"Other generations can learn from millennials": bridging the workplace generation gap

Industry expert on the challenges faced by millennial employees

"Other generations can learn from millennials": bridging the workplace generation gap

Insurance News

By Chris Davies

Insurance Business caught up with Adam Cooper – director of human resources at Aon Risk Solutions and speaker on the panel ‘Celebrating Differences: Optimising Your Multigenerational Workplace’ at Toronto’s upcoming Millennials In Insurance Conference – to ask him about the biggest challenges that can arise from a multigenerational workplace…

Insurance Business: What does an inclusive workplace culture look like for millennials?
Adam Cooper: I would like to preface that I, myself, am not a millennial so my answer comes from my observations and experiences both managing and working with millennials. I think millennials face challenges regarding how their generation is perceived which really frustrates them. They want to be in an environment where experience and how many years you have been in a role do not matter and it is more about what you are contributing and the value you bring now. Many of them have had the opportunity to grow up and live in environments where inclusion and diversity are the norm. They value how workforce diversity and cultural competence drive talent and impact greater opportunities to innovate. Other generations can learn from this approach.
IB: How does communication style differ among generations? Why is it important?
AC: This is one area that often frustrates managers the most in our business. There is a noticeable gap in how generations are communicating with one another. The key area is that often millennials will quickly jump to solve solutions through email - writing lengthy, detailed responses that may take half an hour plus to write. The challenge with that is that tone can be missing, time can be wasted and relationships are not forged effectively especially if there are multiple cc’s. What we often coach on is finding that balance between email, phone, in person, text, etc. Helping these colleagues understand the importance of walking down the hall and talking to someone in person or picking up the phone for five minutes instead of writing for 30 minutes.
IB: How do you turn generational differences into a strategic advantage for you and your organization?
AC: Mentoring is one of the best sources for us to really leverage our coaching model. In our business we focus on the 70-20-10 approach to development and learning where 70% is on the job growth and learning, 20% is coaching and mentoring and 10% is through programs, courses and learning tools. We’ve seen really great results through our mentoring programs where we’ve had a Baby Boomer mentor a Millennial. Companies like Aon are founded on traditions and some of those traditions do need to evolve and it is through mentoring where each party can impact that. Secondly, we really look to gain feedback from all generations through our Annual Employee Engagement Survey. This tool and the action teams that are put together to impact change are able to help gather what priorities align for each generation. One of the foundations for bridging generational differences is providing opportunities to share experiences, challenges and desires so that each group can empathize with their different motivations.
IB: Why is it important to innovate in a way that keeps up with a changing culture?
AC: Innovation is crucial for Aon to stay at the top of its game for clients, our shareholders and our colleagues. We are constantly tweaking how we not only improve on what’s not working but also evolve what has worked but may need a refresh. One area that we, as a global organization, are focusing on is what we call “Aon United.” Coming from our CEO and every leader we are committed to focusing on a united approach for our clients and bringing the best of Aon forward for them. That means that each office, each account executive, knows who on our teams is connected to a particular client and there are no surprises that we have multiple representatives from Aon seeing one client without everyone being in the loop. We are also focused on driving a culture of connections where it is fostered and encouraged for colleagues to reach out to experts nationally and globally to help our clients. No longer is each office on their own being run like its own small business. The power of uniting people, subject matter experts, new lines of business is tremendous as it enables our colleagues to create new networks, learn new things and build deeper relationships with their clients and colleagues.
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