Researchers are telling us that generational demarcations within the workplace are now more pronounced than ever. Many organisations have several generations within the same workforce, from ‘baby boomers’ to so-called ‘millennials’, each of whom have different expectations, priorities and desired working practices. Blending such groups into a cohesive team is a major challenge for organisations of many types and sizes.Yet there has been little discussion of the impact these developments might have on the core values that an organisation espouses.
Values can be powerful for any employer. I am not talking about synthetic sets of words or bullet points on websites or in corporate Receptions, but about clear and compelling summaries of the beliefs that guide an organisation and its people. When these are drawn from within, and developed into practical behaviours that people engage with and live by, they become strong and self-policing tools. But what happens when a workforce changes so much that current values seem archaic?That is a real risk emerging from the shifts we are seeing. Distilling common values has never been an easy task, but the issue – and its importance – are now even more acute. Different generations sharing the same workplace may believe and feel contrasting things about their company. They may have very different perceptions of what values are or should be, and respond to them in different ways. The upshot is that a set of values that was articulated, say, ten years ago may no longer be fit for purpose. It may have little meaning to people that make up an increasing proportion of the workforce (particularly if those people have been recruited on technical prowess or potential alone). And so those values become an irrelevance to some, or even a trigger for clashes with other employees, rather than the powerful and unifying force they could and should be.
Organisations have to recognise and respond to this risk. The simplest way of doing so is to review the current values, and their associated behaviours, by gaining input from colleagues across the demographic spectrum. Ask them what they think and feel about the company. How they would articulate the beliefs that guide the way it does business. What resonates with them and what seems unrealistic.
Involve employees in a review; it’s good practice from time-to-time in any event, but it is particularly important now. It could help renew and revitalise the role that values play for a changing workforce, rather than leaving them to become a spark for cultural conflict.