I’ve been focusing on the overlap in the needs and values of women and post-Boomer generations. I’ve argued that actions to address the needs and values of one group can pay off with increased engagement in other groups as well. The primary areas of overlap are:
- The need for flexible work arrangements
- The desire for a sense of community and belonging
- The value of “flatter” workplace structures.
I’ve addressed the first two areas in prior blog posts. Let’s look at the third.
Historically the workplace reflected hierarchical structure. There are lots of good things about hierarchy. But it has limitations. Modern workplaces have experimented with other structures—flattening (eliminating levels), “matrixed” organizations and team assignments to name a few. These are likely to work well for many women and members of the younger generations. Using broad generalizations, here are some reasons why:
- Women: Little boys’ games (e.g., sports, army and cops and robbers) tend to involve hierarchy. They grow up feeling comfortable taking orders from those “above” them and giving orders to those “below” them. Little girls’ games (e.g., dolls, house, jacks, hopscotch) have little hierarchy. When girls play team sports, hierarchy is less apparent than on a boys’ team. Little girls play in “flat packs” and seem more comfortable when the power is shared relatively equally. At work women often function best in a “network” structure rather than a hierarchy. They often set up a meeting in a circle—so everyone’s ideas are heard and there is no visible “boss.” Relationships (which are highly important to the average woman as noted in my last blog) can be closer in a flatter structure than in a hierarchy.
- Generation X (ages 31 to 50): This generation saw their hard-working parents laid off and “down sized.” The employer-employee contract changed from the Baby Boomer generation to this generation. Gen Xr’s tend to hold less regard for bureaucracy, hierarchy and status symbols. They are more entrepreneurial.
- Millennials (30 and younger): This generation is the product of child-centric, attentive, praising parents. Highly educated and comfortable with technology, they think very highly of themselves. Some assume that they are as qualified and capable as their older bosses. They see the workplace as a collection of equals and friends and seem more or less non-observant of hierarchy.
With this background, leaders can understand why non-hierarchical structures can work to engage these groups. Women now constitute 50% of the workforce. There are more members of Generation X and Millennials at work today than Baby Boomers. Please share:
- How you have seen this demographic shift affect workplace structures
- What non-hierarchical structures you have seen be effective
- Whether “flatter” structures have enhanced engagement.