Jerry Doerger wasn’t surprised when young employees began working on projects while listening to iPods and texting on cell phones. After all, he has four millennial children, and he sees the multitasking and embracement of technology every day.
“What I have been able to recognize and to accept is the different working philosophies and the different working patterns between the baby boomers and the millennials,” says Doerger, vice president of the engineering and architecture firm PEDCO E&A Services Inc. “I’m living with it at home, so I understand it a little bit better. I’ve started to work with some of the senior-level managers who have grown up with [the idea that] you go to your quiet room and you study or you go to your cubicle and you get your work done. That’s not how things are happening with the millennial generation.”
There is a good chance your employees span multiple generations. Baby boomers and the younger millennial employees see work and life in different lights, yet, many times, they must work together to accomplish one task. The question becomes how do you bridge the gap to ensure a successful employee base and a successful company?
Along with observation, PEDCO did — and continues to do annually — an anonymous employee survey that asked questions on multiple topics, including what is important to them.
It became evident that employees had different needs and wants based on their age. The baby boomers liked the rigid work style of coming in at 8 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. Reward to them isn’t a pay check but opportunities for advancement. Younger employees wanted flexibility. Their families and community played a significant role in their life.
“The most important thing that companies have to realize is what works for one generation and what motivates one generation doesn’t necessarily work for another generation,” Doerger says.
Understanding the differences, PEDCO put in place initiatives that would help the generations work together and understand each other.
First, PEDCO stresses flexible management. In order to engage employees, PEDCO managers try to manage individuals differently. To understand your employees, you must have conversations with them about their professional and personal goals.
“Really just communicate with them and get to know them as individuals,” Doerger says. “As you get to understand and know the younger generation and find out what is important in their life, where they feel their value is, then you can start to address how can I engage this person more successfully and make them feel like he’s a much more active part of the business.”
Other bridging-the-gap initiatives that PEDCO uses are mentoring programs and discipline groups. When you’re making a constructive effort for employees of different generations to work together, ensuring everyone is heard and respected is essential.
On a new employee’s first day at PEDCO, he or she is provided a mentor. The idea of a mentoring program allows two individuals, usually from different generations, an opportunity to learn from each other.
The discipline teams, such as the mechanical group at PEDCO, meet on a regular basis to discuss ways to better their particular discipline. The process helps ensure each employee has the opportunity to bring up specific ideas. It also provides employees with different levels of experience and views on the profession to brainstorm together and develop ideas.
Allowing all employees to contribute ideas or recognizing an individual for their contribution helps the other generation respect that individual.
PEDCO’s conscious effort to bridge the generation gap has meant little turnover from its 75 employees in recent years, along with more engagement between employees and employees and clients.
Preparing for the future
As PEDCO E&A Services Inc. was preparing to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, management considered how the company’s organizational structure would play into its success in the coming decades.
When planning for your company’s future, you can’t forget about leadership turnover.
Vice President Jerry Doerger led the initiative at PEDCO as the management team members analyzed each aspect of the business — leadership, administration, technical teams, project managers and design teams — to identify future gaps and develop a transition plan. They determined top executives and managers could retire in five to 10 years.
Early analysis allows time to plan and implement training, coaching and mentoring to ensure a smooth transition.
“The biggest thing that a company can do is to, No. 1, recognize that there is a generational gap,” Doerger says. “Put a plan in place to start to bridge the gap — and it’s not going to happen overnight. The other piece is as the different generations begin to exit the workplace, put a plan in place to transfer that knowledge, that understanding and that technical expertise that those folks that are exiting the workplace have to the next generation. What you get at the end of the day is a more engaged work force by doing it.”