Irena W., 40, could have been promoted several times in the management consulting company where she works. She saw exactly what it would mean for her, seeing her bosses work over the years. “A lot of work, little sense,” he concludes: companies advise on how to make people buy even more, consume even more and spend even more money. And then still in a management position? Well thanks.
Instead of being promoted, she initially limited herself to part-time work. On one day off a week, she helped refugees. I got them abandoned computers and helped set them up so their children could attend the blockade at home and not be left behind. It was very rewarding for her, but there were still four days of work a week which she considered less and less significant. But – she wasn’t naive – of course she wanted to work, get paid and have a real job. There had to be something more possible than that.
Irena W. belongs to the so-called millennials. Born between 1981 and 1995, they are now between 27 and 41 years old, exactly at the age where their career really takes off. But with this generation it’s not that simple.
“For many years, we’ve noticed that people are less interested in leadership roles, but now two things are making things worse,” explains Stefan Mauersberger, partner at Kincentric. “First, since the boomer generation has retired, it will soon be leaving or going.” And then in the last two years because of Corona. “It was a situation that led to a thorough rethinking of life and work.” Developing your own personality, being creative, implementing your own ideas, being able to shape them – according to a study by the Frankfurt Future Institute, all this is more important for millennials than climbing the career ladder – and thus leadership.
Boomers experienced strong economic growth almost continuously
The problem, however, is that companies need bosses. At least if they are organized as they are today. Clearly hierarchical. What if a generation comes to disagree with it? For companies, this inevitably means the necessity to change. It always hurts.
So far, everything has gone according to plan: for previous generations, such as the baby boomers and Generation X, work was the main goal in life and careers were shaped accordingly: very goal-oriented, ambitious and full of commitment. Until you ditch yourself. “Boomers have worked, worked, worked,” says Philippe Hoffmann of the consulting firm Spencer Stuart, “and they rarely questioned it. Of course, it was because of their life experiences. “
The very different realities of the life of generations can explain how different people view work and leadership. The Boomers, born between 1945 and 1968, often experienced strong economic growth that was almost continuous. However, the baby boomers were also very cohorts of baby boomers, so they learned to be very competitive. Anyone who wanted to be someone there had to defend themselves and flow with the torrent of growth. At the same time, corporations in Germany had very strict, clear rules for promotion and allowed only a few exceptions. “There was almost only the traditional career ladder,” says Hoffmann.
These are completely different circumstances than the millennials who are now destined to follow the boomers grew up. Millennials experienced much unrest and wage stagnation. “This is the first post-war generation for which things don’t automatically go up,” said Mauersberger. It was shaped by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 and the many uncertainties that followed. Then the financial crisis, then the euro crisis.
Millennials may live with uncertainty but not with unsatisfactory work
At the same time, however, the generation in the West has often been financially and socially well depreciated by existing welfare. As a result, many are good at dealing with uncertainty, have made it more of a rule and, for example, are changing companies much more often. According to a study by Kincentric, they are much more inclined to change than any other generation. Only 53 percent feel attached to their company, 66 percent are Boomers, and 59 percent are Generation X. “Many millennials only think and plan for the next two or three years, not for life,” says Mauersberger. “Before, there was a picture of myself: I will stay where I am and work there. Now the feeling prevails: I can work anywhere ”. The generation has learned that every crisis is also an opportunity – adds his colleague Bernhard Stieger.
Millennials may live in uncertainty, but – in the face of the numerous crises they have experienced – not from meaningless, unsatisfactory work. That is why the generation is also called “Generation Why?”. So why? One thing certainly does not fit this search for meaning anymore: promotion for the sake of promotion – with a lot of work and very little self-fulfillment. “If this is what leadership looks like, it’s better not” – that’s what HR consultants and HR managers in companies are hearing more and more often. Or, “Do I want to do this to myself? Definitely not”. Result? “A career up the traditional ladder will eventually become the exception. We are now seeing a more mosaic-like career, with many shifts between companies and positions, ”says Hoffmann. Or, as you can see more and more often, successful employees who then leave the company, rather than relocating and starting their own business in search of meaning. Thinking: There must be more.
What does this mean for businesses? First, they often find it difficult to find good managers if they are not flexible. Because new people view work and management differently. “They no longer want to lead as an authority like previous bosses, but as a coach, companion, sponsor,” says HR consultant Hoffmann. “There has been a revolution in the labor market.” And there’s a lot of potential for conflict with the current leaders because Boomers or Gen Xers are where they are because they’ve worked so hard and put everything else aside. And now they should leave this fierce field to people who tick completely differently?
Meanwhile, companies need to convince a doubting generation of leadership positions
“Baby boomers need to understand what young people want. And millennials need to understand how and under what circumstances baby boomers grew up, ”says Philippe Hoffmann of Spencer Stuart. “You have to talk to yourself a lot to develop mutual understanding.” Incidentally, millennials aren’t lazy at all, she points out, even though it sometimes suits hard-working boomers. “If the circumstances are right, many of them like to work and do a lot. This can be seen, for example, in those who set up their own business. Millennials are even referred to as workaholics in a 2020 study by IfD Allensbach. 41.7 percent of millennials polled said they were preoccupied with their work and working hard for it. This is clearly more than the previous generation X 42-56 years old.
What can companies do to convince a doubting generation to lead? A lot a lot. You just have to want it.
For example, management consulting firms recommend making career paths flexible and not sticking to rigid requirements. And no longer rely on one person for leadership, but distribute management tasks among several employees. In conclusion, it is important to improve leadership and not to concentrate all the tasks in this world on one person, recommends HR consultant Bernhard Stieger: “Leadership now has so many elements. You have to be there for the team, lead up and down, keep going, think digitally. The idea that the same person also handles organizational matters such as overtime, sick leave and shift plans is crazy. ” Managers should be exempt from such things. Leadership must be designed in such a way that it can be achieved on a normal working day and does not require 14 hours a day. “Driving has to be fun, then you can get people excited.” Again, experts agree that companies need to give employees the feeling that they can help shape and work in a meaningful way, not just perform.
Corona has shown that changes can also be a great opportunity. More companies than ever have tried, experimented, failed, and returned.
In summary, the current development and the self-confident demands of many millennials are a great opportunity for companies, according to HR consultant Stieger: “There is good competition for management staff. If the company is better at dealing with personnel, it will be better. This way, the company becomes more resistant to crises and changes. ” The attitudes and desires of many millennials fundamentally reflect social development. This gives companies the opportunity to be more modern, flexible and better managed. “Companies really have to adapt, because the next generation, Generation Z, will require completely different things than millennials,” says Philippe Hoffmann, laughing. “And the shortage of skilled workers plays their hands.” In other words: the competition for good bosses will become even stronger in the future than it is.
Irena W. has now decided to leave the company. She just quit. He’s shifting from a large management consulting firm to a tech startup looking to make logistics and transportation more sustainable and energy efficient. It’s gonna be a lot of work, it’s not a management position. And now he is very afraid of this challenge. “But then I won’t have to ask myself about the meaning of my work anymore.”