Make the Most of Multiple Generations in the Workplace

By Ann Elliott

Today the workplace is a blend of generations. Your success increases significantly when you adapt to and use multiple generations in the workforce.  Adapt or perish. montage Each generation brings its unique life experience to the work place as well as different values and work expectations.  In Volume 1 of “The Talent Market Series” W. Stanton Smith, National Director, Next Generation Initiatives, at Deloitte & Touche defines the generations this way:
  • Veterans were born before 1946
  • Baby Boomers were born from 1946-1964
  • Gen Xers were born from 1965-1980
  • Gen Yers were born after 1980
The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics reported that 5.7 million people over age 65 were in the workforce in 2007.  By 2028 13.7 million people over age 65 will be in the workforce.  There is a shortage of younger workers to make up for the “silver tsunami” (exiting Boomers). Recently I heard a Baby Boomer, who supervises a large workforce in the manufacturing industry, say, “These young people come to work for us and after we’ve taught them how to do the job well, they leave.  They don’t have any loyalty.  It’s all about them.” He is clearly frustrated.  He is a thirty year company man whose perspective about work ethic, motivation for work and company loyalty is different from the younger generation he hires, trains, and supervises.  Are his perspectives right and theirs wrong or merely different? A business that is struggling to adapt to a multi generational workforce experiences:
  • Tension in the workplace
  • Desertion of valuable employees
  • Missed opportunities to learn from each other
  • Difficulty in attracting quality younger employees
The underlying reasons for the struggle to adapt include:
  • Difficulty of changing long held beliefs and attitudes
  • Generational differences in motives for work
  • Different skills required for success
  • Technology advances
  • Uncharted waters for today’s leaders
How can you adapt to multigenerations in your workplace? Acknowledge that the workforce is a blend of generations as well as cultures and the movement will continue no matter what you or your company does. Recognize that you are writing the script as you live it. As Stanton Smith says, “The young have always appeared different from their elders, but Generation Y is increasingly different in some high-impact ways.” Adopt an attitude of wonder and curiosity.  The effort you spend blaming, judging and resisting could be applied to learning and contributing. Five Practical Steps to Enhance and Take Advantage of a Melting Pot of Generations: 1.  Create the context for different generations to learn from each other. A clear vision for your company is essential.  People will find naturally where they fit and how their skills, knowledge, and expertise contribute to the bigger picture. 2.  Understand what motivates your employees. Job titles and corporate hierarchy, very important to Veterans and Baby Boomers, hold little sway with Gen X.  They want work/life balance.  Gen Y, according to Walton Smith’s research, “have a decrease in career ambition in favor of more family time, less travel, and less personal stress.” 3.  Provide flexibility. Technology allows work to be done in a variety of ways, locations and at hours other than 9-5.  Gen Yers expect benefits like flexibility that allow them to integrate work/life. 4.  Use a variety of ways to educate, train and communicate. Younger workers have grown up with technology and prefer multi-media. The internet has given Gen Yers a more global perspective of what is available and what is possible than Boomers. 5.  Provide ample opportunities for training and developing new skills. Smith says, “Young workers like to learn in networks, teams or swarms (a leaderless group that is based on the use of technology).” An example of management that just didn’t get it I was meeting with the team of senior managers exploring ways to improve their business.  Someone suggested lap top computers for their sales team so they could stay connected to the home office and quickly place sales orders.  The operations manager adamantly said, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. I know a company that did that and it was a huge mistake.  I can’t believe you would suggest such a thing.” Not only did his outburst put a pall on constructive discussion, he demonstrated how entrenched he was in an old way of working and thinking.  He could not adapt and embrace a multigenerational workforce.  The company is thriving and he is working somewhere else. Remember these points The workplace is going to change as younger workers join the workforce.  They bring different ideas, expectations and experiences to the business world.  Some older workers are staying longer by choice and others by necessity. The workplace is watching as “old fogeys” and “young whippersnappers” sort it out. Is your business going to build its success on learning how to leverage the differences in multiple generations?  Can you appreciate, embrace, and support the differences as a major tool for company growth and excellence? The emerging generation is the next generation of leaders.  What kind of workplace can we build together?

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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