November 15, 2016

Managing Millennials and the Multigenerational Workplace

Joie Townsend, global head of talent and development at BNY Mellon (center), shares her thoughts on generational differences at The Economist’s Future Works conference

Joie Townsend, global head of talent and development at BNY Mellon (center), shares her thoughts on generational differences at The Economist’s Future Works conference. Photo courtesy of The Economist.


Driven by a growing number of millennials in the workforce, organizations have made concerted efforts to bridge generational divides over the last 10 years. Fast forward to present day, what many are surprised to find is that these generational differences aren’t influencing change in the workplace as much as the way we work together is.  

Joie Townsend, global head of talent and development at BNY Mellon, shared her expertise on generations working together at The Economist’s Future Works conference in Chicago, IL.

As part of an expert panel moderated by Senior Editor Matthew Bishop, Townsend and her peers – David Burstein, founder and chief executive of Run for America; Sophie Wade, founder and workforce innovation specialist at Flexcel Network; and Kathryn Minshew, founder and chief executive at TheMuse.com –  tackled the ever-challenging subject of what it takes to manage today’s multigenerational workforce.

The group navigated topics ranging from when emojis are appropriate in the workplace to what’s driving the existential crisis people face as they navigate their career paths and attempt to identify their niches at work.

Central to the discussion was examining the differences between generations in the office, which ultimately boiled down to answering the question: Do generational differences pervasively exist? And if they do, how much do they matter? 

From Townsend’s point of view, the workplace isn’t all that different with multiple generations in the mix. At BNY Mellon, millennials currently make up around 40 percent of the workforce. As Townsend and her team monitor workforce trends across the organization, not much separates this cohort from other generations.

“What we experience is at odds with the idea that overarching generational differences exist,” Townsend shared. “The patterns that emerge when we look at our workforce of over 50,000 employees align more closely with an employee’s personality traits, geography or life stage. We see these factors impacting careers far more than generational considerations.”

Throughout the discussion, all of the panelists seemed to agree that what is changing in the workplace is how people across every facet – from generations to geographies – work together. They acknowledged that there is still work to do to manage and bridge diversity of all kinds, which is ultimately driving change within all organizations.

Townsend shared that at BNY Mellon, employees have adopted an internal social platform as one new way of working together. On the surface, a social network seems inherently millennial, but the platform has united employees of all ages and life stages.

“The social platform actually took on faster with employees on our technology-focused teams than millennials,” Townsend said. “We use the platform to communicate better internally, allowing employees to blog and interact with each other.”

Beyond the social platform, BNY Mellon has also started an initiative called the GenEdge employee resource group to allow employees to embrace diversity through reverse mentoring, special events and networking opportunities.

One internal champion of the effort is CEO Gerald Hassell, who has his own reverse mentor he makes time to meet with quarterly. Others throughout the company also take advantage of the GenEdge program and its initiatives.

Townsend went on to discuss the company’s innovation centers, which provide BNY Mellon employees with a fresh, open work environment to develop creative solutions for clients and employees. The network of centers extends from London to Pittsburgh and beyond, with plans for further expansion globally in the year ahead

In the spirit of the GenEdge program, these spaces bring people from different backgrounds together in new ways – and some of the best ideas at BNY Mellon have come from doing just that.