Managing Generation Gaps in the WorkplaceBy Joanne Townsend | Posted 2011-04-06 Print
Organizations need to understand the issues that affect both Gen Y employees and the established workforce.
While there have always been generational gaps in the workplace, it’s more important than ever to learn how to manage these differences properly as workforce retention takes center stage in the post-recessionary environment.
According to a recent report produced by Millennial, today’s younger generation will bring change to the workplace by continuing to shake up how we communicate, consume media, browse the Web and make products. To succeed, organizations will need to find new ways to empower the Gen Y employees (born mid-1970s to early 2000s) and unlock their creativity as they continue to advocate change.
Organizations will need to understand the issues that affect both the Gen Yers and the established workforce, address the challenges that hinder the success of each group, and put new processes in place to elevate life in the workplace and make it a place in which all generations feel comfortable.
It's also critical for organizations to be aware of the cultural differences between Gen Y employees and the more-experienced generations.
The content and curriculum in our college systems are rapidly changing, and students are learning the latest technology, which they’ll apply in their future careers. This concept is especially important for technology companies, which need to stay current with new trends and applications. On the other hand, the older generation is integral to the flow of daily business projects because nothing can replace its wisdom and experience—especially the value that experience brings to mentoring younger generations in the workplace.
Organizations need to successfully harness these differing thought processes so employees can collaborate and learn from each other, making the workplace more productive and successful.
Addressing Workplace Issues
There are three pressing issues that companies should take into account when addressing the workplace gaps that occur between Gen Y and older generations.
Technology: Gen Y is constantly pushing for companies to implement new technologies in the workplace, such as online training or benefits enrollment, to make their jobs more efficient. They are even getting their supervisors, who were initially hesitant to adopt these new tools, to see their practical use and everyday value. A widespread adoption of technology in the workplace is important, especially to companies that wish to attract tech-savvy employees.
Feedback: Reviews and feedback are normal processes in the workplace. However, the older and younger generations have different attitudes toward how these processes are handled. While Gen Y employees want and expect regular feedback on their work and performance, older managers are not as apt to provide this validation on a daily basis because they are used to providing feedback only during yearly or midyear performance evaluations.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to train managers to provide frequent feedback. This can be done through formal presentations or more subtle one-on-one coaching. Gen Y employees need this validation to continue to feel that they are a part of the larger team.
Work/Life Balance: Gen Y employees are looking to achieve a positive work/life balance and are happy with companies that provide more flexibility in their schedules. This could include instituting summer hours, allowing the use of laptops and video conferencing to help employees who want to work from home, and providing a flexible work schedule for employees who seek to further their education. Although some experienced workers may hesitate to adopt or accept these policies, they help to build loyalty for the company and can satisfy younger employees.
Putting New Processes in Place
After identifying the issues that have the greatest effect on your company, put new processes into place to address those issues. The first step is to take into account the needs of the different generations separately before coming up with a cohesive solution to accommodate the entire organization. And be sure to keep in mind how important it is to clearly articulate why changes are being made and how they will benefit the entire organization.
Each generation brings a different way of thinking to the company, and when these varying philosophies are aligned, they are invaluable. Gen Y pushes the older generations to think differently, while the older generations mentor Gen Yers and provide them with the tools to succeed. That, in turn, drives organizational success.
When beginning to think about how to create this new culture and implement processes that foster learning and collaboration between generations, it’s important to note that not all organizational cultures will be the same and that, in the final analysis, management must maintain the values that drive their organizations.
Joanne Townsend is vice president of human resources at Zebra Technologies.
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