Prising: A Melding of Generations Aids the Workplace

Posted May 14, 2009 at 2:09pm

Most organizations these days include employees of a variety of ages and cultures. However, in recent years there has been increasing attention on the apparent disparity between the “Boomers— (workers born in the post-war years stretching from the mid-1940s to mid-1960s), “Generation X— (those born from the mid-1960s to late 1970s) and “Generation Y— or “Millennials— (those born between the late 1970s and 2000).

When you take a closer look at these generations, you realize that each one has very different attitudes about life and work. Balancing these expectations and demands can be challenging even in times of growth and prosperity, but in times of a recession it can be even more difficult. Employers, more than ever, need to make the most of the talented workers in their labor force and play on the strengths of each generation to gain a competitive edge that will allow them to weather the economic storm.

While the vast majority of Generation Y has never experienced a recession as a worker, other generations within a work force — such as Boomers and Generation X — may have worked through a recession before. Therefore, they would have the experience and know-how to keep an organization afloat and competitive in a difficult marketplace.

For the first time in history, all these generations will be working together. Employers should look for ways to not only maximize this valuable knowledge, but also find ways to transfer it to younger and less experienced employees in the organization, particularly at a time when hiring is likely to be at a minimum. An internal mentoring system can be a tremendously effective way of providing younger workers with an experienced hand to guide them through this difficult time, and provide a vehicle for older, knowledgeable workers to pass on many of their skills and expertise.

On the other hand, employers should also look to the strengths of the younger generations who are generally known for having different priorities in their working lives. This generation, among many things, values variety throughout their career, working for an organization with good social and ethical policies, and a generous work-life balance, in addition to being very technologically savvy.

As a result, these employees may have unique skills that employers can tap into to differentiate themselves and stay ahead even in the downturn. A good example is the use of digital and social media to create a new route to communicate with target audiences or even engaging other employees. Generation Y may also have innovative ideas for keeping people engaged, informed, inspired and ultimately motivated, which can often be overlooked by more senior management.

Engaging with the younger generation in this way is a win-win situation for both employer and employee. It gives the employee valuable visibility within the organization and an opportunity to demonstrate new skills, thus improving their chances of holding on to their job. On the other hand, it also allows them to feel involved and valued in the organization on a more basic level and therefore less likely to move on to a new job as quickly as they otherwise would.

In these times, employers are looking for ways to make the most of the work force they already have within their organization. This should include capitalizing on the different skill sets and expertise found within different generations, but also thinking about the way different generations may react to necessary changes in the organization. Just being aware of what motivates workers of different generations shows employees how much they are valued.

Open communication is important during any time, but especially during these turbulent ones. When employers communicate honestly and transparently, they create an attitude of respect for all generations.

That is when employees take notice and become engaged and part of the solution. In these days — and not just because we are in one of the deepest recessions since the 1930s — no one is ever too old to set new goals or too young to set new dreams if they are given the right tools and the correct motivation.

Jonas Prising is Manpower’s president of the Americas.