Generational diversity; The patchwork quilt

Yesterday morning I sat in on a session entitled “Addressing the Global Talent Mismatch in the workplace” at SHRM 2011. When the speaker asked the attendees (most of them in Human Resources or some kind of Human Capital Management role) “How many of you in the room know what to do when it comes to addressing the generational diversity in the workplace, especially with the older generation?” I admit, I wasn’t too shocked to see only a few hands go up.

Hmmmmmm……… Our workforce diversity is forever changing and we don’t know how to prepare for that? Well, I’m sure that is why they were sitting in that session at 7:00 in the morning so they could get some answers.

Some of the information discussed was of course the generational differences;

  • Traditionalists – 65 and older (not really open to changes and feel they have made it this far on what they have experienced)
  • Boomers – Like the Traditionalists they feel that getting rewarded in the workplace is all about having done their time” ( a different mindset) – they even think in terms of their loyalty toward their employers as counting for something
  • Both Gen X and Y are of the mindset that they are “entitled to change and break the rules” and possibly think that it’s up to them to come in and be the change
Traditionalists and Boomers are more adherent to policy and procedures where as the younger generation question policy and are constantly pushing the envelope, (why do I have to do this?) – they feel a sense of entitlement and believe that is it part of their job to continue to question.

Now don’t get me wrong, we did talk about performance in this session and we decided that it goes across all four generations – but in different ways. We also discussed that  sometimes if you have an older (55) super performer they are usually not perceived as “old” in the workplace, by their peers. I know this even when I look at my husband who is about to turn 57. He is definitely the overachiever and is constantly being told that he does not look or act his age. (Sometimes I tell him that he doesn’t act his age but in a different manner :) )

How do we attract and retain experienced workers? The stats given during the presentation are that (14%) of businesses are even trying to do anything about attracting older workers, and only something like (23%) are knowledgeable of how to retain older workers. (Please don’t blast me with emails on where to find these stats because they were up on the power point presentation by the presenter and I really don’t have a clue).

Older workers NEED MORE WORK LIFE BALANCE. This seems to be the theme for the SHRM conference this year – Work, Life – Flexibility. When it comes to older workers we find that they want career choice and they’re needing flexibility practices in place to take care of parents and are also planning for retirement.

Using flex as we have with nursing mothers (working mothers) and using it in the same manner, making a strategic plan of how we can translate this same practice with older workers and elder care, is certainly something to consider and is one companies strategic plan. By using the same guidelines in helping working mothers and changing it up a bit when it comes to aging parents, they noticed they went from a 40%  turnover rate down to 14% – Now that is ROI. By the way, half of their employees were over the age of 45.

Here are a few creative approaches suggested by members of the audience:

  • Some companies are taking older workers and making them contract and some part-time.
  • Some suggested using older workers to train / sponsor the high potential project team. Having the younger generations train the older on new technologies within the workplace to be more productive and valuable within the organization (okay, that was my suggestion that I offered to the group).
  • Interns coming in (especially with attracting new talent for the future and in strategic planning) and utilizing technology such as videos geared toward their long-term strategic planning of how to attract and retain their workforce.
I imagine the generational diversity in the workplace to look something like that of a patchwork quilt – knitted together and all working for the common good. I do believe it can be achieved.