A little respect

Mar 03 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

A poll by leadership and development consultancy AchieveGlobal has concluded that it does not matter whether workers are demanding Generation Y graduates, put-upon Generation X managers and supervisors or coasting towards retirement baby-boomers, the thing they all want most is to be treated with respect in the workplace.

In fact, despite a welter of research suggesting workplaces are a hot-bed of generational tensions, there is a remarkable consensus that not being treated as adults by managers is the thing that really gets on most people's nerves.

The global poll of more than 500 employees, ranging from Generation Y (or workers aged under 29) right up to "traditionalists" (those aged 64 or more) found the vast majority singled out "respect" as being the most valued attribute.

They were all asked to rank seven job attributes on a scale of one to five (with one being the worst).

Respect came top, with a cross-generational average of 4.33 out of five, followed by "financial stability", "opportunity for career growth" and "learning and development".

Bringing up the rear of the list were "flexibility within the work environment", "recognition" and "new work experience".

Intriguingly, the poll also found most of those polled cared little about the generational make-up of their teams or workplaces, suggesting that older and younger workers tended to be able to rub along just fine if they put their minds to it.

It was a similar story when asked whether attitudes and behaviours within their workplace could be put down to age and age differences, with the consensus being that the average age of the workplace made little difference.

But the study did identify a number of benefits and drawbacks from working in multi-generational teams.

The main benefits included being within "a more interesting environment", having a "broad range of perspectives" and greater balance of energy and direction.

But drawbacks included "communication breakdowns", "lack of flexibility" and a slower paced environment.

"Attempting to understand people via labels increases the likelihood that their unique value and distinct identity will be underestimated and underutilised," said AchieveGlobal chief executive Sharon Daniels.

"At the end of the day, employees are just people. They all seek respect, financial security and new work experiences.

"I think it's important that we do not focus on so-called generational differences but instead focus on providing employees the experiences and education necessary to help them succeed and excel at any age," she added.

While there were no significant differences around the globe in how employees said they wished to be treated in the workplaces, there were clear-cut differences of perception between those in Eastern and Western cultures when it came to attitudes towards age.

In particular, there were sharp differences in how perceptions around how age influenced workplace behaviours, with European and U.S employees less likely than Asian employees to believe workplace attitudes and behaviours were driven by age.

"As workforces become leaner in our current economy, managers would do well to focus on developing employees' personal skills and fostering an environment of collaboration," said Daniels.

"Inherent in multigenerational workforces is a diversity of experiences and expertise. Now is the time to encourage employees to value each others' distinct talents and uses similarities and difference to build opportunities in the future," she added.

This need for trust and respect within the workplace was highlighted by business transformation specialist John Blackwell in a piece here on Management-Issues just last month.

He has argued there is a clear need for more trust-based workplaces, particularly as workplaces become more disparate, outsourced and virtual.

In this environment, trust can bring much-needed cohesion and play a key role in recruiting and retaining talent.

But this approach also means business leaders need to demonstrate humility, something that often does not come easily.

"Building a culture that inspires trust isn't about putting their stamp on everything, and creating dependency. Leaders must be focused on their organisation's success and reputation, not their personal gain (bankers take note)," he argued.

"In this way, a culture can be easily mirrored, and is respected both inside and external to the organisation without resorting to presence, hierarchy, or status," he added.

The goal was to have "flexible, more nimble" organisations where decisions could be made faster and more strongly.