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Leadership Insights

Fostering Unity: Are You Thinking Intergenerational?

5 min read

Our global leadership experts explore workforce fragility, explaining how leaders can engage, inspire, and retain Millennials and Gen-Z at all levels of the organization, using intergenerational workshops.

There is a notable cultural and behavioural shift in Millennial and Gen Z populations (born 1981-1996 and 1997-2012 respectively), who ‘watched and learned’ from the Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964) and Gen X (born 1965-1980) way of doing business.

One notable difference is the latter’s tendency to ‘suffer in silence’ and soldier on through unhappiness and adversity, whereas Millennial and Gen Zers are more likely to take action and vote with their feet. Combined with their reportedly higher stress and anxiety levels than previous generations, this is resulting in a more volatile and less loyal workforce. Millennials and Gen Zers represent the largest portion of the workforce, putting the magnitude of the challenge into perspective.

Left unattended, the intergenerational-divergence poses a real threat in a time when the establishment of stability and loyalty among employees and customers alike is paramount. This presents a new tension within organizations, at the same time as leaders are trying to drive businesses forward, creating a concern about the potential generational resistance, divide and fallout. Leaders therefore need to address this issue, and redress the flight tendencies of Millennials and Gen Zers by creating intergenerational collaboration.

At one level, generational diversity is releasing new thinking and a creativity, which when captured, challenges the status quo and provides a confident acceleration in moving the organization forward.

Addressing intergenerational divides

Addressing attitudinal divides between generations is a critical part of the solution, yet harder to adopt or challenge unless surfaced. With the right understanding, these attitudinal divides present the opportunity to unify an organization beyond appearance and attitudes, and around principles, behaviors, outcomes and impact. 

To harness generational diversity, leaders need to genuinely connect with and understand the various stresses and anxieties, which then provide the opportunity to convert flight responses into potential new energizers of the business.

Elizabeth Stewart Partner, Head of Leadership Advisory

Such leaders create followership around elevated collective goals of creativity and collaboration across the generational population. Whilst some organizations might establish shadow executive leadership teams, next generation councils and reverse mentoring, intergenerational workshops create the trust to connect, listen, collaborate and grow. This fosters organizational resilience to move forward quickly and provides the basis on which to make critical business decisions with confidence.

Key developments in intergenerational divides

Emerging themes in intergenerational divides, include: 

  1. Culture, particularly the importance of inclusivity and active engagement in social issues.
  2. Flexible and hybrid working.
  3. The importance of effective DEI initiatives, especially relating to equality, diversity of background and experiences, community support, and investment in the development of underrepresented groups.

According to the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2023, the number one concern for CEOs is workforce fragility. CEOs are especially concerned about their ability to engage, inspire and retain Millennials and Gen-Zs at all levels of the organization. Choosing to engage in the process of deeper connection and goal alignment enables intergenerational unity and generates a new confidence for CEOs in their decision making.

Adopting and embedding this inclusive way of working grows into a resilient, connected culture formed from the inside out, dealing with critical concerns like unwanted exits. Getting this wrong is costly; getting it right is a prize worth pursuing. 

The more we engage in leadership team conversations, the more we hear the intergenerational theme coming through, fuelled further by the ongoing divides over hybrid working. Having accepted and/or embraced the ‘dress code issue’, where will leaders land on these more important issues? The first thing to do is to ask the question: ‘are you thinking intergenerational’?

Odgers Berndtson’s solution to generational misalignment

Our approach is to bring the leadership team together, assessing the current position and challenging the status quo where necessary, to establish an authentic unified leadership posture capable of leading and inspiring intergenerationally. We invite an honest reflection of the leadership team which is exactly what is required to lead with intergenerational confidence, to assess current intergenerational effectiveness and identify the right organizational engagement plan.

Half the challenge is identifying and understanding the root issues, which, once uncovered, will allow for the right discussion and ultimately a more unified resolution to be found. Once identified, we facilitate intergen workshops to enable what will be a new constructive dialogue for most organizations. This is followed by directive intergen action hubs, with the output being collaborative alignment on the way forward. 


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