Roy Sheneman is Human Resources Manager for Valley Telephone Cooperative, Inc. and is pursuing a PhD in Leadership Studies with an element on generational differences in the workplace. He talked with Valley Business Report’s editor about adapting to working with people who are your grandson’s age or the age of your grandmother.
Q Why is the current generational mix different?
A For the first time in history, we have four generations working side by side in the workplace. The oldest were born between 1925 and 1945. Next are the Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1965 followed by Gen X in 1965 to 1985. The Millenials or Gen Y are the youngest workers born between 1986 and 2005. All four have unique perspectives on what it means to have a career; on the meaning of work; and on the role of their manager in their lives.
Q What generational differences does a supervisor deal with?
A There are very different expectations. Millenials expect constant contact with their boss along with a cell phone, a laptop or iPad. If their boss doesn’t stop in to check how things
are going several times a day, the Millenial asks what’s wrong. The older generations by contrast wonder what’s wrong if the boss does stop to check them on repeatedly. While generally employing technology in their jobs, the older generations do not have the intuitive, quick rapport approach to new tech that the Millenials do.
A major difference is that Millenials see work as a source of personal growth and development. A career is a lesser part of their identity than it is for previous generations. In a survey
employees ranked how important it is was to work for someone who actively helps develop one’s skills. The youngest say it is number one in importance; the oldest said it was the least.
HR professionals ranked it in the middle. People frequently assume everyone looks at the world with the same glasses.
Q Why must workplaces adapt to the Millenial outlook?
A It goes beyond the younger generations having essential skill sets. Federal agencies are predicting a shortage of 20 million employees by 2020 as the huge Baby Boomer generation
retires. Increased competition for employees is likely, so employers have to figure it out how to get and keep people. By 2035, we’re in deep trouble if we haven’t solved this. Right now, many younger workers think five or six years is a career and then they plan to move into another field.
Q A supervisor at major resort told me he hires competent university students and then spends his time training them in simple courtesies such as smiling, looking people in the eye and engaging in conversation. Is this common?
A Many of the Millennials have very poor social skills because they are used to twittering and texting. You have to teach them everything from how to shake hands in a respectful manner to how to dress and act like a professional. That goes beyond image to safety issues. Remember this is the entitlement generation. They grew up playing soccer where you did not keep score and everyone got a trophy. They may be college graduates but no one has ever asked them to do
Q What conflicts are arising in the workplace?
A Older generations always look at the younger generations as lazy or disorganized. There may be some truth to that or maybe the younger ones are using different, faster techniques. The generations can annoy and misunderstand each other. The younger side says, Why don’t you talk to me? (Tell me I’m doing a good job). The older replies, Why do we need to talk? You are supposed to do a good job.
Q What can be done?
A Everybody will have to adjust and appreciate each other’s strengths. Older workers must get their heads around the fact that the younger ones are different, not worse and they are not afraid of anything. Employers need to find ways to engage the young workforce, keep them interested and reward them for staying. It’s not always financial reward that matters to them. Praise, recognition and the opportunity to do something different are incentives.
Q What’s the future look like?
A Many businesses will have to recreate themselves to survive. In the old days it was top down management. Now it’s going to be more communications during the day. It will lead to a different style of management, more touching base, maybe doing things more efficiently. We’ll see all the generations learning to adapt to a common language and sense of direction because they have to. Supervisors will discuss career planning with workers and help them gain skills and transition to new fields, hopefully within the same company.
Q How can I get more details?
A Tons of research have been done. The 2020 Workplace by Meister and Willyerd is a very good book.