Four Generations @ Work

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 09.30.08

4 generations @ work
Amid all the economic news of recent weeks there was an interesting release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) telling us what we already know: Now is not the time to retire.

According to the BLS, more older workers are staying in their jobs longer or returning after retiring. And as a result, among workers who are 65 and older, 56 percent work full time compared to 44% 13 years ago. So much for the “brain drain” we all feared only a few years ago. See the chart above for more details on this.

With the current economic turmoil, and the vaporization of retirement savings, people will be in the workplace longer and we will have all four generations working together side by side. What does that do to the workplace? What does that do to the demands placed on the learning organization and the talent management organization?

These developments are particularly timely as New Learning Playbook is conducting a groundbreaking survey that examines the workplace of the future and the demands the four generations—Seniors, Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennial Generation–will place on employers. You are invited to participate in a global survey of workers from around the world. This survey only takes 10 minutes and you can have a voice into what this means as companies grapple with how to deal with four generations @ work. I am also conducting personal interviews on this topic and will share all results with our readers.

Please click here to participate in the survey.

I will be examining these results in terms of what they mean for recruiting, developing and motivating four generations of employees, as well as how to create a working environment conducive to all generations. In the meantime, if you have a personal story you want to share about how your organization is dealing with this issue, I would really like to hear from you. Send me an email.

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  1. Marie, September 30, 2008:

    I’m looking forward to see the results of your survey. With our country’s current financial situation and more Boomers hanging around than we thought, it’s going to be quite interesting to see how the workplace will develop.

  2. Elizabeth, October 14, 2008:

    Working for a major corporation is a frustration for most workers over the age of 55. Opportunity doesn’t exist as the “war for talent” erodes any possibility of moving from position A to position B. Sing me all the songs you want about equal opportunity: when it comes to the employees who are over the “magic age,” neither of those words are appropriate. I’ll read the results of your survey with great interest.

  3. Derek Irvine, October 17, 2008:

    Recent research shows the generations aren’t talking to each other in the workplace – which isn’t very different than in the greater culture, either. But the cost to the company can be very significant.

    Mark Larson of Workforce Management recently wrote about this research by Randstad. Interestingly, Randstad found that Generation Y, the youngest group, actually outnumbers Boomers in the workforce, laying to rest the fear of a worker shortage as Boomers retire. Alarmingly, however, Randstad’s findings also show there is little to no knowledge transfer in organizations between those who hold most institutional knowledge – the boomers – to their heirs in Generations X and Y.

    As reported in Bnet, a Harvard Business School research team also recently found very little interaction across three major organizational boundaries: business unit, function, and geography.

    Neither finding is particularly surprising. We’ve seen these informational and relational silos in place for decades. The most effective way to break them down is with a simple thank you through strategic employee recognition programs that allow anyone in the organization to thank anyone else for their help, insights, above-and-beyond efforts, etc.

    To foster sharing of institutional knowledge between the generations also requires giving people of the various generations opportunities to collaborate together on projects and learn from each other through the work. Then using strategic recognition programs as the mechanism to both acknowledge efforts and then, critically, communicate those contributions and capabilities to members of all generations, overcomes these barriers of distrust and misunderstanding.

    Did a subject matter expert help with your project, but he’s based in another country? Thank him anyway! Did you work on a team drawing from multiple offices to achieve a strategic goal? Thank everyone equitably. Recognize people when they go above and beyond and see them want to repeat the tasks. Our clients have done this successfully across multiple generations, regions, divisions and even continents.

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