Leading the Generational Workforce: Part One

Over the next few weeks and in our November webinar, we will be talking about a VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE…multiple generations in the workforce.  Never in the history of our nation have we seen so many generations intertwined in the workforce. Different generations see things differently, and this can be very challenging to manage. One of our experts, Laura Dillingham is on top of this issue and will share a number of ideas and suggestions for attracting and retaining an energized, multi-generational workforce that can collaborate at very high levels. Enjoy the series and register for our November 27th workshop at 8:00 AM (PST).

People are living and working longer, and because of that, for the first time in history, today’s workforce has four generations and will soon have five generations at the same time. This mixed multi-generational workforce will create new challenges for supervisors, managers and leaders.  Some of these challenges may be looking at what motivates employee engagement, what tools and practices will employees need to interact successfully, and what types of workforce behaviors will be needed.

What do you think will be some of the main issues of five generations in the workforce? Historically, some of the issues Human Resources has been involved with are hiring, talent development, learning methods, teamwork or collaboration and many more. But the key questions may be – Do managers and employees really understand how work is done differently by different generations? Do they understand customer needs, employee interaction, and work styles from different generations?

In today’s world there is a lot of pressure on businesses. There are increased demands in almost all areas. Businesses are dealing with a global market, partnerships, inter-dependencies and connectivity. A critical piece of increased demands is the use of technology. Overall, most businesses are doing more with less; however, programs and processes have not kept up. While some generations may have an advantage because they have grown up using technology and have never known a world without it, they may not understand the social piece. Specifically, how social collaboration tools work in a business environment. This is new to most businesses and everyone is trying to catch up and figure out what it means to their organization.

So what is social business or, as its most commonly called, social learning? As it historically happens in business it’s a very old concept with a new name. Social learning is basically employees learning about the organizational culture and many aspects of the job from each other. It is not the traditional classroom environment with a teacher-student relationship using materials that have been collected from subject matter experts. It doesn’t mean that businesses are not using some of the traditional methods of teaching and learning, especially when it comes to specific areas, new concepts or practices, reducing risk or leadership development. But social learning is really on-the-job teaching and learning.

This type of learning allows employees to develop and try new skills and to figure out the best methods to complete tasks. It increases communication and also develops relationships and networks. It allows the organization to set up opportunities for mentoring. But this concept is much harder to put into practice than it appears. Organizations must review how they are structured, their talent pool and define outcomes. Human Resources must review jobs and may even have to come up with classifications and compensation.

Social learning is about looking at how employees learn and coming up with new methods of delivery. When you look at history, however, this is one of the oldest forms of learning. Do employees need to learn a lot of well-defined concepts in the work place? Yes they do. And will they need to have some existing knowledge before they can fully participate? Yes they will. But it will be critical they understand that just because the traditional way of learning and/or studying books may have ended, learning and acquiring on-going knowledge has just begun.

In this four part series we will look at each of the generations. We will identify the time frames that the generations were born and approximately how many people are in that generation and possibly in the workforce. We will also look at the core values and the events and trends that were occurring during their life that helped shape the generation, as well as keys to communicating and working with them.

There are four major generations currently in today’s workforce. They are identified as the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. There is a fifth generation born after the Year 2000 and it has been suggested that they be called Generation Z. In Part II, we will begin to look at the first two generations, The Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers and what they bring to the workplace.