Today, for what may be the first time ever, there are four distinct generations in the workplace (Matures, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials). Savvy organizations are using this multi-generational workforce as a competitive advantage in terms of offering flexibility, establishing a well rounded group of associates with a variety of experience and skill sets, and providing new avenues for problem-solving. They're finding that interaction among the generations encourages innovative approaches and perspectives to improve productivity, safety and morale.
However, some companies are being challenged by a multi-generation workforce. There's concern over tension among the generations because of their different experiences, values, expectations, work habits and communication styles.
“To successfully manage a multi-generational workforce, organizations must first understand each generation and the common experiences that connect its members,” advises “Aligning a Multi-Generational Workforce With Your Business Goals,” a whitepaper from Versant Solutions. “Success also comes by recognizing and valuing differences and working to create a culture of inclusion in which every employee can thrive and work toward common business goals.”
From a practical perspective, managers need to think positively. Quoted in the Summer 2009 WERCwatch, Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of organizational development at Randstad USA, says, “Use the three Cs: coach, compromise or capitalize. Is this a behavior that I immediately have to coach and change because of the work situation, or is it something that I never thought of, but I can compromise on it somehow?” she explains. “Or, is this something that I never thought of that we should really capitalize on?”
Experts also recommend taking advantage of the strengths of the different generations through knowledge sharing. Matures and Boomers have knowledge and intellectual capital gained through years of experience on and off the job. Managers can offer opportunities for the transfer of this knowledge to younger associates.
Sessions can also be held in which the younger generations teach the older generations about what they know and use — like LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking tools. It's possible, too, that younger associates will be more comfortable with technology and can serve as go-to people for new applications.
The Value of Mentoring
Managers can also use the differences among associates to establish mentoring relationships. In a mentoring relationship, the mentor offers help, support and encouragement to one or more protégés. Age does not necessarily enter into the equation, though typically the mentor has more career experience.
A mentoring program can be formal or informal; the key is that it offers connection and builds understanding. The relationship takes a strategic view, looking to develop individuals and help them grow in their careers. Openness, honesty and trust are drivers in the mentoring relationship.
As an organization of professionals, WERC believes so strongly in this type of relationship that we offer a special membership option so our members can reach out to the younger members in our industry. Over and over, we've seen the strength of the bond that can exist among colleagues. The practical nature of our business is a perfect setting for building mentoring relationships.
We strongly encourage warehousing professionals to consider the many benefits of mentoring — for themselves and their companies. Making the most of generational differences will only enhance the overall professionalism of the industry.
Michael J. Mikitka, CAE, CMP, is executive director of the Warehousing Education & Research Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.