Sherri Elliott-Yeary

Thursday, 17 February 2011 15:24

From HR nightmare to competitive advantage

Misunderstandings. Conflicts. Even outright fights.

Today’s companies are becoming multigenerational battlefields, where baby boomers and millennials duke it out. Each generation features its own work style, learning methods, means of communication and reward system. As a result, too many businesses are finding a generationally diverse work force to be a liability.

But what happens when the baby boomers retire and walk away with the business’s corporate intelligence? They will leave behind a tech-savvy and entitled generation that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “no.” Will that spell the end of your company?

It doesn’t have to. In fact, by embracing the strengths of each generation, savvy companies can transform age differences into a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

By following a clear plan, companies can not only be ready to handle generational differences but can make the most of each and every age group in the work force.

Give your top human resources executive a seat in the boardroom. People are a company’s most important asset. By making your HR executive part of the company’s leadership team, it ensures that work force planning and generational issues can be tied to the company’s strategic plan and mission. A seat at the table also keeps HR issues top-of-mind with the executive team, which is more important than ever as you face the generational divide.

Make succession planning a priority. Conduct a work force age analysis, which will identify coming knowledge gaps. For example, the average engineer is 55 years old. Does the company have a way to identify top young talent to replace these employees?

Understand what it takes to attract and motivate the younger work force. I fired my own daughter three times. Only then did I understand that the younger generation isn’t lazy. They’re simply more efficient and better multitaskers. As a result, they need to be constantly challenged. In that same vein, younger workers are not always recruited the same old ways. You are more likely to find your best new candidates via social media than at a traditional networking breakfast.

Develop programs for baby boomers to transfer their knowledge to the younger generations before they retire. Both formal and informal methods should be used to ensure corporate intelligence is not lost. Remember to address both hard and soft skills. The older generations have maturity and work force knowledge, plus they are highly networked and offer good communications skills. Partner them with the younger generation for knowledge transfer and mentorship. At the same time, boomers will benefit from learning new technology skills from their younger peers.

Reward and motivate each generation accordingly. Older employees still enjoy earning a trophy for their desk, a bigger office or a fancy title. Younger generations prefer a flexible schedule, a gift card to a restaurant or some extra time off for family. Millennials also tend to change jobs — frequently. Keep them engaged and interested by offering projects and other opportunities to learn and grow.

Harness the power of all four generations. Remember, each of the four work force generations has strengths to be leveraged. Discriminate against gray hair or body piercings at your own peril. The key is to find ways for employees of different generations to communicate, learn and work with one another. Appreciate and point out the benefits of their differences. That attitude — and the positive effects of learning from one another — will become part of your culture.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the founder of Gen InsYght, the CEO of Optimance Workforce Strategies, and the author of “Ties to Tattoos.” Her clients include La Quinta Hotels, Minyard Foods and The Chickasaw Nation, among many others. Contact her at (214) 802-2345 or at

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