Adjusting as Gen Y Takes Charge

Just last week, I finished writing a feature focusing on what a handful of 2015’s “Most Admired for HR” organizations are doing to prime today’s young employees for tomorrow’s leadership roles.

(By the way, this piece is slated to run in the upcoming December edition of HRE, and, naturally, I think you should check it and the rest of the issue out.)

In “Millennials Take Up the Mantle,” HR leaders from companies such as Wells Fargo and Comcast Corp. share some of the programs and initiatives they’ve put in place to groom employees of the millennial generation—a cohort that most projections say will make up roughly 75 percent of the workforce by the year 2025—for the leadership and management positions they’ll soon take over in large numbers.

Many millennials—generally defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—are already transitioning into leadership roles, of course. Some new data, however, suggests they aren’t the only ones who could use some help adjusting to Gen Y being in charge.

A recent study conducted by Future Workplace and Beyond surveyed 5,771 employees of all ages. Overall, 83 percent of respondents said that millennials are currently managing Gen X and baby boomer employees at their organizations. Among Gen X and boomer respondents, however, 45 percent said they feel that millennials’ lack of managerial experience could have a negative impact on a company’s culture.

And, while 44 percent of millennial respondents regard themselves as being the most capable generation to lead in the workplace, just 14 percent of participants overall agree that Gen Y workers are the best for the job.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see that some (OK, many) older employees aren’t completely comfortable with taking orders from younger, less experienced colleagues, at least not initially. And that uneasiness may help explain the more than one-third of millennials who reported difficulty in managing older employees.

All the concerned parties here certainly have some work to do if they and their organizations are to succeed. In the aforementioned HRE feature, Vanessa Walsh, who heads up leadership and professional development at Wells Fargo, explained what the San Francisco-based banking and financial services firm is doing to help its people bridge the generation gap.

Wells Fargo, which holds the No. 11 spot on this year’s “Most Admired for HR” list, currently oversees 10 affinity groups. The latest addition is “My Generation,” which consists of employees from different age cohorts “who are interested in what it means to be of a certain generation in the workforce,” says Walsh. “We don’t have one group focused on boomers or Gen Xers or millennials. These groups just get people together to learn about these different age groups.”

The idea, she says, is to discuss—and in some cases, debunk—stereotypes associated with various generations in the workplace.

What the group is not, says Walsh, is an effort to force young workers to adapt to old and “established” ways of working. Such an endeavor would be fruitless anyhow, she says.

“I don’t know that we’re going to ‘rewire’ 75 percent of the workforce. Nor should we. So, for me, the question becomes, ‘How do we shift to where they are?’ ”