Generation gap alters workplace dynamic

June 6, 2008 | By Hanah Cho 

Generation X workers rejected suits and ties for more casual attire. And now some workers are flip-flopping to work.

Some employees are calling in sick via text message.

And parents of young workers are calling managers and executives to complain about their children's work evaluations.

Things are changing in our workplaces as four generations of employees work under one office: the so-called silent generation, who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II; the Baby Boomers, the post-war babies who grew up to be radicals of the 1970s and yuppies of the 1980s; Generation X, the so-called latchkey kids with an anti-establishment mentality; and Millennials or Generation Y, who are attached to their gadgets and parents.

To address these issues and find ways to manage a multi-generational work force, several local companies shared ideas and tips last week at a forum sponsored by the Baltimore County Executive's Regional Advisory Board for Business Education, several local universities and county government agencies.

Neil Howe, a demographer who studies generations and consults businesses, described the forces that shaped each of the four generations and how their attitudes are affecting each group's approach to work.

Silent generation is the organization man; Boomers are workaholics; Generation Xers are free agents; and Millennials are the Net-centric team players, according to Howe.

With such differing attitudes, how are local companies bridging the generational gap?

For one thing, they're providing management training for managers.

John Raley, vice president for human resources at Genesis Healthcare, which has a regional office in Towson, said supervisors there had "ah-ha" moments after training provided generational context and education for its managers to understand their workers.

Some of its discussions led to changes, including offering more flexible schedules in an industry that traditionally functions on standard shifts; adding more amenities to employee break rooms such as flat-screen TVs and even educating patients about body-pierced and tattooed young workers, Raley says.

Another idea to consider is conducting employee surveys to analyze worker needs and expectations by generation, says Nina Madoo, senior director of workplace strategies, diversity and work force effectiveness at Marriott International.

Marriott, for instance, discovered that the hotel operator's corporate and social responsibility efforts and programs were very important to Millennials, Madoo says.

Employee surveys can also help businesses expand programs for its workers, regardless of generations.

At Lockheed Martin, workers can meet with managers above their immediate supervisors to better connect with the company; participate in leadership development programs at all career levels and find mentors across the organization, says Karen Haresign, senior manager of workforce strategy and organization planning at Lockheed's information systems and global services.

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