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Profile: A Generational Case Study

This month at The Office Space we explore Generations. We’ll look at the attitudes, behaviours and characteristics of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials in the workplace. To get to the bottom of this, we approached the team at Policy Cures and Policy Cures Research to find out how the varying age gaps contribute to the company’s success. Here, we talk generations with Mary and her team of Lee, Gregory and Kat who have submitted a group response, and then we hear from Policy Research representatives Ming and Nick.

Policy Cures

  Policy Cures’ mission is to provide innovative ideas and accurate analysis to accelerate the development and uptake of new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other products for diseases in the developing world. Preferring not to be limited or labelled by age or generation, the Policy Cures team responded to our ask with an important caveat: We don’t really think these age labels work for us. We have a wide range of backgrounds, experience, thinking types and skills sets, but we’re not defined by the labels and associated characteristics, we’re not the typical ‘stereotypes’ but all seem to be a bit more ‘outside the square’ type thinkers and are flexible and adaptable which creates for a cohesive team. It seems to us that a good workplace combines the skills, personalities and quirks from all walks of life, making for a tolerant, affectionate and productive place to be One of the core reasons that we all get along (and work so well) is that we are all incredibly open minded and receptive of new ideas/approaches to life/experiences; we don’t allow ourselves to be defined solely by our own circumstances; and we value each member as they are, for all that they are. We respect and honour each other’s contributions.  We seem to be more of a ‘modern team’, we are more a ‘flat-structured or ‘bee-hived’ type team where each person’s contribution is recognised and appreciated, value is placed on the individual rather than their position within the business or a label / role title. Our team is conducive to valuing the input of everyone, so we can learn more from another perspective or different set of experiences. Each of us brings so much to the team in terms of personality and experiences but this doesn’t come from the decade we were each born in. It comes from the greatest aspect of our team: our ability to learn from each other and grow.

On Millennials

What do they bring to the workplace? Number one, they are tech savvy. So connected technology wise, good at streamlining and simplifying processes with the use of technology. Problems that you once had to outsource to an IT department can be solved within minutes by a Millennial, who know their way around computer systems and have an in-depth understanding to how technology is set up and works. They have confidence – they’re sure of themselves and their direction, want to be heard, and are certain of their opinions and thoughts. They’re flexible. With the use of technology they’re happy to work from anywhere and have a preference for a blended work-life balance, perhaps preferring flexibility over structure in a work sense. They respond well to validation – positive feedback, values praise and recognition (they prefer this over constructive criticism or negative feedback). They’re open-minded – they accept people’s individuality and honour differences, are fairly non-judgmental and accept that everyone is on their own journey; they appreciate diversity and are fairly inclusive. Finally, they’re connected socially; by being so often online, they’re aware of what it happening in their extended network. What can you teach them?  The importance of maintaining interpersonal skills – face to face contact and relationships; verbal communication (though this definitely isn’t a problem at Policy Cures). Millennials sometimes need to be encouraged into this form of communication as they might feel vulnerable at being ‘put on the spot’ when this is not the intention. We can teach them the importance of others; of helping colleagues, bringing along those who are behind, caring for the team. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in your own trajectory and goals. Patience – it’s okay to not be reactive. If you are unsure, take time out to work it out or ask another human (as opposed to Mr Google). It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Structure. Sometimes you need to go slowly and in-depth and take a longer time – research can be like this. And careers generally aren’t the work of a few months – you have to put in the hard yards. It’s important to get the right balance between what you want (challenge, recognition, progression) and what your organisation needs (a strong work ethic with reliable staff that deliver the work needed). As mentioned before, criticism is as important as praise: the hard things in life can help you grow. And don’t worry so much about your future – yes, mortgages, job security, politics are awful and often unfair, but so were wars, nuclear threats and Depression-style starvation. It’s not as bad as you think.

On Gen X

What do they bring to the workplace? Solid business understanding. Having been around since before the beginning of the IT boom, this generation has a solid understanding of the fundamental business structures and processes. This understanding of basic fundamentals allows this generation to adapt to a variety of software applications with a solid business knowledge. They value women – seeing our mothers engage in paid work was liberating. Gen X believes a woman (and man) can balance family and work and are supportive of this in the workplace. Gen X are empowered and demand respect, they speak up when unfairness or unjust actions are witnessed. They’re well educated – being the generation to benefit from free university degrees under the leadership of Gough Whitlam (ALP), who believed students should be able to access a university degree based on their merits, not the wealth of their parents. They have a work/life balance.They have social responsibility, encouraging engagement with charities and the supporting of local businesses. They’re good at listening and learning. The Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers were not encouraged to voice their opinions or ideas. Gen X has given their generation and future generations their voices and platforms to speak up and be listened to. Gen X is a generation happy to learn from future generations as opposed to shunning ideas and believing it’s ‘their way or the highway’. They can network: being a generation pre-Facebook it was important to network, communicate clearly and leave a lasting impression with people you met (hopefully a good one!). This ease of conversation and connection serves Gen Xers well in today’s society where a face to face meeting (although time consuming) cements the business relationship and communicates clearly the intentions without any doubt. Encouraging this interaction within business today allows clients/staff to be comfortable with their ability to analyse the social setting, and feel confident and comfortable in contributing to conversation. What can you teach them?  Not much really – I think they have a pretty good balance of the work ethic, relaxed attitude and interpersonal skills of the BBs and the open-mindedness and flexibility of the Millenials.

On Baby Boomers

What do they bring to the workplace? They bring experience, teachings and wisdom. They’re good at providing guidance and direction and can share learnings from their own life experience (knowledge transfer). They’re professional, strong work ethic, dedicated, hard working. They value interaction and interpersonal relationship management at a face to face level. They have information and life experiences. They’re able to laugh at themselves and embrace imperfection. For Boomers, the workplace is a place for hard work and hard fun. Coming from a time of long lunches, this gen has not forgotten how to make the workspace a place you want to be a part of. Plus, they grew up in the late 60s and 70s: contraception, flares and punk rock! What can you teach them?  How to streamline processes with the appropriate use of technology. In a traditional sense, perhaps more of a flat view of workplaces, ie not hierarchical, with a triangular structure where power sits at the top, but more a bee hive structure where power is dispersed equally and each person is valued and recognized for their contributions. You see this especially in bigger, more old-school offices and bureaucracies where, with such a mix of people from the different age groups, there are disconnected teams and competition rather than collaboration.

Policy Cures Research

  We couldn’t resist hearing from the new business born out of Policy Cures, Policy Cures Research which is an independent not-for-profit group providing research, information, decision-making tools and strategic analysis for those involved in the creation of new pharmaceuticals for neglected diseases including malaria, TB, HIV, pneumonia and more.

Nick Chapman (Gen X)

  Nick is the Chief Executive Officer at Policy Cures Research and has extensive experience in health policy and practice as a doctor, researcher and analyst.

On Millennials

What do they bring to the workplace? I’m sure it’s a bit of a cliché to talk about millennials as being defined by wanderlust and a lack of commitment, but it does seem to be a marked feature of the generation. And I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing… it means they bring an attitude of not wanting to settle for just ‘ok’, of questioning the status quo, and not accepting something just because that’s the way it’s always been. I think they’ve been raised on a culture of disruption; and because of this they’re not only comfortable with rapid change, but are often seeking ways to reinvent the way we approach life/work/etc. What can you teach them? This is going to make me sound like an old soul, but I think that we’ve got a role in teaching them that not everything old needs to be reinvented, and that they’ve got to earn the right to have their voice heard… they don’t have to accept the way it’s always been, but they’ve still gotta prove themselves/earn their stripes somehow. I also think Gen X can be the bridge between millennials and the more traditionalist attitudes and way of thinking of the baby boomers, because there does seem to be a real divide between their two sets of worldviews.

On Baby Boomers

What do they bring to the workplace? Experience. Obviously that’s in some part just a product of being around a lot longer than the rest of us, but it’s also a fundamental advantage that they have over the rest of us. And it’s on us to make sure that we respect that and make sure we learn from and make use of their wealth of experience. What can you teach them? How to program the VCR… a skillset that probably isn’t in much demand anymore. The millennials can take responsibility for teaching them the new stuff J

Ming Ong (Millennial)

  Ming has experience across public health, public policy, international development and health economics. His primary interest is in information architecture and the availability, transparency and quality of data to inform global health policy decision-making.

On Gen X

What do they bring to the workplace? Gen X provides the appropriate population demographics, so that an adequate working population could create sufficient economic inputs to maintain our tax-and-spend fiscal-policy driven society. Without Gen X providing the appropriate ballast to the population pyramid, the economic anchor that Baby Boomers have placed on society would have driven us into an M. Night Shyamalan fever dream. I’m joking. More seriously: Gen X bridges the gap between the generally technologically illiterate Baby Boomers with the more fluid career approaches of Millennials. They are more aware of the economic hardships faced by early-career professionals, having experienced the economic downturns of the 80s and late 2000s early on in their careers/lives, as opposed to riding the post-war economic surge like Baby Boomers. I think that shared perspective allows Gen X to better connect with Gen Y and provide more realistic career/life guidance.. What can you teach them? Again, jokingly… to read more Camus. The world is absurd and pointless so we should just live our lives committed to the absurdity. They should have leaned more heavily into this sentiment instead of following the mirage offered by Baby Boomers. More seriously: I really don’t know.

On Baby Boomers

What do they bring to the workplace? They generally own the properties in which we work…so the literal workplace? Baby Boomers bring more traditional career expectations that remain useful motivations to Gen Y as reminders that we should always try to progress forwards/upwards. What can you teach them? That success and wealth are not direct by-products of ‘individual’ hard work. Career trajectories today are shaped by a great deal of things outside of our control – economic fluctuations and inequality, educational inequities, the maturity and stagnation of many sectors. Young professionals today have to account for a shifting variety of factors that dictate their ability to pursue their chosen careers, while career/life paths for Baby Boomers were much clearer cut.

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