A Push for Harmony Among Workers, Young and Old
CHICAGO -- There’s a sense of urgency to the quest for workplace harmony, as baby boomers delay retirement and work side-by-side with people young enough to be their children - or grandchildren.
Put people of widely different ages together - and there are bound to be differences. Baby boomers, for example, are workaholics, while younger workers may demand more of a work-life balance.
The solution for a growing number of companies: generational awareness training to help foster understanding and more effective communication among its workers.
Employees are taught about the characteristics that define each generation, from their core values to their childhood and adolescent experiences to the type of figures they regard as heroes. Then workshop leaders typically drill down into how those attributes play into the strengths and weaknesses each age group offers on the job.
The goal is that by learning why people of different generations act the way they do, companies can better emphasize their employees’ strengths and find ways to overcome challenges
"The Boomers say, `Now I understand a little bit more of why they’re always on their phones,’ " said Juergen Deutzer, who leads generational training at San Diego-based Scripps Health for about 200 employees a year. "Gen Y says, `Maybe I need to be a little bit more understanding if someone doesn’t get a grasp on technology.’ "
Companies downplay friction between old and young workers as a reason for training. They say it’s more a matter of helping people of different ages connect, which affects group cohesion, employee satisfaction and the overall quality of work.
"There was no animosity, no aggression, none of that," said Scott Redfearn, the top human resources executive at Protiviti, a global consulting firm based in Menlo Park, Calif., that began offering generational training earlier this year. "But you really need the team dynamic to work well because it’s that collective genius of the team with all kinds of people, all kinds of background, all different generations."
Protiviti was seeing a higher turnover rate among its youngest employees and an internal survey found those workers craved more guidance from their superiors. The company revised its performance review system, started giving employees more feedback and changed the way it used social media. It also began putting executives and managers through training led by Chuck Underwood, an expert on generational differences. By next year, all new employees at Protiviti will go through a session, alongside more traditional training fare on topics such as sexual harassment, diversity and ethics.
Jennifer Luke, a 33-year-old Protiviti employee, attended two 90-minute sessions this summer and was struck by how closely the generational attributes she learned about applied to her and others in her life.
"It’s an awareness tool. You think about it if you’re going to send an email to a client, for example," she said. "You just take an extra minute or two as you’re planning a project or communicating with a client to think about how you’re structuring those communications."