Author: Jan Frowijn 

Embracing Individuality: Beyond Generational Labels

Today's workforce is characterized by different generations with different values and life experiences. While some may see barriers to teamwork, generational differences can boost collaboration, productivity and satisfaction in teams. Jan Frowijn, ROSEN’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) – North and Central America, explains how he perceives these differences in the workplace and what he considers crucial when leading such a team.

The main thing that always comes to my mind when people talk about generational diversity is that we need to realize that it is a generalization of an entire generation. While there are differences between generations, there are more differences between individuals, so we need to be careful not to generalize.

It is important to understand where things are changing, but even more important to recognize that we are all individuals with unique backgrounds.

There is always a risk in generalizing based on labeled generations because, first and foremost, we are all individuals with unique backgrounds and needs.

The Ever-Repeating Dialogue Between Generations – Just a Cycle

Expectations or goals are the second thing that comes to mind. When we talk about generational differences, it seems to me that a lot of the experiences that younger generations are having today and how they are perceived by the more experienced generation are very similar to discussions that happened 30 or 40 years ago. I think of the discussions I had with my parents or their generation about my grandparents.

There will always be differences between generations, and it is not unique to Millennials or Generation Z. It seems to be more of a cycle. It is however important to be aware of these differences, be open and not characterize differences in terms of “good or bad”.

Beyond Stereotypes: Learning from Generational Differences

In my opinion, a third important thing is that these differences are often framed negatively, which is very unfortunate. It quickly turns into stereotypes like "Millennials are entitled" or "Generation Z is anti-social because they only grew up with computers and Facebook." Supposedly, they do not know how to socialize outside of Snapchat, but I think that is very dangerous and, in my experience, absolutely not the case.

There are differences, for instance, in how generations use technology, but the older generation can learn a lot from that. It is easy to look for the differences and define them in terms of what is good or bad, but it is much more beneficial to consider what we can learn from each other. We should look for common ground and see how we can learn from both the younger and the more experienced generations.

From my perspective, it is critical in leading a team to find diversity within roles, but this is only beneficial if you are open to learning from each other. If you are not open to learning, diversity becomes a hindrance, like a bottleneck.
Jan Frowijn, Chief Operating Officer (COO) – North and Central America, ROSEN Group

From Loyalty to Shared Values: Redefining Organizational Connections

In our company, particularly in some departments globally, I am strongly observing a higher percentage of younger employees, including Millennials and Generation Z. The culture in these departments is also different. It is often said that Millennials and Generation Z are less social, but I see the complete opposite. I see strong teams and cohesive groups where people work closely together, perhaps not always outside of work but definitely within the workplace.

I have also noticed that the way people connect with the organization varies significantly. Baby Boomers and Generation X or Y tend to connect more through loyalty. I can see that for myself as well. However, when it comes to Millennials, especially the younger Millennials and Generation Z, they connect with an organization because of shared values or because they get along with their group members – that is a different type of connection.

In leading a team, we need to be very aware of what connects individuals. In the past, loyalty was almost expected to come with the job. Now, that is no longer a given. As an organization or as leaders, we have to work on creating and building on that connection.

Viewing Culture Through a Different Lens

For me, culture is also a very interesting topic. There are libraries full of research on the differences in national cultures. In my opinion, the most important thing as a leader is not to think in terms of good and bad unless, of course, there are things completely against your morals and values. You have to be very aware of your own cultural biases.

It is always best not to look at somebody else's behavior but to start with looking at yourself. What are your behaviors or biases? This relates to an aspect of emotional intelligence: being aware of how your behaviors and actions influence others rather than trying to explain someone else's behaviors. First, try to explain your behaviors. Understand other people's behavior through the lens of your own cultural biases.

Culture has many layers: national culture, how you are raised, how your parents raised you, the environment you grew up in, and your school – all these factors have a significant influence on your values. The industry you enter or the company you work for adds another layer. Where you grew up and how you were raised have a crucial influence on your values and beliefs, which essentially make up your culture.

I grew up in the Netherlands and have spent at least 30 years of my life there. Although I have been outside the Netherlands for over 16 years, I still view things through my cultural biases. In a leadership role, especially when working internationally, it is important to first become aware of your own cultural biases and how they influence others around you rather than trying to explain other people's behavior.

If we all did that, it would be a good step in the right direction: paying attention to our own behaviors first.

From Bias to Understanding: Navigating Differences Through Conversations

There are all kinds of ways we can slice and dice a population or a team – from generational differences to cultural differences, background, gender diversity, and more. For me, it all comes back to being aware of your own biases. If somebody says, "I do not have biases," then that is probably the person you need to watch out for.

Everybody has biases, and the most important thing is to accept that you may make mistakes from time to time. Be vulnerable and welcome feedback. If someone in your team gives you feedback, be open to it and discuss it, no matter the topic. You do not need to be embarrassed; see it as an opportunity to learn. This open dialogue puts you in a position to truly understand. It is not about being right or wrong, and it is not about pigeonholing people either. We have differences, but first and foremost, we are all individuals, and that is what we need to recognize.

Jan Frowijn 

Chief Operating Officer (COO) – North and Central America, ROSEN Group

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