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HR Leaders Club: The generation gap

Deloitte Consulting's W Stanton Smith got the first meeting of the HR Leaders Club off to a lively start.

You need to adapt to the needs of the millennials was his message.

The workforce may have changed in recent years, but the workplace certainly has not.

That was the central thrust of a speech made by W Stanton Smith, national director of next generation initiatives, Deloitte Consulting, at the inaugural meeting of the HR Leaders Club, sponsored by Insala. Addressing some of the UK's most senior HR directors at the St Martin's Lane hotel in London last month, he said: "There is a much bigger gap between generations than ever before and young people are sceptical of business."

Introducing his latest book, Decoding Generational Differences: Fact, Fiction ... or should we just get back to work, Smith explained only 13% of millennials (people born after 1980) and generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) are "work centric", compared with 22% of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).

Millennials, he said, require a job that has purpose and meaning, open and honest communication with management, support for innovation, flexible working and responsibility. They want to stay with the same employer, hate carrying out menial tasks, ask 'why' a lot and expect to be well paid, even if they do not have vast knowledge of how to do their job.

"This is the first time four generations have been together in the workplace - veterans (born before 1946), baby boomers, generation X and millennials," he said. "Employers have to rise to the challenge, he added. "Employers need to be more open to new ideas. They need to be flexible, be fun and challenge millennials.

"They need to develop transferable skills in millennials," he added, "and reward extra effort and excellent results and respect how they get work done. But they also need to hold these employees to deadlines and to a high-quality end product."

Smith also touched on the importance of diversity and equality in the workplace, explaining that 60% of graduates were now female and for them flexibility could be just as important as career goals.

Although the workplace is, in essence, the same as it always has been, Smith added: "The corporate ladder is morphing into a corporate lattice. There are multiple career paths upwards rather than just one."

His speech sparked a lively discussion among HR leaders as they networked over cocktails and canapes.

Commenting on Smith's words, Phillip Roark, chief executive officer of event sponsor Insala, said: "Smith's approach is really practical. It takes into account the similarities and differences that generation Y bring to the workplace. His work facilitates a dialogue about how we can better understand the various benefits these differences bring to the modern workplace."

Steve Walker, chief executive of housing group AmicusHorizon,was equally impressed: "It doesn't matter what age people are, they all want to be valued and recognised. But I wonder how many managers actually say 'thanks' to staff, regardless of age?"

Sally Jacobson, HR director at housing association L&Q, said: "HR must make sure employees are engaged. They need to inject more motivation. Flexible working is an example of this, with more employers realising that nine-to-five working is not the be-all and end-all.

"Employers take staff straight from schools and universities and often have graduate programmes, but it might be beneficial to add programmes for older workers too," she added.

She said of the HR Leaders Club itself: "This event has brought together senior people from HR. We have been here less than an hour and have picked up loads of information. Smith could have spoken for longer - no one would have got bored."

The occasion was the first of a series of get-togethers planned by HR to give the industry's top HR practitioners an exclusive opportunity to network.