Bridging the Organization’s Gap on Generational Diversity
“Our workplace is an ever-changing, ever-evolving environment.” (7) Managers and leaders are in a constant challenge to keep up to speed with our diverse workforce which is not limited to race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc. However, our main focus will be on generational diversity as it is now more polarized in today’s workforce than ever before. The workforce of today consists mainly of three generations and is categorized as follows: baby boomers, generation x, and the millenials. According to McNamara, “each generation has distinctive experiences that have an impact on their values, and each has complex cultural variations.(1)” “Generations’ work ethic and ideals are the result of the time in which they grew up; each generation had different political, economic, and social experiences that ultimately affected who they are personally and professionally. (4)” Such differences may pose a short term challenge to management as the traditional one size fits all management model no longer works. Management now needs to re-engineer the outdated management model and re-create a new framework that values generational diversity. Such framework must be consistent in embracing the needs of all three groups and bridging the gap amongst them. Not an easy task; but definitely a needed one!
“Unquestionably, there are real differences, misunderstandings, and tension among workers in different eras.(2). “Beyond mere life stages, generational differences are based on broad variations in values, contrasting environments, and social dynamics each generation experiences as they come of age.” (3) Because of their blatant differences there is often friction, misunderstandings as well as miscommunication at work. In order to move forward management needs to understand the underlying values, experiences, and unique characteristics of each group in order to successfully lead its organization and form a harmonious inclusive environment where differences are respected. Furthermore, management needs take steps within the organization to eliminate any biases in their current system and recreate its organization as where it is modeled around fairness and differences are appreciated.
“Generational theory, assumes that different generations end up with substantially different values.” Jamie Notter
1940-1960 The Baby Boomers/Poulation 80 million— The Optimistic Generation! Baby boomers get their name because “the actual boom in births in this country is identified by demographers as 1946 through 1964, and many authors on generational issues define the cohort using those years.(5) “It was the social elements of the sixties that defined this generation” it was a time of stability and growth.(8) However, it is also argued that “historically there has been a pattern of alternating civic crisis and spiritual awakenings that have forged” this generation. (11) “Meaningful events and environmental forces included the Vietnam War, Watergate, Woodstock(1969),. OPEC oil embargo, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and Human Rights movements.” (9) Meaningful faces of that time included John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Black Panther Party and Richard Nixon.” (10) Baby boomers have a reputation of “being self absorbed, they are also known for their commitment to teamwork and group harmony.”(16) “During these rebellious times the boomers worked hard to find a place “they focused on spiritualism over science, gratification over patience, and self over community.” (12) (13) “Due to the sheer population size of this generation, it makes up the majority of the workforce; it also represents those that make up the majority of high ranking positions in companies.” (6) Boomers have a strong work ethic “they are “dedicated, extremely loyal, and self-reliant. They value loyalty and often keep their jobs for long periods of time. They have a strong desire to be respected and recognized for the dues that they have paid.” (13) “It is a generation known for strong work ethic, even being referenced as workaholics” and “value teamwork and personal achievement.” (26) Boomers are the next retiring generation and are becoming more conscientious when it comes to health benefits, SS, as well as their retirement plans. “According to Zemke, Raines, and Filipczak, the boomers offer the following assets and liabilities in the workplace:” (15)
• Service Oriented
• Want to Please
• Good at relationships
• Good team players
• Not Budget Minded
• Reluctant to Go against Peers
• Judgmental of others
• Uncomfortable with conflict
1960-1980 Generation Xers/Population 46 Million— The Skeptical Generation!
“Title and appearance mean less to Generation X. Respect is conferred based on behavior.” (17) “Meaninful figures and faces for this generation Xers included: Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Clarence Thomas, Ted Bundy, OJ Simpson, Beavis and Butthead.” (24) Like other generations they have been shaped by the particular forces in history they faced while growing up.” (18) This generation experienced havoc “by the time they came of age, they were looking at a different picture: the Iran hostage crisis, the energy crisis, Three Mile Island, the education decline in the educational system, rampant inflation, and the first wave of corporate downsizing in America.” (19) The impression this generation received was that adults were not in control and corporate America was not to be trusted.
“The major changes going on in the adult world in the 1960’s and 1970’s had a huge impact on this generation. Divorce rates skyrocketed during this era, and there was a huge increase in the number of women in the workforce. One impact of these trends was the creation of the first generation of latch and key kids, who came from school to an empty house and took care of themselves. Because of the perceived failure of their parents’ institutions and the laissez-faire approach to the parenting they received, Generation X is now known for their independence. Self employment is a goal of a higher percentage of Generation X, compared to other generations, linked to a fundamental distrust of authority.” (20) Generation Xers do not find self fulfillment at work and do not trust corporate institutions. Their personal experiences molded Generation Xers, to value family and look for a work and life balance. They tend to work forty hours and rarely look forward to overtime. Due to this mindset they are constantly misjudged as having a poor work ethic, uncommitted, ungrateful, and cynical. Generation Xers also experienced a boom in technology! Such technology included cable, sattlelite, vcr’s, video games, cell phones, palms and pc’s. They are “the first generation to grow with computer technology” and office machines that facilitated work. (21). “This has also generated a more flexible approach to work and working hours” compared to previous generations.(22) They have embraced technology and recognize that it facilitates their work load and use this to their performing advantage and made it part of their world. “Zemke, Raines, and Filipczak note the following assets and liabilities for Generation X:” (23)
• Unintimidated by authority
• Poor People Skills
1980-2000(?) Millennials/Population 76 million—The Realistic Generation!
“Meaningful Events and Environmental forces for this generation include: September 11, Death of Princess Di, Oklahoma City, Iraq, Global Warming, SARS, Anthrax, Beltway sniper, columbine, Chat rooms, GPS’s, Computers and Smart Phones. Meaningful Faces that have shaped their perception of the Millennial’s are George Bush, Marlyn Manson, Britney Spears, Lance Armstrong, Ricky Martin, Barney, and President Obama. The Millenials are unique as they have been exposed to technology since they were babies. The internet has been part of their lifestyle. Technology is in their nature and they embrace it as it emerges. As a result, the Millennials feel more instantly connected to the rest of the world than any generation before them.”(24) Their social interaction is through media such as myspace, facebook, and unlimited texting. Because their method of socializing is media style, when faced with a difficult task, they stretch their networking capacity at a global level, communicating with internet friends and coworkers from all over the world. “This generation values quick and constant communication between professionals in a work environment.” (31) Technology has allowed this generation to learn and explore at a faster rate more than previous generations; as their networking capacity is immense and unlimited.
Aside from growing in up in a world of technology, millennials have also grown in generational climate of abundance. “Today the United States has more cars than licensed drivers. The self-storage industry (which obviously did not exist during the Depression) is now a $17 billion industry.” (25) This generation assumes that having everything is a norm, such as TV, satellite, home internet, hot water, smart phones, transportation, air condition, and brand clothing and perceives a sense of entitlement. There is clear disconnect to limitations as they feel that they have the world in their hands. As in the previous generations, “the trends in parenting that millenials experienced as children is being identified as a shaper of this generations,” (28) Parents over protect their children and dictate their lifestyle. “Millenial children have grown up being told what to do, told where they would be, and, in many cases, driven there by parents and care givers.” (29) It is not unusual to have parents step in into the workforce and have management explain policies and their child’s negative performance.
As they enter the workforce, they seek guidance, respect authority, and feel comfortable in structured environments. They look for support and “ want to please those around them; it is a generation known to have a goal oriented mind set—they do not give up.” (30) They like to work hard but also like to play hard and also value work and life balance. “Difficult bosses or customers can stump the millennials who are used to friendly and supportive interactions.”(31) They are sensitive to criticism as they have always been rewarded even for losing. “Finally, as they did with the previous generations, Zemke, Raines, and Filipczak posit their views on the assets and liabilities of Millennials on the job: (32)
• Collective Action
• Heroic Spirit
• Multitasking capabilities
• Technology Saavy
• Need for supervision and structure • Inexperienced, particularly with handling difficult people issues As we can see there is a world of differences in each generation. The challenge lies in stereotypes perceived from one generation another. At times, each one is judgmental of one another and miscommunication and trust factor at work. The purpose of understanding these generations is to strategically bridge the gap amongst them and provide a free flowing environment where everyone is valued for what they bring to the table. As baby boomers are quickly retiring, and a there is a limited population of generation Xers and Millenials are entering the workforce taking those spots. Organizations need to proactively embrace the shift in a proactively versus reactively. There is no way around it-- generational diversity is part of today’s and future workforce.
Now more than ever managers need to find innovative to create a smooth work environment that is functional that includes all three generations. Furthermore, the organization system and structure should also be flexible to recruit, retain, and satisfy the generational workforce.
“The challenge for all of us in today’s work environment is not to only perform our individual job duties to meet expectations, but to work together to meet all of the changing workplace expectations.”
Ralph Ramirez, CCT, CEH
Valuing the differences !
Generational trainings benefit everyone in an organization because they are the first step in bringing together generations to understand their differences and provide ideas on how these differences can leverage and not hinder organizations. “Valuing individual differences leads to a greater acceptance of all view points which reduce workplace conflict and stereotyping.” (35) “Workplaces that retain a multi generational workforce have advantages over those that do not.” (33) Levels of experience vary and this creates opportunities of development and influence for each generation to shape their values into balance and strengths. For example, millenials and generation xers can develop a strong professional foundation of knowledge from an experienced generation and can assimilate hardworking values. Baby boomers can also learn form the millenials and generation xers that it is ok to have a life and work balance. Boomers and generation Xers can benefit from technology as it can simplify their work in an easier and efficient fashion. “This understanding of others gives employees skills incapable of being learned in a work environment that isn’t multigenerational.” (34) Ultimately, the understanding of generations translates to a stronger organizational work ethic and productive employees. Mentoring and Teaming is another approach that also benefits all generations as management identifies opportunities and uses this strategies to cross train and open lines of communications amongst generations to solidify understandings and learn from one another. Other innovative ways to assist in relationship building are interacting in company events, group lunches, and company parties. Applying the knowledge!
“Up until a few years ago, generational issues were not being widely discussed by public sector managers.”(35) However, times have changed and generational is a living reality in the workplace. “There are challenges in organizations both public and private, in terms of diversity practices.”(36) Some of those challenges can be that organizations embrace and understand diversity but their structure and policies do not reflect them or there is a lag in recruiting and retention. “Achieving and managing diversity in public organizations requires a comprehensive strategy “as well as a follow through commitment from top to bottom.(37) Management must lead by example and foster a healthy workplace where the organization’s climate needs to reflect fairness, and equality, and stability. It is recommended that management maintains impartial.
“A diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and market place.” (39) The ability to recruit, retain and attract employees of all ages gives any organization leverage. “Time and unforeseen circumstances befall us all, and the loss of key operations staff can cripple an organization.” (38) It is imperative that organizations take a look at their current framework and strategically plan to reorganize their current structure to retain, recruit and attract the best regardless of their age.
Understanding the generation trend and the key motivators help organizations adjust their outdated traditional one size fits all models. As described above, each generation find s a comfort zone at different levels. It is up to the organization to establish what those levels are and apply them to their current framework to meet the diverse needs.
Change is not easy and it involves, time, dedication, knowledge and commitment. However, in this day of age where baby boomers are about to retire, there are limited numbers of generation xers, and the next workforce is the millennial generation it is no longer an option not be proactive and engage in change. Aside from being a necessity, changing an outdated framework to attract and retain the best gives corporations leverage and sustains a healthy diverse work environment.
In the following case study you will see that “building a workplace that recognizes generation diversity” works. (40) For over 18 years the City of Claremont, CA has made strategic efforts to understand its workforce and have gone out of their way to recruit top talent regardless of their age. At an early stage they identified that qualified employees would be scarce, as baby boomers are closer to retirement and there is “statistically reality that there are not enough people to replace them.” (41) This led them to create a climate that would assist in retaining their current staff, while giving opportunity to younger workers to fully prepare for higher level positions as they come available.
With a shortage of workers, and the private sector being a primary competitor for talent; the city of Claremont opted to develop “programs and benefits to appeal to each generation” in order to attract, retain, and recruit the best possible candidates available. (42) In their words, “ The programs we’ve developed in Claremont over the years are the results of some basic research among employees: we asked what was important to them. Most recently, we brought some of the leading thinkers of the generational diversity field into our organization to conduct workshops and focus groups, which have validated most of our findings.” (43)
They applied this knowledge and used this information to