What are the four generational groups currently represented in the workforce? What are common shared characteristics and professional drivers for each group?
2.What are the critical challenges for management and HR professionals today in working with all four of these groups in the context of person-job fit, motivation and performance? How can these areas be addressed successfully?
3.As a current or future manager/leader, how do you think your personality style and individual preferences will prove to be beneficial in working with such generational diversity (as well as other areas of diversity and individual differences!)? What are some areas for personal development and improvement for yourself in order to be more effective in this regard?
200-250 words in length
N ovem ber 2014
H o w can em ployers capture th e skills and know ledge
of four generations?
By Susan Milligan
h, those pesky Millennials, thinking they can set their own work schedules and demanding
meaning in even the most mundane office tasks. Then there are the Baby Boomers, just biding
their time until retirement, phoning it in, all the while complaining about how younger employJ ees aren?t paying their dues. And what?s up with those folks from Generation X? Don?t they
know how to work collaboratively?
These are stereotypes, of course, but they are based on many people?s perceptions as well as
real inclinations that researchers have associated with the broad generational groups. And while
employers have always had to deal with tension among different age groups (experienced old-timers
grousing about cocky young upstarts, and vice versa), this marks the first time in history that four
distinct generations are coexisting in the labor force. They are the Traditionalists (born 1922-45),
IMAGES FROM SHUTTERSTOCK
November 2014 HR Magazine
Baby Boomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (born 1965-80)
and M illennial (born 1981-2000), according to Jay Meschke,
president of the Cleveland-based business consulting firm CBIZ
Human Capital Services.
Part of the reason for this four-generation mix at work is the
recession, which prompted many Baby Boomers to delay retire?
ment while their 401(k)s recover. Moreover,
many T raditionalists?who would have
been considered past retirement age in an
earlier era?have decided to keep working,
either for money or for personal satisfaction.
Each of the generations has a different
way of learning, advancing and collabo?
rating. And while that is its own challenge,
HR professionals and senior managers are
dealing with another issue as well: how
to ensure that vital knowledge and skills
are being transferred among the different
groups, especially since the older workers
who delayed retirement during the recession are now beginning
to think about leaving.
?From an HR standpoint, it?s really critical,? says Giselle
Kovary, managing partner and co-founder of n-gen People Per?
formance Inc. and an expert on generational differences in the
workplace. ?The big piece about the generational perspective is,
how does it start to impact your human capital, and what is the
W hy K now ledge Transfer M atters
Technology has had an enormous impact on the need for knowl?
edge transfer and education, with the high speed of development
requiring workers from every generation to learn new technolo?
gies more quickly.
Consider the telephone, says Brad Karsh, president of Chi?
cago-based professional training company JB Training Solu?
tions. When Karsh was born, his family had a rotary phone?a
device created in 1918 that didn?t change much for a half cen?
tury. By comparison, there have been five versions of the iPhone
in seven years.
Fast-changing technology means workers have less time to get
up to speed on important new skills. It also means older employ?
ees must be willing to learn from younger ones?the so-called
?digital natives? who grew up immersed in computer and mobile
In addition, employers can no longer count on employees fol?
lowing routine career paths. Traditionalists, for example, likely
entered the workforce with the idea that they would have one
career and possibly just a single employer. Baby Boomers and
members of Generation X were prepared to work for a number
of employers, but most likely in the same field.
M illennial, however, are interested in both job- and career?
hopping. They might have eight different careers in their life?
times?not because they?re unhappy at work, but because they
feel like a change or want to do serial, mini-retirements so they
A lo t o f companies aren't ready
yet for the looming retirements
o f older workers. T hey were
preparing, then stopped.'
? Deb LaMere, Ceridian
can go hiking for two months. ?They?ll be a freelance writer,
a chef and then an engineer,? Kovary says. ?That?s completely
reasonable to them.?
While that might produce an exciting path for the worker, it
makes workforce planning a challenge for HR managers. They
don?t want to lose the knowledge and ideas of the younger gen?
eration, even as they are trying to ensure knowledge transfer
from older employees who may start to retire as the economic
A lot of companies aren?t ready for the looming retirements
of older workers, says Deb LaMere, vice president of employee
engagement at Ceridian, a Minneapolis-based HR services firm.
?They were preparing, then stopped,? she notes. ?Now we have
to hurry up again.? And with the economy turning around,
even employees who aren?t of retirement age are ready to make
a change, even a risky one, such as starting a business or mov?
ing to another firm, she says, which adds to the uncertainty for
The Four G enerations
To handle the knowledge exchange?whether or not it involves
people on their way out the door?managers must understand
what drives the different generations and how that affects the
way they teach and learn. It?s about more than age. Much of
what defines the generations is world events and parenting styles.
Traditionalists. This generation may have lived through the
Great Depression and World War II. Its members have strong
ideas about loyalty and hard work, believing that both will be
rewarded with financial and professional benefits. Job-hopping
f W ATCH a video about m anaging fo u r generations at work: w w w .shrm .o rg /1114-m terg eneration al-kno w led ge-transfer
is viewed as disloyal, and many have made a life?
tim e com m itm ent to one job or company. By the
same token, T raditionalists are also more com ?
fortable w orking on longer-term projects, Kovary
notes in her book, Loyalty Unplugged: H ow to
Get, Keep & Grow A ll Four Generations (Xlibris, 2007).
B aby B oom ers. K now n as the ?m e? genera?
tion, Boom ers were shaped by the V ietnam W ar,
a tim e of g reat social change an d u ncertainty.
T he b irth con tro l pill gave w om en m ore fre e?
dom to delay m oth erh o o d and pursue careers,
an d the unrest of the 1960s im bued m any w ith
a sense of social respo n sib ility as they fought
?the E stablishm ent.? Loyalty am ong this group
is to the team , n o t the organization or m anager.
Such employees tend to operate com fortably in
siloed o rgan izatio n s, seeking to rise to the top
of th e ir p a rtic u la r sector. M any B oom ers are
w orkaholics, w ith identities closely aligned w ith
G eneration X. Parenting styles changed dra?
matically starting in the late 1960s, Karsh notes.
P a r t i c i p a n t s in G l a x o S m i t h K l i n e 's F u t u r e L e a d e r s P r o g r a m , w h i c h r o t a t e s w o r k e r s t h r o u g h
d if f e r e n t d e p a r tm e n ts to f a c ilit a t e le a r n in g .
Instead of having mothers and fathers who looked
like they came from the cast of ?Leave It to Beaver,?
many members of Generation X grew up in homes where both par?
Lor many Millennials, their first job out of college is their first
ents worked and divorce was increasingly common. As a result,
job ever, Karsh says. The percentage of teenagers with summer
they often fended for themselves?w alking to school, making
jobs has declined steadily for the past 18 years. And increased
their lunches and waiting a couple of hours at home until a parent
homework loads mean fewer kids are working after schcol. Kids
returned from work. T hat has made for a group of employees who
often have three or more hours of homework a night, says Laura
are perfectly happy to toil away individually, Karsh says. ?They
Sherbin, executive vice president and director of research at the
don?t like authority figures. They don?t like being told w hat to do.?
Center for Talent Innovation in N ew York City. In addition, p ar?
ents have s teered their chil?
dren tow ard summer activ?
ities such as soccer cam p
Parenting styles underwent big changes
instead of a job at M cD on?
again in the 1980s. The mentality went from
alds, according to K arsh.
N ew emp.oyees wno have
"M y children are the mostimportantthing in
never h ac to deal w ith a
my life" to "My children are the only thing in
boss face a big adjustment.
W h ile M il le n n i a ls
my life .'"
tend not to think that they
? Brad Karsh, JBTraining Solutions
need to ? pay th e i: dues?
to advance at w o rk ? as
older generations did? it?s
M illennials. Parenting styles underwent big changes again in
n ot fair to conclude th at they have no w ork ethic, says Tammy
the 1980s. ?The mentality w ent from ?My children are the most
Browning, senior vice president ofU.S. Field O perationsat Phil?
im portant thing in my life? to ?My children are the only thing in
adelphia-based staffing firm Yoh. ?They have this Justin Bieber
my life,? ? Karsh says. Kids were protected and lavishly praised,
thought process, thinking they?ll get discovered on YouTube,?
m aking for grown-up workers w ho are eager for feedback and
she says. Yet ?they?ll still work 60 hours a week. They just w ant
perhaps a bit fragile when it?s not all positive.
to do it on their ow n schedule.? >
Generational Learning Preferences
Link learning to making
Dislike being singled out.
applying new skills.
Link learning w ith overall
Need tim e to practice
Link learning to new ways to
Fluid, just-in-tim e learning
Learn by doing? get
Teamwork and technology.
Make the learning fun, skill-
based; link to marketability.
Source: n-g e n People P erform ance Inc., re p rin te d w ith perm ission.
M illennials have also had to deal with constant global insta?
bility and economic ups and downs. This has made them very
focused on bettering the com m unity and finding m eaning at
work, not just a paycheck.
?For this generation coming up, their needs are so different.
T here?s got to be mobility [for them]. They?re going to come in
and work 12 to 15 m onths and move on,? says Michael M olina,
chief human resources officer at Vistage, a San Diego-based exec?
utive coaching service w ith 161 employees. ?It has very little to
do w ith great pay, a great environm ent or great leadership. It?s
the purpose-driven life most of them w ant.?
Different Ways of Learning
Although there are commonalities among the generations, there
are differences as well. Conflicts often arise from differing learn?
ing styles, especially as they relate to how inform a?
tion is acquired and used, experts say. M illennials,
for example, tend to process inform ation quickly
and prefer to get it through com puters or social
m edia, Brow ning says. ?M illennials learn faster
th an any other generation, and they learn in short
bursts,? she explains, so forcing the youngest gen?
eration to sit thro u g h lengthy train in g sessions
taught from a podium isn?t the best option.
Jan Becker, senior vice president of hum an
resources at the 3 -D design firm Autodesk, which is
based in San Rafael, Calif., and has 7,390 employ?
ees worldwide, has experienced the generational
divide. She hosts ?coffee m ornings? so staff can
brainstorm together. W hen Becker asked for feed?
back on the inform ation made available to them by
the company, a 50-year-old lawyer and a 35-yearold engineer reacted very differently. ?The older
gentleman said, ?Well, you need to tell me. My m an?
ager hasn?t told me, and his m anager hasn?t told
him.? He was very much saying, ?You need to feed
it to me. I?m not going to find it,? ? Becker says. But
the younger engineer had seen all the inform ation
he needed online? through the com pany?s website
N o vem ber 2014
and intranet? and didn?t w ant or need to be told anything by a
Facilitating the Transfer
Fortunately, there are things H R can do to make sure knowledge
is transferred effectively am ong different generations, experts
say, including through:
M entoring an d reverse m entoring. In such arrangements,
tw o employees are paired to share experience and basic techni?
cal knowledge. A younger w orker proficient in social media or
basic H T M L can teach those skills to an older worker, and the
older individual can provide institutional knowledge or advice
on skills th at require experience or a learned kind of finesse, such
as customer service or people management.
At Vistage, a ?pal? program matches people at similar levels
?ladder? structure, w ith lower-level positions
on bottom rungs building up to more-advanced
roles th at require more responsibility and skill.
But Generation X and M illen n ial may gravitate
more tow ard paths th a t are spiral or web-like,
with employees moving back and forth between
vastly different roles and responsibility levels. By
understanding these models, H R and managers
can get a better picture of employees? expectations
and work with them to capture w hat they know at
different points on their career trajectories.
Jo b sh a d o w in g a n d jo b ro tatio n . Employ?
ees in such programs either follow another worker
around in his or her job, preparing for the pass?
ing of the baton or? in the case of GlaxoSmith?
Kline (GSK), a global health care company based
in Brentford, England? are rotated around to dif?
ferent jobs upon entering the company.
J o h n S w e n e y , HR m a n a g e r a t G la x o S m ith K lin e (a t c o m p u te r), w o r k s w it h e m p lo y e e s a s p a rt
O ver the p ast few years, GSK has passed
o f th e c o m p a n y 's ob r o ta tio n in itia tiv e s .
hundreds of new college grads through various
departm ents as p a rt of its Future Leaders P ro?
w ithin the organization so th a t the tw o can use each other as
gram , says John Sweney, one of the firm ?s H R m anagers and
sounding boards as well as tutors. Ceridian has a ?buddy? p ro ?
director of the program . N ew and current employees can apply
gram to help ycung workers navigate the terrain. And Autodesk
for the program , which rotates the w orkers through different
uses a reverse-m entoring program so that veteran staffers can
departm ents over the course of tw o or three years. GSK also
learn from you nger ones. Becker herself says that she has some?
offers a separate internship program , and participants can apply
one at the company w ho helps her w ith social media for talent
for the Future Leaders Program when they are done. ?They get
acquisition groups. ?H e?s tw o or three levels down from me,?
exposure to different parts of the business, having a new manager
she says, ?and, at a more traditional organization, I probably
and new mentors throughout,? Sweney says.
w ouldn?t interact w ith him much.?
C ro ss-g en e ra tio n a l te a m -b u ild in g ev en ts. Bringing gen?
P h ased retirem ent. At the Zeeland, Mich., furniture manufac?
erations together for nonw ork tasks helps build com munication,
turer Herman Miller Inc., with a staff of 6,000, employees are eli?
Becker says. At Autodesk, employees work together on a H abitat
gible to begin tie retirement process two years ahead of their actual
for H um anity project. In general, the more comfortable people
departure date, working fewer hours as full retirement approaches.
feel w ith each other, the more likely they are to ask one another
T hat allows them to ease out of the job while slowly passing on their
to share w hat they know or how to do something.
knowledge ar.d skills to other employees in the process, says Tony
I n te g r a tin g p r o je c t te a m s . At T riN et, a San L eandro,
Cortese, senior vice president of people services.
Calif.-based H R services provider, workers are assigned to w hat
The workers continue to get full benefits even as they reduce
are called ?cross-functional project team s,? breaking dow n
their hours to part time, while preparing financially and emotion?
the silos created from the basic workplace structure, says M or?
ally for the transition to retirement. ?It?s a win-win solution,? Cortese
gan M assie, m anager of talent development. Employees work
says. ?The employer benefits from the knowledge transfer, and the
together on various initiatives or com mittees, and it gets them
employee can co the appropriate planning.?
talking to each other. ?Different generations then work shoulder
C a re er p a rh in g . At Ceridian, H R has mapped career paths
to shoulder, regardless of tenure, age or experience, and it?s an
for positions in each division and shares the inform ation w ith
environment where anyone can feel free to speak up,? she says.
all employees. This gives employees a clear plan if they w ant to
Dnce H R departm ents begin to accom m odate a variety of
move to a particular position in the future. Each w orker is then
learning styles that facilitate knowledge transfer among the gen?
given a mentor to help guide him or her. ?It?s integrating all the
erations, they can focus more on the hum anity that unites every?
generations together. It?s taking that knowledge and experience
one? and how to capture its wisdom for generations to come. D
and using it in a different capacity,? LaM ere says.
According to Kovary, Traditionalists and Boomers tend to
Susan Milligan is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
be accustomec ro career path models that follow a conventional
N o vem b er 2014
H R M agazine
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