Multiple generations in 21st Century

Moderated by Rick Badie

They work side by side — baby boomers, millennials and generation Xers. It’s the workplace of the 21st century, disparately rich with personalities, communication styles and ideas of work values. Today, a Georgia Tech engineer offers ways to get them all on the same page and focused on goals. Another guest writer asks millennials to step up and serve. The third author shares his job-hunting experience.

Change yourself, change the masses

By Hank Hobbs

Today’s organizations are complex phenomena not easily understood and often misrepresented. This is due in part to the complex structures of most and their staffing with people of various educational levels, backgrounds, cultures, values, personalities, motivations and attitudes towards employment.

Never before has business seen such disparity — a gap, if you will — between generations in the workforce. The average employer potentially has four generations in the workplace, three of which predominate and exemplify the greatest disparity: baby boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen Xers (born 1965-1980) and Gen Y/millennials (born 1980-2000). Each has its own set of values, workplace styles, preferred method of communication and motivation. Each responds differently to authority, rules and workplace norms.

What does a leader do to find harmony in his or her organization?

First and foremost, bridging the generational gap requires an understanding and awareness of oneself and others. Get yourself and your key leaders some training on this subject so the organization is more sensitive to generational differences. This is most easily accomplished and effective through facilitated training in a non-threatening environment. It is more important that leadership changes vs. the workforce.

Embrace what is learned. Adapt your own management style and business culture to exemplify awareness and empathy the different generational preferences. Provide accommodations for the various work styles/preferences.

For example, Gen Xers, for the most part, grew up as “latchkey” kids. They are independent, resilient, adaptable and up for most any challenge. Given this, they work best alone and when empowered to make their own decisions. Baby boomers respond best to personal contact through face-to-face meetings. They do not require, and are somewhat insulted by, constant feedback and reinforcement.Understand the expectations of work/life balance. “Boomers” think life revolves around work, and that the only way to the top is through hard work and dedication. Gen Xers enjoy flexible work schedules and seek recognition for accomplishments over an eight-hour day. Millennials are committed to their careers, believe opportunity for advancement is a right, not an earned response, and expect to use technology in lieu of time at the office.

Effective leading across generations is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Take advantage of generational differences. Realize and make known throughout your business that each generation brings to the workplace a certain set of values, strengths and motivations. Current research indicates most workplace conflicts arise from perceived differences in values. For example, older workers may see members of the younger generation as aloof, based on their work hours or perceived ethic. The younger generation, in turn, may see the older generation as workaholics, micro-managers and too structured.

Let people learn from each other. Facilitate mentoring between different generations to encourage more interaction. Younger generations can learn from the wisdom of senior employees, while older generations can gain fresh perspectives from young people. Focusing on individual strengths is important, but imagine how much more effective your organization could be if individuals shared and learned from each other.

The challenge for today’s leader is to accept what one cannot change, recognize and embrace different generational attributes, adapt his or her leadership style to engage employees, and get the generations to see past their biases and work together toward organizational goals. A leader’s success depends on the one person the leader has complete control over, the only person he or she can change; and by changing this one, the leader will change the masses.

Henry “Hank” Hobbs is engineering project manager II for the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Step up and serve

By Demetrius Minor

Whether it’s in the armed forces, the clergy, law enforcement or Congress, we all have a moral duty to serve. While many are bickering and vocalizing their distrust in government, it is time for millennials to step up and serve their country in a higher capacity.

College graduates are living in their parents’ homes because they’re unable to find work in their career fields. Blatant and baseless cries of racism and hatred have placed our nation’s race relations in a quandary. As tense as these issues have caused us to become, they provide an opportunity for millennials to look past the prejudices of past eras and provide a compass to lead future generations to a path of unity and purpose.

Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., have caused turmoil, and past hurts and sufferings have resurfaced. Arrests, demonstrations, riots and clashes with law enforcement and a grieving community have captured the headlines and dominated our news cycles.The call for justice synced with useless violence tells me our country still needs healing. Many can quote the words of the slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but only a few are willing to embrace his lifestyle.

While emotions and tensions are high, it would serve our world some good to see more millennials take an active role in their communities. This could be done within the local church or civic organizations or running for public office. Social and cultural issues lie at our doorsteps, but dealing with them still requires civility and courage. The challenges and pressing issues we face must be addressed by millennials.

When it comes to raising the minimum wage, millennials must be aware of the economic incentives and challenges surrounding the issue, especially when it affects employment and businesses. With health care, millennials must decide if the federal government is responsible enough to oversee everyone becoming insured, or if the free market is a more sensible solution.

Communities in America are looking for real leadership. This leadership collaborates with a desire to bring healing to a chaotic and disturbed society. It can come only with those willing to follow the principles of faith — love and kindness — and not just talk about it.

This faith can come from millennials. It takes faith to implement a set of values in someone that will not only enable that person to have access to a quality education, but instill life-long principles. It takes faith for a millennial to take a younger man or woman under one’s wing, and to mentor and remind that person that a dream can become reality. It takes faith for today’s millennials to realize that promoting a quality education can prevent young people from dropping out of school and depending on big government for the rest of their lives.

I call on millennials to be the voice of reason our nation so desperately needs. While those who went before us have carried the torch of liberty for so long, we must embrace the reality they will not always be with us. If our nation is to be rescued from greed and selfishness, it will take a millennial generation to understand hard work and perseverance, not entitlement, is the antidote for our nation’s pains.

This is our call to action: a plea for a renaissance of faith, responsibility and accountability. Faith and morality are the cornerstone of America’s heritage. For that heritage to be preserved, millennials must be engaged and not complacent.

Demetrius Minor, a metro Atlanta preacher and blogger, is the author of the forthcoming book, “Preservation and Purpose.”

“Aged out” of the market

By Paul Allen

Your recent article on skilled Georgia workers being in demand was most interesting and well done, but one critical piece of the story was missing. Having been laid off in a thinning of senior employees from an engineering position almost two years ago, I was quickly introduced to a very harsh and increasingly prevalent reality.

My first lesson was from a retired human resources manager-friend who reviewed my resume and suggested that I remove my first 20 years of experience and eliminate some of the revealing dates. Suddenly, the phone began ringing, and I found the response rate to my job applications (I stopped counting at 250) immediately went from zero to nearly 100 percent. Suddenly, I was “in demand.”

But learned a most disturbing thing on countless interviews thereafter. Quite often between my house and the previously enthusiastic potential employer’s offices, jobs mysteriously either became filled or had been eliminated. From those that actually feigned interest in me.I learned how many ways the uncomfortable and illegal question of employment doom can be asked. My personal favorite was, “When did you graduate from college?” My response of “when I was 20, 22, and again when I was 27,” appeared to fall short of the answer, which would have included specific dates they were obviously looking for.

My honest answer to another popular question of my intent to work at least 20 more years was always met with long, silent, quizzical stares. Along the tortuous interview path, I learned that a former boss of mine had been one of the hiring managers I had interviewed with, and he had been instructed to hire only 20-somethings. Another hiring manager had joked with me on the phone screening that he would never hire anyone “with an extra hole or a tattoo.” My small shoulder tattoo was not visible during the interview, but I suspect he has now added age as another hiring exclusion.

On the bright side, my wife and I are starting a business of our own, and we will exclude no one, particularly the best and the brightest, from their participation and contributions.

Paul Allen lives in Norcross.

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