Multiple Generations in the Workplace

If you read my post on the Education Revolution, you will remember my question “Do students (of any age) prefer one form of media more than another for learning? Do we need e-Learning for children and chalkboards for Boomers?” My answer was “of course not!”

There has been more and more information shared about the multiple generations in the workplace and the need to treat each generational cohort differently. For example, the American Management Association (N.D.) says “Each group has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on its generation’s life experiences. To successfully integrate these diverse generations into the workplace, companies will need to embrace radical changes in recruitment, benefits, and creating a corporate culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion for its multigenerational work force.” Do we really need to treat Millennials different than Boomers? Of course not! I’ll explain why in a moment. But first…

I am currently working my way through a business boot-camp provided by the Leeds Grenville Small Business Enterprise Center (LGSBEC). After a little more than a year of running my own business, I needed something to motivate me to get my business plan done and the LGSBEC has met that need! There were four days of face-to-face instruction provided by Karen McDonald of the Opportunity Group to walk my group of nine entrepreneurs through the ins and outs of business plan writing. Six of the nine will be awarded a grant to kick start their business. What a great program!

One of the entrepreneurs, Holly, had a daycare disruption in week two and had to bring her four-month old daughter Jillian to class with her. That’s Holly, Jillian and Karen looking at cash flows in the picture above. I believe that baby Jillian was pointing out an error with the formula that carried the cumulative cash-flow from the previous period into the worksheet for year two.

I have to say, Jillian is the BEST baby! Very quiet and happy. We hardly knew she was there. So, where am I going with this? These three got me thinking about the generational noise again. Recall that the AMA said “Each group has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on its generation’s life experiences.” Let’s consider THAT.

First, we have to define what a generation is. The Center for Generational Kinesthetics uses this definition: A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this “birth cohort” exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.”

There are reams of studies that have defined those “similar characteristics, preferences,” etc. The ones I use for arguments sake were published by (2005) Greg Hammill and adapted for use here to show a summary of personal, lifestyle and workplace characteristics by generational cohort.  Hopefully they aren’t too hard to read for you folks in the Veterans Generation. :-O

Gen1

Gen2.png

Did you take a moment to look at the charts? Do it! Look at “your generation” and see if you agree with the characteristics assigned to you. Do you agree? Are you 100% aligned? 80%? Do you feel like maybe you were born in the wrong era? (If you are having trouble reading these tables, right click and open the image in a new tab and you can zoom in to increase the font size).

We should also be aware that generational differences in attitudes toward the balance between work and other parts of life such as family may vary to some degree by gender. The charts above don’t take THAT into account.

And there’s the rub! There are glaring weaknesses in the generational research, especially with respect to the understanding of generational differences among people in the blue collar and service industry work forces, and with regard to people of lower socioeconomic status. That’s a lot of variables that keep me wondering about the validity of these categorizations of people by age.

Weiss (2003) notes that most attitudes and distinguishing characteristics attributed to the generations are identified during childhood and adolescence, but these characteristics may undergo adjustment as people experience life stage changes such as marriage, childbearing, and challenges of adulthood.

Hmmm, so as people age and experience “things,” they change? That seems pretty radical. Is it possible that all the Boomers didn’t always see work as an exciting adventure for their entire work lives?

Wellner (2003) acknowledges as well, that demographic projections are fallible since they are assumptions based on past behavior, and future behavior may or may not follow the same patterns. More concerns about validity. If you judged me on my past behaviour as a 20 year old in the Navy, you would never have predicted that I would be sitting here writing this! Maybe we do change…

The Center for Creative Leadership says, despite what is seen on television, heard on radio, and written in newspapers, magazine, books, the differences between generations are not as stark as we have been led to believe.

Here’s my favourite. Jennifer Deal, author of Retiring the Generation Gap (2008), argues that we all want essentially the same things at work. [My emphasis] Her assertion is based on seven years of research in which she surveyed more than 3,000 corporate leaders. Deal says that the conflicts have to do with influence and power—who has it and who wants it. And in some ways, the negative stereotypes about each generation are the byproducts of defense mechanisms used by the competing age groups.

So – it is definitely not recommended to make assumptions in the workplace OR in the training environment about any one individual based upon his/her membership in a chronological generational cohort or gender, age, learning style, personality characteristics or other factors.

Well then – what DO we do? Marcia Zidle provides a list of ten principles to “help you look past the stereotypes and become a more effective leader to people of all ages.

  1. All generations have similar values. In fact, they all value family, the most. They also attach importance to integrity, achievement, love and competence.
  2. Everyone wants respect – they just define it in the same way.
  3. Trust matters especially with the people you work directly with. Everyone wants to trust and want to be trusted.
  4. People of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy. They also want them to listen well and be farsighted and encouraging.
  5. Office politics is an issue – no matter what your age. Most realize that political skills are a critical component in being able to move up and be effective.
  6. No one really likes change. Resistance to change has nothing to do with age; it is all about how much one has to gain or lose with the change.
  7. Loyalty depends on the context not on the generation. People stay or leave a company based on their boss, opportunities, stage of life and other factors.
  8. It’s as easy to retain a young person as it is to retain an older one. It depends on what’s important to them. Age defines a demographic not a person.
  9. People of all generations want to make sure they have the skills and resources necessary to do their jobs well. The ability and desire to learn continues throughout life.
  10. Everyone wants to know how they’re doing. Feedback is desired but no one likes only negative feedback; they also want positive as well.” THAT relates back to my last post!

Did you identify more strongly with Zidle’s ten principles or Hammill’s generational characteristics? To circle back to the boot-camp, which is what got me all fired up… There were five, probably six generations in the room with little Jillian. We all shared the entrepreneurial spirit, a common goal, clear and caring leadership from Karen and from what I could see, age was never a factor, except we all wanted to hold the baby!

In summary, you will get better results by (1) applying effective leadership and (2) creating a high performing work environment than you will by labeling people in your workforce by age, gender, personality or favourite colour!

If you liked the article, please feel free to share and/or leave a comment! Although WordPress gives some great stats on how many have visited… it only gives a number and a country. I’d love to hear from you!

References

American Management Association. (N.D.). Leading the Four Generations at Work [web log]. Retrieved from: http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/leading-the-four-generations-at-work.aspx

Deal, J. (2008). Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground. Personnel Psychology, 61(1), 202-205.

Hammill, G. (2005) Mixing and Managing four generations of employees. FDU Magazine. [online, Winter/Spring 2005].

Weiss, M.J. (2003). To be about to be. American Demographics, 25(7), 29-36.

Wellner, A. S. (2003). The next 25 years. American Demographics, 25(3), 24-29.

Zidle, M. (2013) Working with different generations. [web log]. Retrieved from: https://managementhelp.org/blogs/supervision/2013/08/22/working-with-different-generations/

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Learning Anytime Anywhere

ADHDA while back I said that my next musings would be around Dr. Tom Gilbert and the Behaviour Engineering Model (B.E.M). but I keep running into other things that catch my attention! I will  tie the BEM into the story at the end.

Last weekend we hosted a friend of my daughter’s who recently arrived at CFB Kingston to start his training as an Intelligence Operator (INT OP) in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). One of my first two projects as a Training Development Officer (TDO) was to convert the first forty hours of training for this course from Face-to-Face (F2F) to self-directed online learning. That was ten years ago… wow time flies!

2006 was “the year of the social network” (R. Macnus, 2006). Phones were getting smarter and the 3G network was here! Important to the CAF was the increased stability of its Learning Management System (LMS) “DNDLearn” which at the time was provided by Desire2Learn or D2L. Since then, the CAF has moved onto SABA and D2L created Brightspace. My point here is that with respect to Distance Learning (DL), the CAF was really at the beginning of a major shift when I was assigned the project.

When I took over the DL project, the school had already thought through a lot of the logistics and access issues. There was real (valid) concern that the learners might not have a computer, reliable Internet access or the support of their supervisors to commit the time required to complete the DL portion of the training. To address these issues, laptops, headsets and hard shipping cases were purchased to send to each student so everyone started at the same level with respect to technology. An instructor was available every day to support the learners. Learning contracts were developed that the instructor, the learner and the learner’s supervisor at the “home unit” had to sign.

This learning contract is really key to the story. The CAF is – understanding its culture – pretty particular about where it’s people are and what they are doing. The more junior you are, the more this applies! The staff at CFSMI were not about to let these new INT OPs run willy nilly all over the country unsupervised while they did this training! The instructional staff and I had some passionate debates about learner centricity and giving the learner responsibility. A tall order for an organization that is so control oriented.

Fast forward to last weekend. Matt and I were talking about his upcoming training and given my history with the initial attempt, I was naturally curious about what had changed! I wasn’t disappointed. The DL curriculum has expanded from 40 to 72 hours (9 training days) which is a pretty solid demonstration of success, but the change that really got me was that Matt has already headed back to Victoria while he completes his DL phase of training. The Chief Instructor’s directions were (in Matt’s words) “I don’t care where you do it, as long as you get it done on time and you don’t get hurt.” Quite a different contract from 2006.

Of course, logistics and access have changed quite a bit in the past ten years and the Defence Learning Network (DLN) has matured. More importantly, connectivity is not the issue it was and we are almost all connected. Internet access by individuals jumped from 67.9% in 2005 to 80.3% in 2009 (Statistics Canada, 2010). I couldn’t find more recent stats, but I think it is safe to say that access has surpassed 2009 levels and mobile technology keeps getting better.

So how does this story about learning relate to workplace performance? As  noted in Expectations of the Workforce, there is a consensus amongst  research and experts in the field of performance improvement that around 75-80 percent of the factors that influence performance are environmentally rather than individually based. The top row of Chevalier’s Improved Behaviour Engineering Model in Table 1 below helps focus the analyst’s attention here first.

 

BEM

Table 1: Updated BEM (Chevalier, 2003). Reprinted with permission.

The expectations “I don’t care where you do it, as long as you get it done on time and you don’t get hurt” are pretty clear! The maturity of the DNDLearn system ensures that guides, materials and tools are in place and support performance. The biggest change to me in this environment is the level of trust displayed by the leadership in allowing young Matt to really learn anywhere anytime, within the allotted timeframe of course. A truly incentivized environment!

My hat is off to the School of Military Intelligence and I trust Matt is enjoying being at home with friends and family while taking this first step in his journey to becoming an Intelligence Operator.

References

Macnus, R. (2006). 2006 Web Technology Trends. readwrite. Retrieved from http://readwrite.com/2006/12/11/2006_web_technology_trends, 09 Mar 2016.

Statistics Canada (2010). Internet use by individuals, by location of access, by province. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/comm36a-eng.htm 09 Mar 2016.

Chevalier, R. (2003). Updating the Behavior Engineering Model, Performance Improvement, 42(4), 8-13. Retrieved from www.aboutiwp.com