Last month I wrote an article entitled ‘The Trophy Kids Have Arrived For Work’, which talked about some of the characteristics of Generation Y in the workplace. In that article I also gave some tips on how employers could manage Generation Y most effectively so as to build the kind of relationships with them that would enable them to be productive employees.

workplace-relationshipsJust last week I gave a presentation where I addressed professionals at a prominent law firm in Gauteng on how they could think, feel and behave differently in response to how global change has impacted and is impacting even the legal industry. After the presentation I received an insightful, considered and detailed email from one of their Generation Y employees asking me how she could do things differently to build better relationships with older colleagues and clients. I wrote a long and descriptive email back about generational difference, the need for self-esteem and the importance of mentorship, in the hope that she would have some tools to assist her with what she needed to continue with success at the firm. She replied by thanking me and telling me that she would try and remember what I had said in her next job, as she would be leaving the firm at the end of the month.

I felt crushed on behalf of the firm. Here was a young person who was clearly interested in learning how to build better relationships and who was open to taking both initiative and responsibility for how to do that. Somebody who was not blaming anybody else for any difficulties she faced, but had adopted an attitude of ‘I want to know how I can adapt more effectively to other people’s difference’ – and yet she was leaving the firm she worked for. I always think (particularly in this current economic climate) that things must be pretty uncomfortable for a person inside their organisation if they would rather brave the uncertainty of the unknown ‘out there’ and leave their current job; and yet this ‘discomfort’ is happening at an unprecedented rate. In this instance I am certainly not blaming this particular individual, or the firm she worked for or the legal industry. The reality is that in every country in the world, in every industry in every area of the business, companies are facing a talent retention problem. And even if talent retention is not the primary problem, then perhaps effective talent management is a concern, as businesses either need to keep their talent productive, or provide opportunities for their current talent to move within the organisation (in ways that is beneficial for the individuals and the organisation) so that they do not lose their talent.

In-between writing the last article and writing this one, TomorrowToday asked readers to complete a short survey (thank you to those who participated) based on the article about ‘Trophy Kids’ having arrived at work. We asked readers to provide their insights into what they thought young people inside their organisations needed in order to help them with their careers. I was delighted to find that the answers provided were in line with what I have found whilst conducting discussions with young people when doing mentorship and diversity training. I have a slide that I put up, which lists ten variables, which could act as stumbling blocks for building productive relationships inside organisations. These variables include gender, race, age, personality type, education, sexuality, religion (or spiritual beliefs) and a couple of others. The obvious ‘essential identity’ variables of race and gender do not come up as often as one would expect. Age (the generation gap) comes up as a stumbling block reasonably often, but what comes up the most is personality type and education. Often the latter is in industries where the rules for ‘being qualified for the job’ have changed over the years. For example, ten years ago if an employee did not need a diploma or degree to qualify for a certain position, where as now they do, there may be a clash between ‘better educated’ and ‘highly experienced’ people inside an organisation.

What has been interesting about reviewing the results of the survey we conducted is that overwhelming responders agree on the following three things:

  1. that there is a link between education levels and talent retention amongst Generation Y employees;
  2. that not understanding different personality types is the biggest stumbling block to building relationships (and that this is their biggest training need for Generation Y);
  3. that Generation Y want to develop their skills generally for future job and career moves.

Relationship breakdown is the number one reason why people leave their place of work. Usually it is not the work, the working conditions or the pay that drives people away; it’s the people they work directly with. There are any number of factors that can contribute to ‘fall out’ with others, but there certainly are some ‘recurring themes’ that have emerged for me through engaging with clients across all industries over the years.  Some of these themes include:

  1. not knowing how to resolve conflict
  2. a lack of transparency amongst co-workers
  3. corridor conversations
  4. bureaucratic mindsets
  5. not understanding other people’s communication, learning or management styles
  6. not understanding why certain behaviours are innate in others
  7. not understanding what would motivate or inspire other colleagues

Often I find people want to build better, more productive and easier working relationships both internally with colleagues and externally with consumers, but they just don’t know how.  Now the skeptics amongst you who might be wondering why all this emphasis on relationship building. If you would consider for a moment the reality that the world is changing (which if you follow TomorrowToday’s blogs and ezines you are acutely aware of) and that reverberations from that change are being felt in every industry, it is safe to say that change is a major constant in the world of work today. People respond to that change in crisis or with complacency; and one or both of those is often the behaviour we are seeing in the workplace. What any responsible organisation should be thinking about is what COMPETENCIES their internal talent needs to be able to respond to change effectively rather than in crisis or complacency, because it is in their business interest to do so, before they lose their talent, or before their talent becomes disillusioned and therefore unproductive.

Valuable training has gone beyond ‘tick box’ training enabling organisations to be compliant and is much more about creating behavioural change inside organizations because there is a real need. This is not a quick fix solution. Behavioural change occurs when there is:

  1. motivation to do because people understand why they should;
  2. understanding on how to change and why that change would be beneficial;
  3. on-going support for my changed behaviour.

Providing the tool for being COMPETENT in understanding different personality types in order to evoke empathy and understanding for not only oneself and one’s own motivations for how we think, feel and behave, as well as those of others, is easy. TomorrowToday has a tool called the Enneagram, which in essence addresses what motivates different personality types to engage with others the way they do.  The outcome of being able to understanding what pushes our ‘conflict’ buttons as well as what might push the buttons of those we work with, is that we can find ways to:

  1. E-TypesNamecommunicate more effectively
  2. learn (and teach) more efficiently
  3. conflict resolve more smoothly
  4. feel less threatened by the thought of giving away our authority if we mentor and empower others or give them more autonomy
  5. share our experience, stories and knowledge with others if we trust them more
  6. understand what motivates people we work with to generate innovative ideas and inspire creativity
  7. appreciate what behaviour are innate on others that we can use for the benefit of the business


What I know of Generation Y is that collaboration and relationships (or connections) is a fundamental need they have in order to be productive in the workplace. They do also need to understand why they are doing something before they will do it and they need some scope for autonomy and purpose. All human being want to master something and Generation Y have much to master. Sometimes they do not even know what they need to master and for older people those skills seem so obvious. If everybody could be open to learning about their own way of coping with being in the world through understanding what their own ‘drivers’ of behaviour are, then perhaps a whole lot of ‘other issues’ could be resolved. In my opinion, it’s all about illuminating the truth about ‘who we are’, rather than just what we know, and the Enneagram is the most profound way to do that.

I would love the opportunity to share the wisdom of the Enneagram with your organisation. If you are interested in knowing more, please send us an email and one of our team can set up some time for you to meet with Saffron.

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