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What's the Matter With Kids Today?

6/15/2011-

by Hannah Nusser, for SIOP

SIOP members discuss implications of the multigenerational workforce
With the arrival of Generation Y, there are now four distinct generations in the workplace, leading to new issues and generational differences for organizations.

SIOP members Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president at Aon Hewitt Consulting and Janis Ward, sole proprietor of JM Ward Consulting hosted a roundtable discussion, “Multi-Generational Talent: What’s the Matter with Kids Today?” at this year’s SIOP conference to discuss problems encountered with and best practices in dealing with today’s multigenerational workforce.

“It’s the first time that we’ve got four unique generations working together in the workplace at the same time, so the implications around that are interesting in and of itself,” Stomski said.

Employees’ generational differences can affect many aspects of an organization, such as talent management, retaining talent, training tools, and mentoring, Ward explained, making this an important consideration for organizations.
“The trick is how we get them to work well together because they have very different styles, values and expectations,” Ward added.                                                                                                                                               
Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the newest addition, Generation Y (or “Millennials”) make up today’s workforce. The historical events of each generation are said to shape its individuals in different ways, thus posing new challenges for organizations when a new wave of young employees arrives, Ward and Stomski explained.
The Veterans, born between 1922 and 1945, are focused on security, loyalty and getting work done. They are the “traditionalists,” Stomski said. The Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964, are loyal to their organization and are generally rule-oriented and obedient. The Gen Xers, born 1965 to 1979, portray a level of cynicism toward organizations, Stomski said. But they’re also very loyal to their managers and make maintaining an effective work-life balance a priority.
“Gen Xers say, ‘No,  I’m not going to do what my parents are doing – I’m going to make a conscious decision to balance work and life,’” Ward explained.
The youngest generation, the Millennials (or Gen Yers), are also focused on achieving work-life balance, yet they’re said to be the most demanding employees, Stomski said. Born between 1981 and 2000, Millennials grew up with social media and are therefore known for their desire for immediacy and sophistication around the use of technological resources.
Millennials come from what has been called in the popular press an “entitlement culture,” Stomski explained, “where it’s walking in the door and expecting to learn quickly, be promoted at a very rapid rate, expecting quick access to resources and exposure to senior-level leaders.”
But Stomski and Ward are not just singling out the Millenials for posing the biggest challenges in the workplace, they said. Each generation brings something different and valuable to the table. One significant challenge in organizations is how to keep the younger generations engaged in their work when the economy and lifestyle choices are causing more Baby Boomers to stay in the workplace longer.  This effect, often referred to as “blocking”, is a source of great frustration amongst the younger generation of talent Stomski said.
“How do you keep the younger Gen Yers and Gen Xers focused or interested in their career path when the Baby Boomers can be blocking their progression in the organization?” Stomski asked. “With younger generations, this is the group that’s really making organizations rethink corporate social responsibility because it’s a branding issue now and that’s part of how you attract really strong younger talent.”
Though there’s very little rigorous research on the subject, Stomski and Ward said they see clients dealing with these issues on a daily basis.
“We’re finding it in our practice all the time, but we hope research proceeds,” Ward said.
Stomski said it may be important to consider the generational gaps of employees during selection processes and training methods.
“First, as I-O psychologists, we have to really think about what the implications are for the tools we draw on in talent management,” Stomski said. “For example, take the kinds of selection tools that we use at Aon Hewitt. One of our approaches is through smart phone testing – not only do we work with our clients to ensure we have the most rigorous, well validated tests, but we also have to make sure  that the mode of test is appropriate for the population we are working with.   In other words, for smart phone testing, is this going to be a mode that’s accessible and user-friendly to an older generation that maybe doesn’t use smart phones very often versus a Gen Y person who can’t live without their smart phone”.
Stomski and Ward said their interest in hosting a roundtable discussion at this year’s annual conference stemmed from a similar roundtable topic they hosted last year in which much debate went on about whether generational differences indeed existed and affected the workplace. The two said they believe the issue is no longer being debated. Rather discussion has begun on how to deal with the multigenerational workplace.
“This time – no debate as to whether or not there are issues with multiple generations in the workplace,” Ward said. “We were all down to it; this is what we we’re dealing with. I think it’s something that’s bubbling from the grass roots, people in the field are facing these issues.”
Throughout the discussions, Ward said she noticed people in the session were suggesting tactics that the clients had tried themselves.
“Lorraine’s and my interest does not end here,” Ward said. “This is something we’re continuing to face and we’re interested in sort of advancing that practice … and we’re going to continue to try and have these conversations in some format or another.”