By Bridget McCrea
For the first time in history, there are five generations of employees in the workplace. And while much media attention is being paid to the millennial generation and its loyalty, work habits, and tech-savvy ways, the other four generations—ranging from the young Generation Zs (aged 20 and younger) to the older Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1942), and everyone in between—can’t be ignored. In fact, all of them must be factored into the equation when developing a strong corporate culture. Ignore this step and it won’t be long before your corporate culture is out of whack and only relevant for one or two groups of employees.
“As more and more people work beyond retirement age, many organizations are trying to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees,” Scott Keefer, president at Cobra Leadership Development, Inc., in Arlington, Va., points out.
That gap can widen as people work longer and become set in their ways. Unwilling to budge on certain issues—or, accept the fact that “new blood” can invigorate and support a strong corporate culture—older employees may not always gel well with their younger counterparts. This, in turn, creates issues for the electrical distributor that’s trying to balance its culture across a multigenerational workplace. “A lack of communication and collaboration among the generations means your corporate culture isn’t going to be distributed throughout your workforce,” says Keefer. “When this happens, no one understands their respective roles in making the company a success.”
Building Corporate Community
Corporate culture is a hot topic right now. In Forbes’ How To Engage Millennials In Your Corporate Culture, Erica Dhawan discusses the value of building a “corporate community” that truly inspires and engages the multigenerational workforce. “That means not just courting millennials,” she writes, “but also integrating their skills to rejuvenate the entire workforce.”
Citing a recent IBM study, she notes that—despite many myths—millennials have similar desires as previous generations, including job security and stability. “They aren’t more likely than other generations to jump-ship when they first hear of an opportunity at a friend’s new start-up,” Dhawan adds, “but your company’s junior employees do value collaboration and are the most connected generation.”
Keefer says electrical distributors that want to do a better job of bridging the gaps among the various generations should start by looking at the differences and nuances across all five segments. “When you do this, you can see that they’re motivated by different things,” he points out.
Someone who is at the youngest end of the Baby Boomer generation, for example, may be most interested in achieving status and a certain “title” at work. A millennial, on the other hand, may be motivated by a flexible work schedule and the chance to participate in work-related social causes and volunteer opportunities. And, a Generation X employee who is in the “sandwich” generation—between their young children and older parents—may be driven by promotions and raises.
“As you begin to develop (or, redevelop) your culture, rewards program, benefits packages, and other key strategies,” says Keefer, “you need to be able to understand what motivates each of the generations.”
Building Engagement and Relationships
One of the biggest obstacles to building a multigenerational corporate culture is the fact that current leaders are typically in their late-40s to early-60s, and most have never had to think about generational nuances to any large degree in the past.
“These folks think that everyone appreciates the same things that they do, and that everyone processes information the same way,” Keefer notes. “As a result, these companies just keep doing what they’ve been doing since the 80s and 90s, and without thinking about how their corporate cultures should be adjusted to meet the needs of this ‘new,’ diverse workforce.”
To overcome this obstacle, Keefer says distributors should take the information they learned from studying generational differences and nuances and use it to create cross-generational mentorship programs. These programs needn’t be overly formal or complex, but they should incorporate sharing, collaboration, and good open lines of communication among the generations. “Mentoring allows those staff members who have been around for a while to not only help younger workers understand their roles and their places within the corporate culture,” says Keefer, “but also to help older workers (i.e., those who may not be very tech-savvy) learn new things.”
This, in turn, can help break down the walls that exist between the generations and help workers better understand one another. From there, you can begin to build trusting relationships and form a corporate culture that supports and appeals to a wide range of current and prospective employees. Even Keefer admits that these steps may not completely eliminate all potential generational conflicts, but what they can do is help address the most frequently reported generational conflicts.
In Part II of this article series we’ll explore the different strategies that electrical distributors can use to develop effective, multigenerational corporate cultures.
What Do We Get in Return?
In A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workforce, the University of North Carolina says the companies that put time into proactively addressing multigenerational issues in the workplace will reap the following rewards:
- Improved corporate culture. When you take the time to educate employees on generational issues, you can improve intergenerational understanding, multigenerational inclusiveness, respect, and productivity.
- Improved competitiveness. Education about the generations reduces age discrimination and alleviates potential organizational “brain drain” as older generations leave the workplace.
- More effective recruitment. Recruiting messages specifically tailored to each generation will attract talent across generations.
- Improved employee engagement and morale. Managers who know how to motivate employees from different generations will improve employee engagement and morale.
- Better employee retention. Organizations that effectively manage generations have happier, more engaged employees, and this will result in improved employee retention.
Read UNC’s complete report online here.
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
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