Engaged WorkforceTalent Retention

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

In today’s landscape, management can no longer afford to supervise every employee in the same way. Advice on how to better service your organization.

By Steve Wolfe

Today’s workplace primarily comprises three generations: Baby boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Each age group has varying viewpoints that have been shaped by differing life events, market circumstances, and economic priorities. Generational gaps and differences need to be addressed by organizations and managers in order to retain top talent and ensure team collaboration.

Results of a new survey of 1,006 working Americans born between 1946 and 1995 about managers underscore the critical importance of understanding the relationship between managers and the generations of employees they supervise.

Strong managers are critical to employee achievement and success. They set the tone. They often drive employee motivation and productivity. Plus, they understand how to reduce internal conflict among generations. Employees listen to effective bosses. Remember the adage: Employees leave managers, not companies.

Findings from the survey conducted for Addison Group show that the more managers understand what boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials look for in terms of managerial style, rewards, and leadership opportunities, the more successful employees—and the organization—can be.

Millennials are set to be the next dominant generation: In just five years time, this group will compose 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study examined their inclinations about how they want to be managed and they are looking for leadership. Millennial employees value a manager’s role in their professional development more than other age groups by a 36 percent to 26 margin.

The survey suggests that Millennials are seeking a beneficial relationship with their manager, who could expedite their growth. This generation has high expectations: They seek management to deliver very specific and tangible feedback while also providing a timeline for when they want progress and achievements. If this approach occurs, managers find they gain an increased level of engagement.

More and more Millennials are also filling supervisory roles—and they’re eager to lead. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed display some level of interest or excitement in being a manager compared to 57 percent of other age groups. Yet, 76 percent of Millennials are hesitant to manage a colleague older than them, a higher percentage than the 70 percent of all workers who prefer to oversee those younger than themselves.

Indeed, Millennials also differ markedly in how they view their role as manager. In general, supervisors hope to be perceived as mentors (63 percent), teachers (35 percent), supervisors (34 percent), and coaches (34 percent). But Millennials, with their deep knowledge and interest
in communicating via social media, are twice as likely to hope to be perceived as a best friend to their direct report. For boomers and Gen Xers, those percentages are 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Four Effective Management Styles
The survey demonstrates that regardless of the generation divide of their subordinates, effective managers must coach generations differently. Too frequently, though, managers approach all employees with the same approach because “this is the way I do it.” Ideal bosses play four distinct roles well, which are:

1. Communicator. Employees view the person they report to as a key conduit of information about the organization, the work they do, and any changes afoot. They want a manager who gives honest feedback, with nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed considering that an important quality of an ideal manager. Employees seek frank answers to such questions as: How am I really doing? How do you perceive my career advancement? Why are we making this change? How will I be affected? Another top quality: Being perceived as trustworthy.
Workforce Insight

2. Advocate. Employees look to their supervisors to demonstrate their support in active and observable ways. Their ideal boss fosters growth and well-being; they’re free of authoritarian tendencies. And the best advocates take time for their employees.

3. Coach. The role of coach involves supporting employees as they assume bigger responsibilities and roles, and giving them the tools and counsel that will help them succeed. The ideal manager/coach:
• Is aware of the needs of each direct report.
• Desires to help each meet those requirements.
• Possesses the knowledge and experience to truly help.
• Has the ability to help secure the required skills and behaviors.
• Reinforces a direct report’s efforts and initiatives to succeed at fresh challenges and help address barrier points that threaten successful change.

4. Liaison. This role involves communicating and interacting with top management and HR professionals to create a work environment that encourages career development, collaboration, and nurturing of star performers. As a liaison, a manager also provides information from senior leaders to his or her direct reports and, just as critical, delivers information about direct reports to executives.

It’s important that managers today treat each of their direct reports differently and toss away the tired management approach of treating everyone the same way. If they don’t, they will learn quickly of some of today’s realities. One in particular: Millennials will leave at the drop of a hat—even if they don’t have another job lined up—if they perceive the fit with their manager isn’t right or if they’re not getting the right level of support to be successful.

Ideal managers grasp the distinctions, and in this increasingly global workplace, that knowledge serves to develop well-trained and collegial international teams.

Steve Wolfe is executive vice president of operations and administration at Addison Group.

Tags: Engaged Workforce, Talent Retention

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