Gabrielle Coleman

Hiring a Snowflake? Multigenerational businesses in the post-covid workplace


3 min read

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Many family run businesses become multi-generational as new faces take on burgeoning positions. Indeed, today, five generations are said to be at work in the labour market, and there are stereotypes associated with each. From the ‘stoic’ Silent Generation to the ‘snowflake’ Millennials, we have become accustomed to designating large swathes of people to personality types based on nothing but their birth year (with differing classifications of each ‘generation’ throughout the globe).

The internet is awash with cure-all articles akin to ‘Best communication strategies for each generation’ or ‘how to handle Millennials in the workplace’. But are these assumptions useful? Is there any truth to them? Or do we need to ditch them altogether?

Transformative crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic are often catalysts to change in the workplace. The increase in the work-from-home model is one of the most obvious results since the new virus emerged. The Office for National Statistics states that, by May 2021, job adverts for ‘home working’ roles were being “posted at 307% of their February 2020 average level”. And this change has ignited conversations surrounding which work models are most productive, preferential, and sustainable.

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This year, HubbleHQ was one company that questioned which approach they should take when reintroducing office working post-covid, and they used a generational questionnaire to inform their choice. Though many might assume that Gen Z employees would adapt more quickly to the new work-from-home model than they stereotypical Baby Boomer — they would be wrong.

HubbleHQ’s findings were that Gen Z and Millennials are more ‘pro-office’ than Gen X and Baby Boomers. With Gen Z being the most ‘pro-office’ and Gen X and Baby Boomers preferring homeworking. These results highlight the importance of understanding the complexities of a multi-generational workplace. With such information, it’s possible for the company to employ a model that leads to the highest productivity and job satisfaction. Though it’s been proven that productivity is not exclusive to the office. For some Gen Z-ers, remote work can be alienating and lacking structure, so it may be valuable to take generational differences into account when reenforcing work structure post-covid.

It's clear that one-size-fits-all productivity models do not always work most effectively, but Deliotte argues that generational separation is not the answer. The Deloitte European Workforce Survey found generational segmentation to be “inadequate for organisations to understand the complexity of their workforce”. That’s why the company instead found a segmentation approach based on beliefs and attitudes to be more effective. In this approach, data skews towards certain age groups, but it is not determined solely by them.

And these disparities in workplace attitudes extend beyond the work-from-home model. Covid-19 has highlighted the scope for flexibility in other areas, such as office dress codes, 4-day work week pattern, and for some companies: job roles. Business Insider reports that companies have begun turning to nonconformist job titles like ‘ninjas’ or ‘rockstars’ to attract millennial candidates. The goal of these businesses is supposedly to reframe the job role in the minds of their new employee and attract forward-thinkers and creatives. But does the idea of attracting millennial candidates by substituting the term ‘marketing manager’ for ‘brand evangelist’ perhaps signify a certain scepticism in the millennial’s basic resourcefulness and creativeness? And with Millennials being branded as the ‘job-hopping’ generation, the implicit implications of trying to make job roles seem more exciting and sustainable, perhaps causes more damage than good.

Ultimately, it will be left to individual businesses to decide the best avenues to returning to the workplace, but cure-all formulas on how best to work with the Millennial, certainly may not deliver everything they promise. While there is a place for multigenerational segmentation and understanding of trends across the board, it seems that ultimately, it is the attitudes and beliefs of the individual that must be taken most seriously when returning to the post-covid workplace.

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