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Generation Gap in the Workplace

Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce

In 2011, many companies will have four generations of employees working together side-by-side.

Therefore, today, more than ever, companies must help members of various generations work more collaboratively and ultimately improve productivity. By 2014, nearly one third of the total U.S. workforce (32%) will be age 50 or older. This will be a significant increase from 27% in 2005. The oldest members of the Baby Boom generation are nearing traditional retirement age. However, eight out of ten Boomers expect to work at least part time in their so-called retirement years. To take advantage of this rich pool of talent, employers need to adopt policies and practices that appeal to this generation while understanding the generational differences that are taking place in the work force.

A generation is a group of people who are programmed at the same time in history. During their first, most formative years, they are coded with data about what is right and wrong, good and bad, stylish and unstylish. A generation shares a common set of formative events and trends – headlines and heroes, music and mood, parenting style and educations system. As they grow older, they learn and grow. They adjust their behaviors and build their skills, but they generally do not radically change the way they view the world. Because each of the generations came of age in a distinct and unique era, each has its own perspective on such critical business issues as leadership, communication, problem solving and decision making.

At a forum sponsored by AARP RI and Providence Business News held recently, members of the RI Society of Human Resource Managers, AARP members and employers from RI businesses heard a panel of experts discuss how they handle communication between generations.

Phyllis Cohn, AARP national consultant on workforce issues and the Keynoter said, “You can’t manage with a one-size-fits-all any longer.”

The age gap is so wide that some workers could be grandparents of their colleagues and yet both groups are expected to do the same jobs with the same set of skills. The old saying of treating everyone the same certainly does not apply as well as it used to.

Cohn continued, “Every worker wants the same things – they want to be recognized for a job well done, they want to be coached, they want to be consulted, they want to be connected with others, but each generation wants these things delivered in different ways!”

The panel consisted of Anthony R. Wheeler, associate professor human resources management at the Schmidt Labor Research center and College of Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island; Kristy d’Ambrosio, senior learning specialist for Hasbro, Inc.; Lori Searles, senior vice president of Bank Rhode Island; William O’Gara, partner in the Providence law firm of Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC; and Alexis Devine, youth development coordinator for Lifespan; and Mark Murphy, editor of Providence Business News, moderator of the program.

Read more about this on the AARP Work channel.

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