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Expert Interview: Ravi Hutheesing

November 05 2019 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Ravi Huthessing discuss multiple generations in the workplace and how to bring those generations together. RaviH

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Ravi Hutheesing.

Ravi is an international keynote speaker and culture catalyst. He empowers businesses and educational institutions and millions of people worldwide to build collaborative relationships by transcending culture and generational divides.

In addition to being an author and speaker, he is also a rock star, a diplomat, and an aviator – and yes, that’s a literal rock star. In 2018, Ravi launched Ravi Unites Schools, a growing network of over 100 schools worldwide, whose students participate in real time audio-video interactions with peers across the globe. Ravi began serving as a cultural diplomat for the United States Department of State in 2015, giving speeches and keynotes on entrepreneurship and youth leadership in Russia. In 2016, he went into Indonesia and created a songwriting and entrepreneurship program that bridged severe cultural and religious divides. In 2017, Ravi created similar programs in Iraq and Lebanon. Next year in 2020, Ravi will launch a similar program in Chile, which is where he is joining us from today. Ravi is the first American-born member of India’s first family, Nehru and Gandhi families, which created and governed the world’s largest democracy for over 40 years.

Ravi, I’m so excited to have you here today. Thank you.

Ravi Hutheesing: Thank you, Mari, it’s great to be here.

Mari Ryan: As we explore topics with dimensions of culture and diversity in the workplace, we are hearing so much more about this today, and in no place is this more evidenced than with the generational diversity that we are not experiencing in the workplace. It makes me wonder if there are meaningful differences among generations in the workplaces and if that really exists.

So Ravi, help us understand what does it mean to have five generations in the workplace?

Ravi Hutheesing: To give you sort of my lens on how I approach the generations, one of the things I get to do in my life is try to travel, and I spend anywhere from 200 to 250 days a year traveling – and it’s global. I spend a lot of time with my background … growing up, I was the youngest in my family, my two older brothers were Baby Boomers, I’m a Generation X. I grew up around many of their friends and I started working earlier, and I was always the youngest person in the environments in which I hung out with as I grew up as a teenager. So, I got that sense of being Baby Boomers in their own environment. Then, as you alluded to in the introduction, in 1997 I was a guitar player in the band Hanson, which was one of the first millennial bands on the planet.

So, here I was, previously in a Baby Boomer environment, completely thrown into a millennium environment, and me as the Gen X, I’m sort of the natural kid that clicked with these two larger generations. Gen X is the smaller generation in between. As a result, we as a generation have always either leaned toward the Baby Boomers or leaned toward the Millennials, and I found myself doing all of this.

These are essentially – we say five generations in the workforce and that’s why we technically [no sound - 0:04:18.4], but in reality, we’re dealing with these three generations; the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Millennials are the largest generation on the planet now, and Millennials are the largest stakeholders on the planet. That’s it on the planets now, that is the future, the Millennials may actually see that come to reality.

This comes to your question, Mari, are there really are fundamental differences? What I’ve always seen, because I have somewhat of a luxury that many people don’t, which is that I’ve worked with all the generations, but in their own environments, as opposed to trying to pull the generations into a singular environment, which is what many businesses have to do.

The reality is, starting with the basic understanding that we are all human beings first and foremost, we all have so much more in common than we do have differences, but we focus on our differences rather than our commonalities. Do we have a lot of differences? Yes, we have differences in terms of the environments in which we grew up, in terms of the technology that we use, in terms of the way that we express ourselves, but do we have differences in some of the most important things like our true values? No. We do not. Those are some of the consistencies that we see from generation to generation. But because certain generations, like the Millennial generation are going to live longer lifespans than previous generations, their whole overall outlook on life is elongated.

The director of the Lab on Aging for Harvard Medical School said the first person to live to 150 has already been born. Now, imagine how one approaches life if you were going to basically have 100 years of working in your lifetime, 100 years of productivity. You will approach it at a different pace. What is so interesting when you look at the Millennial generation, and Gen Z is going to follow them, is because of technology, while the overall pace is slower, the micro pace is much faster. The evolutions within the generation is moving at a faster rate.

As long as we understand those two realities and those two juxtapositions, we can then start to better understand why Millennials are going to take a longer time to figure out what they want to do for the course of their life, why they’re going to make more pivots – pivots are something I talk a lot about, it’s the title of a book that I’m writing right now --  because there is with 100 years of productivity in 150 year lifespan, you’re going to have many more jobs, you’re going to work in more industry, probably have more marriages. Everything is on a different time scale, but the value systems ultimately remain the same. Social interest, whether it’s through technology or whether it’s around the watercooler, it’s still about social interaction.

And, [indecipherable - 0:07:23.7] doesn’t understand about generations from what I’ve seen in my own research, and a lot of my research, unlike many generational speakers, a lot of it is anecdotal because I do travel around the world with these generations. You realize it’s just a pendulum swing and what’s happening is that the Millenniums are pulling the pendulum very far in one direction, and the Baby Boomers in the other direction. Now, Gen Z is going to start to pull that back a little bit more. What that means is the telephone may be gone forever as a form of voice communication, but what is going to come back is face-to-face communication. We are already seeing that in the younger generations.

Look at what we’re doing now. We have technology here that allows us to have a more personal, face-to-face interaction with people all around the world. We’re also looking at a much more global generation. But it does come down to this – which gives me a lot of hope for the future – it comes down to something that has always been true for throughout humanity, which is we are social beings, we like to interact, and it’s just that the mechanisms and the way we express ourselves are different.

Mari Ryan: That’s really … I’m so glad that your comments are rooted in commonalities and values because I think those are just so important for us to be able to bridge these generations and build those relationships.

Ravi Hutheesing: It is, and you can look at it simply as today we’re clicking “likes” on Facebook, on Instagram and all these social media platforms, but when I was growing up as a Generation Xer, we wore rock band t-shirts and sports team jerseys. The idea was the same. How do we find like-minded people? How do we surround ourselves with people who we have something in common with and common interests? It’s human nature.

Mari Ryan: It’s all about finding our tribe.

Ravi Hutheesing: Yeah, it’s our community. Exactly.

Mari Ryan: Yeah, that’s great. I’m curious, from your perspective we talk a lot about Millennials, and certainly they have been, probably, the most written about generation. I’m curious about from your perspective if you really think they are very different. Are their needs and their interests very different, and are they harder to understand?

Ravi Hutheesing: No, not really. You know, I think that the biggest difference between the generations is not so much when they grew up, it’s that we’re at different ages. Age difference is more than just generational difference. In many cases, the Baby Boomers have forgotten what they were like when they were at the age of Millennials, you know, kids today. Every generation has said it, it’s not a new phrase, “kids today …”

I think that’s really the case. It’s not that we’re so different, but it’s that many ways in society and the tools we have are different … going back to what I originally said, technology, artificial intelligence, information is moving at a much faster pace and therefore changing much more rapidly. It’s changed our attention span, it’s changed the Millennials’ willingness to make investments, whether it’s investments in a job, investments in the stock market, investments in marriages and relationships. These things are changing at a much faster pace and they’re going to live much longer lifespans.

That’s what makes them really different. What makes them really the same is that they want … is that it comes down to the values. It comes down to the fact that at the end of the day they want to make a difference. At the end of the day they want to have time to enjoy their families. They want to have time to enjoy life. Many of the things that we criticize them for are the things that we all want. It’s just that certain generations didn’t grow up … in prior times, we had a work-life balance. That’s what older generations were always trying to find is a work-life balance. The younger generations are trying to find a work-life integration. It’s not balance, it’s integration.

Mari Ryan: That’s great. I’m curious, if you can share with us a little bit about what can employers do to help bridge the generations in the workplace, and to help their workforce make those meaningful connections that you were referring to?

Ravi Hutheesing: This is, of course, one of the harder challenges that every employer faces today, especially if they have multiple generations working in the same physical environment. You have to look at those common things again, creating that sense of community, creating open workspaces. I believe that many people, Baby Boomer generations, or even older, my father’s generation, add great value to their private workspace and their closed off corner office and that type of structure. There are a lot of people currently still in the work environment that feel they have earned that, and they want that corner office and they want that privacy.

This is the transition because the younger generations want the more “community environment.” They want what we’re seeing popping up in common workspaces and that type of open environment. So, environment is important. If we want to create more cross-collaborative, cross-cultural, collaborative opportunities, and by cultural, I don’t just mean diversity in the sense of where we all come from, our race, our backgrounds, or religions, but generations are nothing more than cultural differences.

If we want to create cross-cultural collaboration, we have to create environments in which those opportunities exist, environments that have open workspaces, environments that have private conference rooms, places where people can get away to make a quick, private phone call, but at the same time a place where they can be surrounded at work in a Starbucks environment. You know, there a reason why there’s a lot of people who like to go to common workspaces and coffee houses. If we can create those environments in that kind of culture – it all comes down to culture, which is why I refer to myself as a culture catalyst – because culture [no sound - 0:13:33.8] work environments.

Mari Ryan: It’s so interesting the way that you’ve referred to this as around connections and community because those are two elements that we refer to in model of wellbeing that we used with employer groups because those connections make people feel that they belong in the workplace and that’s how they feel that they want to be there and can contribute in a meaningful way.

Ravi Hutheesing: Absolutely, and I think it’s also very important to understand that people’s personal time is very important. We are, and to take a more futuristic and philosophical look, we are entering an age of globalization and artificial intelligence PriceWaterhouseCoopers tells us 40% of jobs are going to be outsourced or automated within the next 10 years. I believe we are entering a phase where as a society we are no longer going to be defined by what we do. We’ve always been defined by what we do. So, that’s a good question, what do you do? I think that is going to shift because our identities are going to be formed more around what difference are we making in the world, what are our values, who are we?

So, for our workplaces to understand that people aren’t necessarily defined by the work that they do. They want to bring their own personality, their own work habits into the workplace. This is a very positive trend, I think. What remains important is the work gets done. How the work gets done is maybe less important. But as long as the work gets done, I think employers are very welcoming of people’s individual styles of work because that should lift all boats, if everybody is being productive.

Mari Ryan: Those are profound words, I love it. Thank you so much for sharing that. Diversity has been such a big topic of late in the workplace and I’m curious how do you think the different generations view diversity. Is there really any difference?

Ravi Hutheesing: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting when you look at the basic generations and where they lie on political issues and social justice issues, there are differences. Let me just think of some, round some up off the top of my head. When it comes to immigration, for example, you look at the polls that are taken on this subject. Plenty of Baby Boomers don’t think it is good for the country; the majority of Millennials think it is. When you look at things like the border wall, regardless of which side you sit on the issue, when you look at the generations you can see the majority of Boomers are in favor of a border wall and the majority of Millennials are not. So, there are differences.

When it comes to racial differences, you have to remember that the Boomers grew up in a time of segregation. The Millennials grew up in a time of Obama. They aren’t even impressed that we had an African-American president; they think it’s normal. It’s a different lens in which they are looking at these very important issues.

So when it comes to diversity in the workplace, Millennials are looking for it. They are global and they want that global environment [indecipherable - 0:17:45.9] and it also makes them feel good about their own values. If one subscribes to that and has grown up in an environment that is becoming more diverse, and with technology we have more access to the globe, our communities everywhere are becoming more diverse, that’s our comfort zone. Diversity is very important. What I think is great about the Millennial generation is that they are the most multicultural of the generations we have ever seen.

Mari Ryan: It’s wonderful to be able to have an environment in the workplace where we can appreciate all of the differences and similarities that people bring as individuals into that workspace.

Ravi Hutheesing: … to appreciate the similarities and differences. You mentioned in the introduction that I founded this network, Ravi United Schools. This is the whole purpose of Ravi United Schools. What I do is put on 45-minute interactions between student groups. In Chile, for example, later this week, and a group in the United States. In two weeks I’ll be in India and I’ll be doing one from India with the United States. The whole point is to create peer to peer interactions because we all learn best from our peers, especially the younger generations, and what happens is if you create an environment where they start to bond and realize, oh my gosh, we’re reading the same book’s, I didn’t know a village in India could break dance the same way that we do here, or listens to Akon, watching the same movies, reading the same books.

We want to create harmony in our businesses, we want to create harmony in our microcosm environments, which is very important. Creating those opportunities for people who seem to be different to recognize how much they have in common will only enhance their empathy and desire to not only understand each other’s differences, but genuinely appreciate each other.

Mari Ryan: If our audience want to learn more about you and the fabulous work that you’re doing, Ravi, where can the find you?

Ravi Hutheesing: They can find me at my website, raviunites.com and they can also reach me through the website. I answer each email personally.

Mari Ryan: Fabulous. Thank you so much for the important work that you are doing, creating connections and building communities worldwide. Thanks, Ravi.

Ravi Hutheesing: Thanks, Mari. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, vacation policies, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, employee engagement, social connections, workplace generations, employee well-being, human resources, corporate culture

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.