Managing Across Generations: Trust Is The Equalizer

Yes, Millennials march to a different drummer. But similarities among all generations are the key drivers of high-performing workplaces
millennials working

Millennials have developed quite the reputation in their limited time in the workforce. They are labeled, unfairly, as job hoppers. As overly needy of attention. As uniquely difficult to manage.

But, according to a survey conducted by Great Place to Work (GPTW), these early-career employees have more in common with their older colleagues than one would think. The results suggest that managing across generations needn’t be overly challenging so long as a foundation of trust is in place.

“Whether a person is beginning their career at age 24 or heading out at age 64, employees of all ages want to trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with,” says Alison Grenier, head of culture and research at GPTW, an authority on building and sustaining high-trust, high-performing workplace cultures. “This definition of a great place to work transcends age, job type, geography and culture.”

Her team surveyed employees at Canadian organizations designated as a “Best Workplace in Canada.” They looked at differing and similar attitudes of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).

According to the survey:

  • 90 percent of employees of all ages expect — and receive — ethical behaviour from their senior leaders
  • 79 percent of employees are encouraged to balance their work and personal lives
  • 84 percent are willing to give extra to get the job done
  • The vast majority (86 percent of Gen X and Baby Boomers and 88 percent of Millennials) said they were employed at “a great place to work”

“It’s not surprising that among the Best Workplaces in Canada, those recognized for high levels of trust, we also see more inter-generational similarities than differences in workplace experience and motivation,” says Grenier.

Career Development

The survey revealed differences as well. Millennials are more likely to seek out fun and personal connection in the workplace but much less likely to build a long-term career at one employer. Although employees of all ages want to believe their work has a ‘higher purpose’, millennials need to see community action from both their organization and colleagues.

According to Canada’s Best Workplaces for Millennials, employers can do a better job at attracting and retaining Millennial workers by focusing on relationship building, career development, and community involvement. But they would be advised not to go overboard and ignore other, non-generational differences.

“Age groups are not homogeneous, and employers cannot overlook individual differences based on background, culture, or life experience,” says Grenier. “The best way to appeal to all age groups is by creating a great workplace for all employees based on trust, pride, and camaraderie.”

Great Place to Work joined forces with Smith School of Business, through its Centre for Business Venturing, to help Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises succeed as great workplaces through the GPTW certification program. The Centre’s clients can receive an assessment of its organizational culture, based on GPTW’s Trust Index survey, as well as an organizational Culture Brief, which benchmarks against the world’s best workplaces.

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