Dealing With the Generational Divide

Take a look at any newspaper, blog or article about the workforce today and you will see evidence of ‘the generational divide.” . This has become the biggest challenge facing man- agers and business owners. Growing up in very different times have led each generation to viewing the workplace with very different expectations – and that spells Trouble.

Gabriel Draven, a reporter for The Globe & Mail, wrote in March 2004 that Canadian companies better start accepting this generational shift as reality because it’s going to dramatically change how businesses are run and managed. No longer is a steady paycheck the motivating force. Employees from Generation X and Generation Y want something completely different from their jobs.

So what’s the best strategy?

First step is to learn and understand how the generations function and think. Countless authors and human resource professionals have voiced their opinions. One such author is Cam Marston. In his 2007 book “Motivating the ‘What’s in it for me?’ workforce”, Marden discusses the characteristics and differences between the generations (see Figure 1). Baby Boomers represented a cohort nearly double the previous generations size. Once they started to enter the workforce, it became apparent that there were more employees than positions.

This was exacerbated by the development of technology, which led to a shift in the economy from a manufacturing-base to a service and technology-base.

As such, Boomers considered themselves fortunate to find employment and recognized that they had to learn to fit in and stay in line as they were easily replaced. This bred a loyalty to the company who took a chance in hiring them, resulting in Boomers having two or three jobs in their entire career.

Marston (2007) states that Boomers tend to take a top-down hierarchal managerial approach, resulting in a director or navigator style. He suggests that this is a result of the pressure put on this generation from the high level of competition created by the limited number of positions.  Having achieved their success by following a set of  established by the top-down management style, older managers are hesitant to change a system they know that works (Marston, 2007). In other words, while they may be strong at their job, their strategic frames and values may have become blinders and dogmas that restrict their ability to successfully manage the younger generations (Sull, 1999). What does this mean for your business?

Do you follow the five steps for successful decision making? Do you foster an open and candid atmosphere, removing fear from conversations? Do you trust your team to make decisions and guide them through questions and curiosity instead of criticism? Do you reward them accordingly?

Generation-Y and Millennials, or the latch key generations, saw their parents giving their lives to the job only to see them laid off during the recession in the 1990’s.

As a byproduct of this commitment to work, Boomer and Gen-X parents were rarely available to their children, allowing them to be raised by television and technology, and tended to attempt to make up for their absence by trying to be a friend rather than a parent or role model. Understandably, the Gen-Y and Millennial generations look for a role model at work.

They have grown up watching people of power abuse it, whether it is a government, private, or religious organization and are wary of managers who strictly enforce top-down managerial styles, favoring those who create a supportive, learning environment. If they find a superior who they deem as competent and genuine, they will follow them loyally, even switching employers to follow them. In fact, unlike the Boomers, the latch key generations will not tolerate “bad” bosses or work and will quit a job to find a better one.

On average, latch key generations stay with an employer for under three years before taking what they have learned and moving on.

This mentality gives the latch key generations a carpe diem approach to employment, viewing their current employment as an opportunity to develop skills that will help them in their new job, which they always expect will come. While this attitude is a good one during a recession, it also changes their perception of their time commitment to work. How does this affect your growth?

Boomers equated time at work as an investment for the future as the boss seeing you working long hours increased the likelihood of promotions and job security. For them, it was time spent doing work over the quantity. The latch key generations grew up having things handed to them and being in control of their time.

Unsurprisingly, this attitude came with them to the workplace. They view work as merely a means to fund their lifestyle, giving time equal value to money. With their knowledge and ability to use technology, they completed their work quickly, allowing them to work a minimal amount of hours.

The big difference here is quantity versus quality, where Boomers expect to be noticed for their hours while the latch key generations expect to be noticed for their work, regardless how long it took them. This results in them having a false sense of entitlement, which often makes them take on the attitude that they are smarter than their older supervisors, causing them to constantly challenge and question their supervisor’s authority and expertise.

This begs the question of what steps managers can take to create an environment that will increase retention of young talent. Andriopoulos (2003) suggests that a successful organizational culture is one where employees are challenged and encouraged to pursue personal growth and initiatives with support from management. But is this enough?

To accomplish this, Dent and Goldberg (1999) propose training in teaching techniques and negotiation skills aid, which not only promotes a learning environment, but also develops an organization that is able to tackle complexity effectively. Don Tapscott, author of “Growing up digital: How the net generation is changing your world”, identifies four techniques that promote an environment that will aid in retaining Millennials.

To begin, Tapscott emphasizes the importance of building relationships rather than simply recruiting. Recruitment may fill a position, however it does not address any of the main motivators of the Millenials. Since Millennials are searching for their ideal supervisor, a hiring process that allows the candidates to interact with their manager and get a feel of the culture will be far more successful in not only attracting candidates with the right fit, but also retaining new hires.

The second strategy is to use collaborative problem solving rather than simply supervising or dictating. Being the early adapters and primary users of social network sites, Millennials are accustomed to working within networks and using their connections to brainstorm. Restricting them with rigid instruction will leave them unengaged, unmotivated, and ultimately unsatisfied with their employment.

The third strategy builds on Andriopoulos, Dent, and Goldberg and suggests that managers should invest in learning and collaborative development of skills rather than training. Training suggests that the trainer is the expert and information can only flow from the trainer to the employee. By using a shaping and collaborative leadership style, employees feel as though they are contributing to their learning and thus retain more knowledge, are engaged, and have higher job satisfaction.

The fourth strategy is to minimize the emphasis of the organizational boundaries and recognize that participation and innovation comes from both inside and outside the organization.

Finally, do not hide behind security fears, but embrace the unknown and new technologies. Generation Y in particular has grown up in a world where technology advances on almost a daily basis and they have continued to stay on the cutting edge. Indeed, using the newest technologies or approaches appeals to their “cool” factor.

Choosing to stick with older technologies or approaches makes your organization appear out dated and resistant to change, which drives away young talent looking to maintain their position of being on the cutting edge.

However, will simply following these strategies provide our managers with the abilities to effectively bridge the divide? We have to ensure that the learning approach is not a flavor of the month approach, that the teaching sufficiently address the issue, and sufficient practice time is provided to support the learning process. Experience is a very harsh teacher, but it is through experience that we actually learn. In other words, we want to make the learning experience as beneficial as possible before we face our challenges. If you’d like more information or hands on guidance regarding bringing out the best in your workforce, whatever generations, give us a call.uf


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