York Co. Chamber seminars deals with challenges of multi-generational workforce

dworthington@heraldonline.comJuly 22, 2013 

People from the X or Y generations, those born after 1965, already account for about 62 percent of the work force. Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, and once the dominate generation in the work place, now account for about 35 percent of employees. Boomers still account for a much higher percentage of management.

By 2015, many of the Gen X and Gen Y workers will be entering management or starting their own companies. Entrepreneurship is one of the traits of these generations.

There’s also the possibility of five generations in the work force, spanning from those of the Greatest Generation (1925 to 1945) who don’t plan to retire, to post-Internet or Millennial generation (2000 and beyond).

The possibility of five generations positioned side-by-side in the work force presents new challenges for businesses.

How will one generation understand the work characteristics and values of another? Can they collaborate or will they clash?

Rob Youngblood, president of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, experienced that clash first hand recently when he went looking for staff members after 5 p.m. Most of the chamber’s staff are Gen X or Gen Y. Youngblood found a series of empty offices as his staff had departed.

Talking to other business leaders, Baby Boomer Youngblood learned he was not alone. They too were struggling with getting the most from a multi-generational work force.

To help workers of all generations, the regional chamber, in conjunction with the Carolinas chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, is holding a seminar, “Cross Generational Collaboration: Your Competitive Edge,” on Wednesday. The seminar is from 8 a.m. to noon at Whitton Auditorium at Carroll Hall on the Winthrop University campus.

The seminar will focus on trying to understand each generation and its characteristics, breaking down the generational barriers to communications and expectations, and developing a collaborative improvement plan for businesses and organizations.

Featured speaker is Gen Xer Stacey Randall of Randall Research in Charlotte.

Randall has been studying generations, their expectations and their difference since 2008. She teaches a “Generational Impact to Business” course at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Generational studies are not new. Typically a generation is defined as the average span of time between the birth of a parent and that of their offspring.

Randall said things are changing so fast that the generational time span is now 20 years or less. “A Gen Y Millennial of 1982 is different from someone born in 1996,” she said.

She looks at how events shape a generation, such as the Depression and World War II for the Greatest Generation, President John Kennedy’s assassination and the space race for Baby Boomers, financial collapses and recessions, and the AIDS epidemic for Gen X, and 9 / 11, Hurricane Katrina and the Columbine shootings for Gen Y.

The events help shape generational traits such as work ethic, education and economic outlook, and motivational buttons. For instance, the Greatest Generation was taught to save and pay cash. Baby Boomers buy now and pay later, Gen Xers are generally more cautious and likely to save, while Gen Yers earn to spend.

The differences often result in conflict at work, “collision zones,” Randall calls them.

One of the most common collision zones is performance evaluations. Baby Boomers are conditioned to have a review once a year, she said. Gen X usually wants a review every six months while Gen Y is accustomed to instant feedback.

Four outcomes are possible, Randall said.

The boomer bends, and any changes are then applied to all employees; the Millennial bends; a compromise is reached; or nothing changes. If the Millennial bends, Randall said, “they generally will not be happy,” and that could affect how long they stay at a job or company.

Another frequent collision zone is social media. Generations X and Y are more likely to respond to a tweet, text or email than a telephone call. Some see a digital world free of restrictions and can’t understand why a employer would want to limit their social media time or restrict what they tweet or text. The challenge for employers is communicating their policies and explaining their expectations, particularly to Gen Y employees who usually question everything.

The chamber anticipates that about 100 people will attend Wednesday. Chamber officials are hoping for a generational cross section, particularly those Gen X or Gen Y workers in management positions or soon to be in management.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 •  dworthington@heraldonline.com

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