Workin' it Out Podcast

Managing Multiple Generations at Work

December 10, 2021 Vanessa J. Weaver, PhD Season 2 Episode 4
Workin' it Out Podcast
Managing Multiple Generations at Work
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Acuity Brands and a multigenerational workplace expert, sits down with Dr. Vanessa Weaver to discuss the generational differences that exist in the workplace and how to navigate them. She explains how values differ by generation and how these differences impact communication between generations. 

In this Episode

·      The differences between Traditionalists/Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y/Millennials and Generation Z in the workplace

·      The values and norms each generation holds and how they show up at work

·      Generational differences among working women and how they influence communication with colleagues and supervisors

·      How social issues such as racial and gender equity play out in the workplace and how each generation views these issues

·      What workplaces can do to help employees from different generations work together and get the most out of their careers


·      Candace Steele Flippin

·      Dr. Vanessa Weaver

·      Alignment Strategies

·      Get Your Career in Shape: A Five-Step Guide to Achieve the Success You Need, Want, and Deserve 

·      Cheddar Wellness

Follow Us on Social Media

Workin’ It Out

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook 

·      Instagram

·      Twitter

Alignment Strategies

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook

·      Twitter

Diversity and Inclusion Television

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook 

Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Acuity Brands and a multigenerational workplace expert, sits down with Dr. Vanessa Weaver to discuss the generational differences that exist in the workplace and how to navigate them. She explains how values differ by generation and how these differences impact communication between generations. 

Dr. Vanessa Weaver: Welcome, I'm Dr. Vanessa Weaver. On this episode of "Workin' It Out," we're talking about that hot diversity topic, multigenerational workplace. And I am so fortunate to be joined by Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, and she is a renowned expert in this area. In fact, she's printing her third book on not only multigenerational topics, but also topics impacting women and how we communicate, and Dr. Steele Flippin is an expert communicator. In 2016, she was a research fellow at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University. I think that's in Cleveland, if I recall correctly. That's an incredible school. 

And she's an accomplished communications executive, and she's widely known, not only for her communication expertise, but for how she leverages communications to drive transformational leadership. And that is not an easy thing, let me tell you. And currently Candace, or Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, let me be respectful, is a Senior Vice President, Chief Communications Officer at Acuity Brands. And Acuity Brands, as Candace was telling me, is a leading industrial technology company and they're based in the beautiful Atlanta, Georgia. So Dr. Candace Steele Flippin welcome to our show today.

Dr. Candace Steele Flippin: Thank you so much, and thank you for having me, Dr. Weaver.

Weaver: Well thank you and thank you for all the work that you're doing in this multigenerational area. As you know, I have a consulting firm, Alignment Strategies, and we do a lot of work trying to help teams be high-performing teams, and really leverage the diversity that the teams present. Whether that's gender diversity, or ethnic diversity, or sexual orientation. But one of the challenging areas that we're working with is in this whole multigenerational divide. So I would love for you to tell our listeners, what do we mean? Or what is this multigenerational workplace?

Steele Flippin: Yes, Dr. Weaver. One of the questions that I always receive is, "Are generational differences real?" And the answer I like to say, backed by research, is "Yes." Generation theory tells us that when and where you were born shaped what's important to you and your value system. And we bring those values into work. 

One of the ways I'd like to talk about it is, if you were born at a time, let's say during The Great Depression, where there was a scarcity of resources, you might come to value, during your formative years, not being wasteful. Similarly, if you were born after 1996, and you’re in Generation Z, where everything was technologically available to you, you might value things that were efficient, and speed, and transparency, because information abounds. And you bring those values right into the workplace. 

And so I've been studying generational values because I believe that if we take some time to appreciate what's important to a worker, they can bring their whole self to work, and you can have a much more productive experience. I also connect it to communications as well, because that's how we exchange information.

Weaver: Exactly. So what do you think creates the clash? Is it a clash of values?

Steele Flippin: I do, there's a perceived disconnect, in what people value, based on how you were brought into the workplace. So if you are a Traditionalist or a Baby Boomer, most likely when you started your career, you were in a, what's known as a command-and-control environment. So that means that you were kind of given a set of instructions, and you follow them with little question. And then when you came of age, you trained Gen X, as my generation, and we kind of accepted that. But then somewhere in the mid to late '80s, '90s, technology started to emerge. And then that became this really incredible way for people to reset how they thought about work. Particularly as you think about how you get and send information. 

And what I've found in my research is then Baby Boomers became frustrated. Because now you have this group of workers, Millennials, who grew up with social media and exchanging information and what that meant is they started asking questions, they were reared to have a voice by their mainly Gen X parents, and they took those values to work. And so maybe when I started my career, if I was given a set of instructions by most likely Baby Boomer, I took those instructions, and I went to figure things out. The Internet wasn't available to me, I had to look at things a little bit differently, and things took time. Whereas a Millennial, if they needed something, that was just a Google way. And so if they asked a question, they were wanting an answer, and that wasn't always the case. And so what I started to notice was this clash in values, and people not stepping back to understand where they came from, but they just want people to be compliant. And that wasn't effective for a Millennial worker, and they started to question a lot of things, and now here we are.

Weaver: What you said it's so interesting because, as we try to look at it and support teams to be more high-performing, and more engaged, and really leveraging all the differences that they bring, we find that oftentimes the Millennial worker feels really repressed. In terms of their creativity, in terms of their ability to innovate a work process, or to bring a new idea to play. And what we're finding in many organizations is that there's a high attrition rate of Millennials. And they assume that the Millennials are leaving because they're just jumping up to go to another job that's paying more, or they feel perceived they have more power, more influence, whatever. 

But when we do our exit surveys, we find that Millennials are leaving because they feel not valued, that they don't have a voice, that the ideas that they bring, because they have the comfort with technology, and it's kind of second nature for them, are often discounted. And that there are politics and rules that really just get in the way of them being able to contribute. And so many of them say, "You know what? I'm going to go somewhere else." And I'm so curious if, is that what you're finding in your research, and in your discussions that you're having?

Steele Flippin: Yeah, so one of the most interesting nuggets that I found early in my research was that this perception that Millennials were not as hardworking. And they weren't as tenacious, and really willing to put in the work. And what I found is that wasn't true, it was really more of a perception around time. You know, these workers grew up at a time when gaming was really prevalent. And if it took you one time or 10 times to achieve something, the minute you mastered it, you went onto the next level. So that set an expectation that mastery was task-based, as opposed to time-based. 

And Baby Boomers and many Gen Xs came up when you had to do something repeatedly to demonstrate mastery. And so that then takes an expectation that, you know, you can be very straightforward and deliberate of how you get things done and use technology to leverage it. And so all of these socializations that older workers have been accustomed to just don't resonate with younger workers.

Weaver: I wanted to tee up this notion of intersectionality, which speaks to, not only these differences based on age, and generation, but also how does race and gender affect that? I like to get your perspective on, what do you see as some of the similarities by race? And then what do you see as some of the differences?

Steele Flippin: Throughout the pandemic, I've been conducting pulse surveys of groups of around 300 individuals. And I was wondering how these issues around race, and social injustice, and COVID, and economy was impacting on how people felt about their careers. And what I found is that Millennials and Gen Z, by far almost 70%, now want to do more purpose-driven work. And nearly 50% are rethinking their long-term career goals because of all the things that happened last year, in 2020, around social injustice and race and the economy and COVID-19.

Weaver: Let me interrupt you just for one second. What do you mean by purpose-driven work? I just want to make sure that...

Steele Flippin: They want to know that the work that they're doing for their employer is somehow contributing to the greater good. It doesn't mean that if today you're a lawyer, tomorrow you want to be a community organizer. It just means that you want to know that there's a broader meaning to what you're doing to a larger society, as opposed to what you're doing as an individual, in your own circumstance.

Weaver: I see, and you know, that's so interesting because I was reading a study by Glassdoor, and in that study they showed that 70% of the Millennials expect their employer to react and respond to this racial reckoning that was going on in the world. And so when you talked about the greater good, or that their work should have meaning, there seemed to be a connection. They really did not want their employer to be silent.

Steele Flippin: Absolutely, and even in my studies early on last year, I found that almost 40% felt that their employers really were not doing enough. And so there's still work to be done.

Weaver: What would be an example for them of employers not doing enough? What would they be looking for?

Steele Flippin: They were silent during all the unrest that we saw in our country around issues of racism. Many organizations are doing a lot of great work around talking about diversity and equality, but they're not talking about the root cause in our country. Some of them reported that they didn't see any change and issues around equity in their organization, even though it was a global topic. And their managers were not having conversations with them about how it impacted them, and this is the general population, both white and you know, non-white employees. 

What I've seen in terms of intersectionality with race, since I've been looking at this last year, is a discontent with the social contract that an employer will have with its employee. And so in the past that transaction, that social contract, if you know, you come into this establishment, there's a role that you do, there's certain compensation benefits that go with them, there's a certain way that you can conduct yourself in that environment, was challenged, more so last year, with the intersection of how social issues play. 

And so if you think about this in terms of an organization, you know, they're focused on their mission, and what their obligations are to their stakeholders, whether those stakeholders be the general public, whether those stakeholders be the community or shareholders, aside from just their employees and their customers. So as a communicator, it was quite common for me to, if a social issue emerged, where the company doesn't comment on that, and that was acceptable for the most part. 

No longer so. Companies are now expected to participate in some relevant and meaningful and authentic way to the things that are happening in their communities, from societal perspective. And what I've seen is as it relates to issues around equity and race and belonging, there're certain populations that just people of color, who are now asking their employers to do more than just have diversity commitments, but really to go the next step further, to talk about inclusion, and belonging, and equity. And equity in terms of how I can show up as my whole self, as a person of color. Equity in terms of being intentional, and looking at the pay structures, and promotional opportunities, as it relates to that. 

And then I also think that there's a lot more transparency, that employees are having with one another about what's happening for these topics. Then employers realize, "You know, when I was coming up in my career, you didn't talk about your pay."

Weaver: Yeah.

Steele Flippin: So there would it be this black box around it, but young people feel, and in my research, they quite candidly say, "Why can't I ask someone what they're being paid? I want to make sure that this is fair and equitable." When someone is going to work for a company, they're looking for people of color, and they're asking people, "How do you treat black people here? How do you treat, you know, Latinos? And like, what's going on? People want to know." And so what I've noticed is that there is an expectation that younger workers have, in terms of being able to bring their whole self and not have their identity challenged when they walk into an employer. And that's very different than, you know, 15, 20 years ago.

Weaver: Exactly, and it's interesting, when you think about, in particular, the Millennials and the Gen Zs, people often talk about the negative aspects. You know, there's not a commitment to any employees, all about themselves. But as I look at the role that they play, they brought this whole notion of being your authentic self Although it wasn't original, it clearly gained momentum and had a broader expectation. And I think that's been a gift that they brought to the organization. Even though we recognize that there are generational differences between women, there are still some realities that are current in the workplace, and that is women are still underpaid relative to men in the workplace. 

And Multicultural women, and I'm defining that as women who are Black and Brown, are still underpaid versus Caucasian women in the workplace. And I don't know yet about this generational, if there's a difference in pay for women based on certain generations. But as you think about that, what is it that women really want in the various generations? I mean, so a woman that's a Baby Boomer, and she's really at the stage of considering retirement or being retired, versus one who's a Millennial or a Gen Z who's entering the workplace. What are the differences that you see? Because you talked earlier about the importance of values, and how our values are very much driven by the period of time that we are evolving as people and as individuals. So what is some of the generational differences that you see among women?

Steele Flippin: Well, interestingly, when it comes to the workplace, I started my research trying to answer a question about the value of work-life balance. You know, about five years ago, we started hearing a lot of conversations about how the younger generations want more work-life balance, and women needed and wanted more work-life balance. And so I conducted a series of interviews and focus groups and came up with six different topics and interviewed about a thousand men and women to understand where these professional values land. As it relates to getting their promotion, performance, work-life balance, changing their career, retirement. 

And what I learned is, regardless of generation group, what women really valued was performance. They really wanted to know that the work that they were putting in was meeting a certain standard to get them ready to go do something next. And that was very different for men, who mainly prioritize making more money. And so when I looked at that, as a communicator, I wanted to understand the intersectionality between communications and performance. 

And so I conducted a study of 1,400 women to try to understand which dimensions of interpersonal communications really mattered in terms of them showing up at work. And I looked at a set of almost a dozen of these different ways that we exchange information, both verbally and non-verbally, and what I learned by generation group of women is that Baby Boomer females, really want, and aspire to having really good quality, active listening techniques. So that's making sure that you're providing eye contact to someone, not maybe looking at your device when you're talking to them or looking way, paraphrasing, making sure that you're being present in that conversation with them. 

Gen X, my generation, we really focus on leading teams, collaboration, teamwork. So all the communications techniques that keep people informed, you know, recognition, providing feedback loops, bringing people together, consensus building. And for Millennials and Gen Z, they really prefer, and resonated with empathy, putting yourself into someone else's shoes. You know, making sure that you are open and receiving that information or that dialogue, and that exchange, whether or not you share that same view, or those values. 

And so what I've come to appreciate is that in order to really think about how to get the most out of women, development is important to them. And if you're looking at it from a generational context, honing your listening skills, your collaboration skills, and your ability to show and be empathetic are really important.

Weaver: Well, if you think of a common denominator among all three of those sectors or generations of women is obviously who you work for, your supervisor. So what have you found to be an effective way to help supervisors understand these generational differences around communication needs, around aspirational needs, around values, between generations of women? And how can they prepare themselves to be responsive to that?

Steele Flippin: The first thing I often challenge people to do is just be more self-aware. And that, you know, if you really want to get the best out of someone, you have to think about that person as an individual. And then if you leverage the research, at least for my research, perhaps underpinned by all the inequities that we've seen for women, making sure that that person knows that you're going to invest in their training and development so they can perform well. That's going to be really important. And then just being open for feedback loops, if, you know, unfortunately there are still a lot of organizations that are rooted in command and control, so those valuable feedback loops are missing. So being open to feedback, and being willing to course correct, to get the most out of someone is important.

Weaver: One aspect of our show that I really like to engage in is to have a conversation with you about your why, because I'm fascinated by you. The research that you're doing, your ability to relate it to the workplace is so practical, and helpful. So how did you get into this? Why you in this space and this time?

Steele Flippin: So you mentioned the word practical and it's for pragmatic reason. About 15 years ago, I started to see a shift in how consumers were interacting with my organization. I started to see frustration by leaders interacting with the people in their organization, and on their teams. And it was really about, how Baby Boomers were frustrated by Millennials and Millennials were frustrated by Baby Boomers, and I'm a Gen X in the middle. And so I started to look for information to kind of help me, and everything that I found was very negative. And so I wanted to participate in that dialogue. I often say that I am unapologetic about using my time and resources to make the world a better place. So people invested a lot in me, and so I view this body of research that I'm doing as part of my gift back to the workplace to make it better and provide more room for more women, and people of color to accelerate into these positions that are going to be open. Because older workers are starting to retire and there'll be room.

Weaver: Well, I know you're getting ready to give us another gift with your third book, and it's kind of geared towards women. And the title of that book is, how to "Get Your Career In Shape," and it's coming out in the fall of 2021, am I correct?

Steele Flippin: It's actually coming out in early 2022.

Weaver: In early 2022. I'm trying to rush it.

Steele Flippin: The pre-order will be available in the fall, so thank you for that.

Weaver: Well, you know, we talked a lot about the difference in values, and that's being predicated on when you were born, and kind of, societal kinds of issues, and realities that were going on. So as we look at the next three or four years, and I... because we're in this whole racial reckoning, and as you talked about it, Millennials are looking for more purpose-driven work, and even right now, post COVID, there's been... They're anticipating a 40% shift in people moving and changing jobs, so it's a lot going on right now. So what would be some advice you would provide or share with the different generations, around how to get more out of the investment they're making in their careers and in their workplaces?

Steele Flippin: The first thing I'd just say is this is a really great time to be embarking on this work, and everything's going to work out. You know, we've seen as a society, ebbs and flows in our economy many times, and this is just another one of those extraordinary times that we will get through. And as you are working your way through it, there are three things I like to just focus on practically. 

The first is to really move forward with a lot of intentionality, around purpose. And making sure that you understand, and that your teams and your employees understand the value of what your mission is, and the relevancy to it, to the greater good, to the broader society. That's a little bit of a shift from whenever we're just thinking about communicating our value to maybe shareholders or the community, but to really let people who work within your organization or on your teams, understand the value of what they are doing and what your organization or company is bringing to society as a greater good. 

The second really has to do with looking inwardly and taking a second to really think about mental health. You know, the world has been under this global stress period, for an extended period of time, and it has taken its toll, and has continued to take its toll. I'm so pleased that we're seeing a lot more positive conversations around wellness and mental health in particular. And so whether or not you currently have mental health benefits and resources, take some time to make sure you're taking those steps. Some of them are very practical, in just terms of giving people air to breathe and have conversations about how they're doing. Checking in with people to make sure how they're really doing. Some studies show that over 90% of younger workers are really struggling with the remote-work environment and the lack of socialization and social isolation. So mental health issues are going to be something you want to pay attention to.

Weaver: In fact, if I can interject just a little bit. I was doing some channel surfing, because I love to look at news, and I ran across this channel called Cheddar News. I don't know if you've heard of it. And they have a whole program on mental health, I mean, they call it "What It Is." And I thought, as a psychologist, how exciting that we can be... People could feel so much more comfortable talking about mental health and putting it out there. So we only have about a minute left, so I want to make sure I get to your third point.

Steele Flippin: And the third one is, you know, the extension of a phrase we've heard, we are all in this together. And what I really love is to see the increase in the number of employee resource groups, particularly around generation, and generational intersection. So, you know, multigenerational employee resource groups, when you can then have those dialogues, and sharing some information to bring us all together, so.

Weaver: Well I really appreciate your points. And as I think about that third point, the whole notion of knowledge transfer, which is so critical, with the kind of intersection we're into now, where there's a significant percentage of Baby Boomers who are eligible to retire, and new people are coming in. And so this whole intersection you talked about with the ERGs and sharing information, is just so critically important. I want to thank you so much Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, for being our guest today, talking not only about multigenerational issues in the workplace, but also the benefits of multigenerational groups in the workplace. 

So I'm Dr. Vanessa Weaver, your host for "Workin' it Out," and we wish you a safe, productive, and happy week.