Generation Gaps Part 2

Nov/Dec 2010

In the last Leadership Matters column, I wrote about the different attitudes and work ethics among generations— baby boomers and generations X and Y—toward work and the workplace. I concluded that it seems the best way to harness everyone’s potential in a multi-generational workplace is to think about how to leverage the different values the three generations hold, while keeping the opportunities for conflict to a minimum.

It almost goes without saying that there will be conflicts, given differing points of view on allegiance to company and work/life balance. Boomers, for example, may find it difficult to understand younger workers who keep strict office hours, even if they are in the middle of a big project. When an employee says, “I have other things that are important in my life—work is not the only thing I live for,” it can create an instant intergenerational clash of work values and priorities.

HR’s role here is to understand these attitudinal differences towards work and to communicate those differences in constructive ways to enhance understanding.


Changing our employer value proposition
HR has another role. As the boomers continue to retire, HR needs to attract new talent to the organization. Given the general attitudes of the next generation of workers, this will mean enumerating the opportunities for personal and professional growth. It is no longer the employer sitting back and asking the employee what they can do for the company. And that fundamentally changes how you recruit and attract the best skilled people and keep them engaged for as long as they are willing to work for your company.

Just as potential employees are asking us what we can do for them; it makes sense for us to ask them about their interests. Find out what they would like you to do while they are with you, how long they plan to stay and how both can work out a mutually beneficial relationship.

While the idea of blind allegiance to a company is slipping away in this new age, that does not mean we cannot pursue loyalty. Instead of loyalty to the company, however, HR should foster loyalty to the reason the organization exists. To achieve this, HR must communicate the organization’s goals, values and reason for being. HR can also effectively communicate the company’s performance in the global marketplace and its performance on the sustainability front. For example, I have heard from my daughter and many of her friends in their 20s that when they are seeking employment opportunities, many will ask about the company’s environmental sustainability policy.

If you understand people better, you will create more effective working relationships. Not everyone comes to work with the same values and we need to understand the differences to come up with ways to work well together.

Recognize that boomers bring a lot of wisdom and experience and if they are valued for that, they can add to the team. And also understand that the next generation is becoming a lot more devoted to traditional parenting, community and work/life balance.

HR Magazine November December 2010

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