Organizations are hiring candidates from the deepest talent pool in history, and they’re expecting them to do extraordinary things right out of the gate. These new hires aren’t all young, either. Companies are mining talent from a large spread of generations, from pre-boomers to millennials.
So how does this generational collision impact business at today’s organizations?
“It can create tension, where one group may feel the other is almost holding them back and resisting change,” says Craig Johnson, vice president of academic affairs at Hillsborough Community College and a board director of Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “But the more people work together, the more they understand each other.”
Smart Business spoke to Johnson about the challenges and opportunities presented by employing members of different generations and how co-mingling generations and fostering two-way mentoring relationships can advance corporate culture and bridge generation gaps.
How many generations can be represented in today’s organizations?
There are multiple generations in today’s workplace. It depends on how you want to define the generations. You have the pre-boomers, the baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. Some people are calling the latter half of the baby boomers ‘Generation Jones,’ a term that became popular during the most recent presidential election.
You can also define generations by differences in technology and pop culture. You have the baby boomers who were the original TV generation, the Gen-Xers who are the original computer and MTV generation, and then the millennials, who are seen as a gaming and iPod generation. But if you want to break it in half, you can say there are those who are the digital natives and those who aren’t.
What are the challenges and opportunities when integrating multiple generations?
Generation gaps do pose challenges in getting people to work together and understand one another, but they also present opportunities. There is a general feeling that the digital natives are a little more open to technological change. But, all of the generations have lived through or will live through incredible change, therefore, nobody is really the dominant party in terms of change. In fact, your more seasoned employees, baby boomers and the pre-boomers, are perhaps more experienced in dealing with change.
Therefore, while younger employees may be more open and more experienced with technology, the older generation, because they have dealt with more change, may actually be better at understanding the ramifications of change and analyzing what change may or may not bring.
How can companies avoid stereotypes and instead embrace and learn from generational differences?
Stereotyping and overly categorizing people give you a far too limited view. For instance, there’s that stereotype that the newer generation is more comfortable with technology. However, I think that innovative people, no matter from what generation, are just that: innovative. They’ll embrace whatever tools are out there and utilize them quite well. Some of the people who were first to jump into technology in the late 1970s and early 1980s are still innovative users of technology.
You have to deal with the individual and see what the individual really has to offer. And you have to create the opportunities for people to work with one another and to learn from one another.
What business functions should be integrated on a daily basis to avoid generation collisions and further bridge generational gaps?
When you’re creating committees and task forces, one of the considerations is trying to team up diverse groups of people from various generations. Then, they’ll have even more opportunities to learn from and share with each other.
It factors into hiring, as well. There’s this idea that everyone you hire is a member of a newer generation. That’s just not true in this day and age. You’re hiring people with various levels of experience who represent various generations. You have to find people who have the necessary soft skills, no matter which age group they represent. As long as you keep that approach up in your hiring processes, you’ll tend to find people who can work together, regardless of their generational differences.
What do companies gain by closing the generational gap through mentoring?
Mentoring is an effective way for any newer employee to learn about the institutional culture that exists within your organization. When newer employees come in, they sometimes have trouble understanding not only how you do things, but also why you do them. A mentoring relationship gives them the person to go to for answers to these questions.
But a healthy mentoring relationship is as good for the mentor as it is for the mentee. If you’re acting as a mentor, if you listen, you’ve got a chance to get a different perspective from the new person. A younger person with different life experiences is truly looking at your organization with a fresh set of eyes, and if the person can communicate that effectively, you’re going to learn a great deal. Plus, you may get ideas that you may be able to apply successfully to help your company. It can be a truly enlightening experience.
The more people work together, the more they understand one another, and the more these generational gaps close.
Craig Johnson is the vice president of academic affairs at Hillsborough Community College and a board director of Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 253-7557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.