(Guest Blog by Nan Valentine)
When I addressed a group of business owners and CEOs recently at a conference in Florida, the event organizers found their plan for seating 30 executives was too small by about a third.
I’d love to think people couldn’t wait to hear me, but I’m pretty sure it had more to do with the topic: Finding and Retaining Generation X and Y Workers. Gen. X and Y folk are those born between 1965 and 2000, or thereabouts.
The conference attendees were a global group from a fairly conservative industry. These executives were older than the Generation Xers and Yers they came to talk about. Most were Baby Boomers. Not a nose ring or pair of hip-hugging blue jeans among them.
Based on their comments, their questions, and the heavy session attendance, it was clear these executives struggle with finding, retaining, and quite often tolerating X and Y workers.
Perhaps I generalize. We Boomers recognize that some X and Y workers are fine because they are just like we are…perfect in every way… Like us, these workers dress professionally, they won’t abandon us for another job just because the firm down the street has a game room, and they are willing to work extra hours for the good of the firm.
In our collective mind, far too many of these young whipper-snappers aren’t sufficiently loyal. If they were loyal, they’d work past 5:00. We put in killer hours throughout much of our career, and we’re not too excited about these people who job hop if we ask for a little overtime.
And what’s this business of texting the coworker in the next cubicle all about? Since when did people opt for abbreviated written messages over the simple conversation at the water cooler? That can’t be good.
On the flip side, some Gen. X and Y workers don’t seem to be too sure about us Boomers. Why do we resist giving them the technology they’re requesting, and what’s our obsession with appearance? Why can’t we just focus on business results?
Regardless of our age, we usually aren’t thrilled with people who don’t function the way we do. Maybe it’s human nature. Something in us needs to believe we’re right and people who differ from us are wrong.
Or maybe our tendency to judge others is really more fear-based than it is logical. Maybe I’m afraid the changes are coming too fast, and that I won’t catch up. Or I fear stagnation if I don’t jump ship frequently. I might even fear that you’re right and I’m not, heaven forbid.
Such egocentric and fear-based conclusions block us from recognizing the benefits generational differences can bring to our workplaces. People in Generations X and Y are often masters at multitasking. Sure, they might gag at the thought of overtime hours, but they can get a lot done when they are working. They also tend to be entrepreneurial. They can help us stay competitive as they suggest and embrace change.
Generations X and Y, the most technologically savvy of the generations in the workplace, can help us stay wired where we need to be wired. Occasionally they can even teach us old dogs new techno-tricks.
On the other hand, Boomers and Veterans are our more seasoned workers. We offer years of work experience and can mentor younger workers. Many of us will take on part-time consultant-like roles in lieu of full retirement. There is much we have to contribute. Rumors among our younger coworkers of our impending senility and fast-track to the beyond are greatly exaggerated. We are healthy, active, and resourceful.
The generational divide is only as deep as we collectively allow it to be. We can all just get along. The bridge across the divide starts with dialogue. When we talk, we start understanding each other. We become less reactive and more solution-based in our approach.
A healthy dose of respect for each other and for our differences must also accompany that dialogue. Will some generation-based attributes still annoy us? Sure they will. Can we work through those problems? We can if we choose to do so.
We Boomers and workers from the older Veteran generation probably struggle the most with the changing workforce. We might draw some perspective from the following, which is typical of the comments I hear from some of my Boomer counterparts: The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority. The author? Socrates.