six years ago. It now takes an average of 82 days to fill in a vacant position.
How will businesses attract and retain a digitally savvy and agile workforce driven by vastly different motivations than their parents or grandparents? These four generations – Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials), and Gen Z – all have very different needs, aspirations, and skills. It also means new rules of work to help foster intergenerational leadership.
Here are three ways to make working together more progressive– change your mindset, skill set, and tool set. 

Change your mind(set): Embrace the differences 

We work with leaders across all major public and private sectors from education to financial services, mining, healthcare, and tech – who are actively redefining the rules of leading and managing a complex workforce while amplifying success across all generations. As seasoned leaders across all industries invest in the next wave of talent coming into their organizations, they can often fall into the trap of stereotyping today’s workforce entrants by perpetuating common misconceptions.
Therefore, overlooking their multitude of talents, skills, and aspirations and also the fact that they have demonstrated remarkable adaptability and technological proficiency. 
Now is the time to ‘define’ a new narrative based on shifting the misconceptions and limitations workforces have placed on younger generations.
The biggest risk is we won’t have the right composition of leaders leading larger institutions, or staying the distance if we don’t get this right, given research shows that employee numbers will soon fall dramatically, as the older generations retire.
We need to encourage a completely new mindset that embraces the younger generations – noting they have dramatically different motivations than prior workers. 
Leaders need to envision the social contract between generations and reimagine the structure of organizations to incorporate a wide range of goals – such as a more balanced lifestyle and mental and physical well-being, having a clear identity, and unlocking purpose in their work.
Many Gen Zs and Gen Ys want to work for entities that align with their values and purpose and not just for the salary.
Done right, this attracts, advances, and retains the best and most diverse talent. It is also good for business. 
This will bring success on all fronts and really be the new succession planning.

Change your skill set: Succession planning starts today

Skills shortages are costing the Australian economy $39 billion per year in lost productivity, with over $150 billion per year by 2030.
In the short term, the Australian government’s ‘Skills Needs Forecast’ predicts there will be an additional one million unfilled roles in Australia during the next one to three years, impacting industries that are already suffering skills shortages.
The Boomers (those aged between 57 and 75 years of age) are retiring imminently and that alone marks a cliff fall when it comes to workforce participation.
The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to double in 10 years, as Gen X (born 1965-1980) also begin exiting their C suite and leadership roles.
This means succession plans and operating models will be impacted across all sectors of the economy for many years ahead.
As a result, businesses will need to cater to a vast array of employee needs to drive progress both financially and culturally – that includes hiring those who know how to lead, drive innovation, and hone the next generation’s skills in areas like embracing diversity and problem-solving skills.

Change your toolset: Tech and people will change everything 

Technology and digital acceleration are changing the nature of jobs.
While AI and automation will replace certain job functions, there is also a pressing need for increased cognitive skills demanding real-world problem-solving and interpersonal skills.
Developing a digital mindset will be critical across all levels of leadership.
In addition, ongoing advancements in technology and digitization will require a new mindset to both understand and adopt the technology and then apply the critical thinking needed to problem-solve efficiently.
This ‘digital mindset” shift will be required across all generations and will require a different approach to leadership. 
Recent figures reveal only 42 percent of Australian workers have a mentor which is a pathway to becoming interconnected and bridging gaps in the generations at work.
Leaders need to ensure that they attract and develop younger staff by fostering mentoring both ways within the organization.
This facilitates knowledge exchange and cultivates a deeper understanding of perspectives and ways of thinking across generations. 
Shaping the next generation of leadership fuelled by purpose and impact is vital.
This will lead to sound commercial outcomes and business performance (the ‘be good’) and cover the ‘do good’ or societal impacts needed to satisfy and drive our future leaders.
Businesses can embrace this to ensure the next generation of leaders are there when we need them. It is on all our shoulders to work collaboratively across the generations on all these three attributes: mindset, skill set, and toolset.
That is the future of work.

About the author: Vanessa Gavan, Founder and Joint Managing Director at Maximus. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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