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Separate “Dialects” on Cultural Phenomena: Are the #Generational Disconnects Worrisome?

Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times Op-Ed column, “The Water Cooler Runs Dry,” is another story of how the ability to custom-tailor the information we keep up with is a double-edged sword. He was bewildered that his Princeton University students were totally unfamiliar with celebrities of yesteryear whom he mentioned in class.

We now customize what we read and hear to a large degree. People create their personal niches of information and exposure rather than gathering at a cross-cultural, cross-generational “water cooler” or “public square.” Common reference points are fading away. With so much specialization and almost infinite categories, a book can become a best-seller with the sale of many fewer copies than in the past before self-publishing became easier and respectable.

A Princeton colleague of Bruni’s, Hendrik Hartog, director of the American Studies program says the enormous amount of specialized knowledge “leaves an absence of connective tissue for students.” Another colleague, Daniel Rodgers, calls it the “age of fracture. 

Makers of commercial entertainment don’t have to chase a mass audience and can produce programs on cable TV or alternatives with cult-like followings. While Bruni can also see some upside, he wrote, ”Each fosters a separate dialect. Finding a collective vocabulary becomes harder.”

It’s clear that’s the way things are going. Should we be worried about what is lost in translation with these diversity disconnects?

Please comment and share your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com 

BEYOND MILLENNIAL

Last weekend I saw “Beyond Therapy,” a revival of a very funny early (1982) play by Tony Award winning playwright Christopher Durang. It’s about single, thirty-something big city dwellers struggling to make sense of their lives, their sexual orientations, trying to project their ideal selves, looking for love through newspaper dating ads (before match.com, etc.) and seeking help from therapists crazier than they are.

The playbill cites a December 1981 New York Magazine “Single in the City” issue that described the conditions causing the then young professionals’ angst: “the quest for fame and fortune, the sheer number of singles, the pressure to perform…the delaying of marriage for career.” References to the inability of young people to settle down and giving priority to work over marriage (or love), and statistics about educated professional single women outnumbering similar men sound eerily familiar to the Gen Y/Millennial world of today. We can even draw correlations to a down economy in the early 1980s– the second worst to recent times since the Great Depression.

Despite dramatic changes in technology, the status of women at work and demographics of the workforce in the last 30 years, it seems like déjà vu. Note that the characters in the play and described in the 1981 New York Magazine are Gen Xers and the younger Boomers.

This reinforces one reason Gen Xers (and some Boomers) are not generally sympathetic to Gen Yers. Having lived through similar experiences without having hovering parents, coaches and mentors, perhaps their attitude toward the younger generation is understandable: “We survived relying on ourselves.” “Why can’t they figure it out?” Why do they expect so much help?” Often they perceive the Gen Y/Millennials to be unfocused and uncommitted.

It’s worth contemplating…

Your thoughts? Please comment.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

WHAT WE LEARN FROM PERU’S MULTI-GENERATIONAL CULTURES

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Peru and learned so many fascinating things about Andean culture, philosophy and how they stay happy in their multi-generational living and working arrangements. I will relate a few tidbits here along with how the U.S. is actually adopting the practices of ancient and less advanced cultures.

Some learnings from the Incas and other Andean cultures of Peru:

  • The central philosophy is Love, Learning and Service.  Will the Boomers and Gen Y/Millennials increasingly adopt those values?
  • Those cultures are quite stress-free, attributed to their hard work, low desire for material goods beyond their definition of necessity and comfort.
  • Multiple generations live and work together by choice as well as necessity.
  • Women have very significant work roles.
  • A philosophy of “reciprocity” – today for you, tomorrow for me (which is the secret of successful networking, of course) pervades their lives.
  • Trial marriage is the custom in some Andean cultures. If it doesn’t work out, you can say “goodbye” and go on their way. No lawyers needed. However, if a child is produced during the trial marriage, the couple must marry.

Owing to demographics (age, ethnicity, immigrant cultures), economics and environmental conditions, the U.S. seems to be getting to be more like the Andean cultures.

  • Several studies reveal that Boomers are helping children and grandchildren financially. For example, a Merrill Lynch- Age Wave survey (2013) found that 62% of people age 50 plus helped family members in the last 5 years. And they’re helping with unpaid work too: grandparents care for 30% of pre-schoolers while the parents work.
  • Ken Dychtwald of Age Wave said, “Boomers want to be where the action is” rather than separating themselves in their living and working arrangements.
  • A couple living together either before marriage or with no committed intention of marriage has been growing for several decades.
  • Women’s work roles beyond domestic ones have been increasing.

Unfortunately, our stress levels have been increasing every year, and with our multitude of consumer goods, we are not getting happier.

Whether these trends will continue as Gen X ages and if the economy settles into a more positive pattern remains to be seen. And smart as we think we are in technological innovation, the Inca accomplishments of the 1500s are still ahead of us

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

BEST LEADERS FOR MILLENNIALS: A GEN Y‘S ANALYSIS

For the last three years I have suggested topics on inter-generational relations at work for my externs and interns to write about, and I have published a selection of them on this blog. My extern in January 2014 was Danielle Kronenfeld, a junior at the Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School. One of the topics she chose to write about is what her generation desires in leaders. Below are my questions and Danielle’s responses.

 Phyllis:  What attributes are you and other Gen Y/Millennials looking for in leaders?

 Danielle: I think that Gen Yers are looking for our leaders to act as mentors. We are extremely eager to learn, so we want leaders who are willing to teach us and help us grow. More specifically, we want our leaders to be intelligent and to have respect for us.

 We are incredibly driven, more educated than previous generations, and probably a little bit too arrogant. This makes us believe that we have all of the solutions, despite our lack of real world experience. Of course, we do realize that we do not literally know how to solve every problem. However, our overall confidence makes it that much more important to us that our leaders have faith in our ideas and are willing to listen.

While conducting my summer internship search over the past semester, I spoke to many previous interns and recent graduates who had just started working full time. When I asked them about their favorite experience during their internship or since they started working, most of them told stories of when a senior manager invited them into his or her office to answer their questions or give them advice. Gen Yers are happiest when our leaders are willing to give us that kind of time and attention.

Phyllis: Do you think business leaders will be younger than in the past?

Danielle: Despite the fact that we like business leaders who are more experienced, I think that leaders will be younger than in the past. With the recent and continuingly rapid growth in technology, younger people are more knowledgeable and able to adapt to the most current trends.

Phyllis: What skills other than technological savvy will they have and/or need?

I think that adaptability is one of the most valuable qualities that a leader can have in today’s workplace, and one of the most distinguishing qualities that Gen Yers have mastered. Studies show that because we grew up during this time of rapid advancements, our generation is much less loyal than previous generations.

Whether it’s to our current routine in school or at work, our favorite shampoo brand, or our significant others, Millennials feels less attached to the status quo are more likely to switch to a different practice. Gen Yers are always looking for the best possible option, and are usually not afraid to leave something behind when a superior alternative comes along.

Phyllis:   To our readers: Please give us your comments. Agree or disagree? What attributes do you think leaders in a Gen Y-prevalent work world will have?  Will be needed?

Thanks for joining the conversation.

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

HAS THE MISSING PIECE ELUDED YOU? – Find the Inter-Generational Solution

Generational differences in attitudes inform and influence attitudes and behaviors toward all the other types of diversity and individuals’ worldviews. They are integral, “joined at the hip,” so to speak.

  • If you are approaching attracting and retaining clients of different generations all the same way
  • If you are approaching attracting and retaining employees of different generations all the same way
  • If you are pitching your fundraising, member drives and engaging alumni of different generations all the same way
  • If you think the members of multi-generational teams all have similar wants and expectations
  • If knowledge transfer among generations has more speed bumps than fast lanes

then you are missing the piece that makes the ultimate difference to your long-term success rate. 

Most firms treat different types of diversity as separate silos and approach their programs as if one solution fits all and will make the crucial emotional connection that is necessary for attitude and behavior change and cultural transformation.

In the last several years, many organizations have realized that something different is going on and not going away, and their personnel need to learn about generational differences. Usually they bring in a speaker (sometimes that’s me) for an hour or so to explain the basics– and then check off the box that they addressed the issues.

It’s a good first step…but for real change to occur deepening understanding, repetition and practice is necessary. Savvy organizations are undertaking yearlong or longer initiatives and community building to address inter-generational challenges locally or globally, as relevant. That type of dedicated effort will earn them an advantage in recruiting and retaining both engaged employees and loyal clients/customers.

IBM and American Express have realized how central inter-generational initiatives are to productivity in their core businesses. IBM is leveraging learning resources and building employee communities in person and online in many countries to strengthen collaboration. With surveys and other means, IBM is assessing what different generations need and is providing recommendations to business units globally on attracting, developing and retaining talent of different generations. American Express, realizing that its shift in business strategy away from travel to financial services and other technology-oriented businesses required younger demographics, also has been focusing on inter-generational challenges.

Educational institutions are getting sensitive to the large demographic changes as at least a third of their faculty and administrative staff heads toward retirement age. For example, Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs & Development department, having done some generational programming in the past, is starting on a yearlong generational focus as one of its diversity initiatives required of all colleges and administrative units by the University.

Some of the strategies to include in your cross-generational diversity initiatives are:

  • Small facilitated group discussions
  • Educational materials and interactive courses appropriate to different markets
  • Mutual and reverse mentoring and mentoring circles
  • Significant roles for senior management as advocates and participants
  • Knowledge transfer and succession strategies

As firms, other organizations and institutions develop affinity or employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs) and other internal and cross-cultural communities, they need to be sure to cross-pollinate them. Just as gender diversity groups focused on furthering women’s careers and as leaders greatly benefit from bringing men into the conversation, diversity and inclusion initiatives for each specific focus need to bring all the generations into the conversation. Cross-generational conversations will facilitate understanding of all the views and attitudes that must be part of the solution and the pursuit of harmonious change.

Instead of “siloing,” make the cross-generational perspective the foundation piece.

 

Please comment and share your thoughts. Do you see this as a business imperative?

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

TRANSITIONING YEARS AND GENERATIONAL PERSPECTIVES

Looking to a new year with thanks!

It’s almost time for the ball to drop for 2014, so don’t drop the ball.

Whether yours was a lucky ’13 or not, I hope you are excited about your future. What new challenge will you take on? What problem are you determined to solve? What new skill or knowledge will you acquire? What knowledge will you pass on to a younger – or older – colleague?

In 2013 I thought big, as I developed the Cross-Generational Conversation Day concept to raise awareness of the implications of inter-generational challenges at work on business success and our lives. I am grateful for the enthusiastic reception to the concept and plans. Now in 2014, it’s time to execute! Stay tuned for our research and more information as to how you and your organization can get involved.

Since I have always been future-oriented, I look optimistically onward – but not before thanking our wonderful past and current clients, the Cross-Generational Conversation Day Planning Committee, The Cross-Generational Conversation LinkedIn Group community, social media followers, my MasterMind Group, great friends and family and YOU – my valued readers.

 I urge you to light up the lives of people around you, especially in person. Start the new year with some great cross-generational conversations, and let us know if and how it changes your perspective and how you want to connect. Keep smiling, doing great work and spreading joy!

Warmly and thankfully, Phyllis

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

TIPS FOR GEN Y MANAGERS WITH AN OLDER TEAM – Part Two

Part two follows a previous post about stories of some CEOs who were faced with the upside down reporting relationships early in their careers and happened upon a formula that became one of the pillars of their considerable business success.

In anticipation of the younger manager/older staff challenges, over the last five years I have written articles, done videos and webinars and conducted workshops and delivered talks on this topic as a component of professionalism, succession planning and cross-generational conversation.

Lessons

Here are 7 more learnings we can take away from the two young manager success stories:

  • Senior managers were willing to take risks on these young new managers and thought they could do the job.
  • “Sink or swim” is a tough initiation for a leader or manager but a great learning experience and can build confidence and resilience.
  • Include. Don’t try to boss.
  • Build relationships through inclusion.
  • You aren’t expected to have all the answers. It’s better not to think you know better or you know everything.
  • Be confident enough to show some vulnerability. People will help you.
  • Respect breeds mutual respect.

Reminder to the older members of the team who might feel discomfort:

  • Keep focused on the common objective and the external or internal client or customer.
  • Collaboration will benefit all long-term.
  • Your mentoring and coaching can also be your reward.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

TIPS FOR GEN Y MANAGERS WITH AN OLDER TEAM – Part One

“Older workers reporting to younger managers” is not a totally new phenomenon. But it is a growing and potentially problematic trend, as the large generation of Baby Boomers stays on in the workforce longer and the large generation of Gen Y or Millennials eager for promotion rise along with Gen Xers. They bring new management styles and often anxieties owing to lack of management experience and training.

For some guidance, young managers can look to the stories of some CEOs who were faced with the upside down reporting relationships early in their careers and happened upon a formula that became one of the pillars of their considerable business success.

Bob Pittman, chairman and chief executive of Clear Channel communications was 19 when he was given about a dozen people to manage as the programmer of a radio station in Pittsburgh. He had no idea how to manage people but realized he was functioning as a team leader. The command and control model would have been ineffective: “ When you’re 19 no one’s going to accept you as the big boss.”

He saw his job as the team leader who needed to sell his older team members on his ideas and “to keep selling them, listen really well, let everyone have a voice and to let there be some dissent.” As told to Adam Bryant for his New York Times Corner Office column that was the origin of the style he has used ever since.

Another younger manager/older workers story comes from Amy Errett, chief executive and co-founder of Madison Reed. When she was 23, she was plopped into a huge job of managing hundreds of people in a bond-processing department of a bank. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “There were all these people who had been there a really long time, and I was probably half their age. I was just terrified…Where do I even start? I set up a meeting and nobody came.”

Following her instinct, Errett learned that the essence was the relationships and trust she could develop. It was about including them. She reached out to each person and said, “I want you to tell me in the most honest way what you don’t like about your job.” In this way she started to really understand their ideas and implement those. While the first reaction from many people to that question even today in another industry is “Can I trust her?” it actually started the trusted relationship.

The next post, Part Two, will provide lessons and tips for succeeding as a younger manager with older staff and a few reminders to help the older generations in this situation.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

WILL GEN Y “FEED THE PIG”?

A new national online survey sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Ad Council confirmed some widespread and potentially troubling characteristics of young workers (age 25-34 now), the major segment of the Gen Y/Millennial workforce. The survey provides a foundation for the “Feed the Pig” financial literacy campaign, a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) urging that generation to build long-term financial security by thinking independently and foregoing short-term gratification through living beyond their means.

Here are some of the findings, which confirm  (or reinforce) and quantify the extent Gen Yers are led by peer pressure, fear of not belonging, and the attitude that in an uncertain and volatile world, grab what you can now. (As the saying goes, “Life is short; start with dessert.”)

  • 78% model their financial habits on their friends’ habits.
  • 66% want to keep pace with where friends live.
  • 64% want to be in sync with what friends wear.
  • Similar percentages feel pressure to go to the types of places their friends eat at and use the types of gadgets they carry.
  • 61% still get financial help from their families.

As a consequences a large portion of that age groups miss bill payments and rack up substantial credit card debt paying for necessities. Financial stability means paying all their bills each month for 70%. This is a short-term view, the desire for immediate gratification.

The fact that Gen Y/Millennials are strongly influenced by peers’ lifestyle purchases indicates the depth of their need to “belong.” Also they expect to be able to rely on their families. These attributes are portrayed humorously in the ad campaign developed pro bono by kirshenbaum, bond, senecal + partners (kbs+).

But there is a very serious side emotionally, beyond financial literacy. In his essay, Looking for “Likes” in the New York Times Education Life section (11/3/13). Andrew Reiner, who teaches at Towson University in the Honors College and English Department, comments on the self-pressure he observes in his students’ generation: “ A small but growing body of evidence suggests that excessive social media use can lead to an unhealthy fixation on how one is perceived and an obsessive competitiveness. Perhaps not surprisingly, this angsting can also lead to an unhealthy quest for perfection, a social perfection, which breeds an aperture-narrowing conformity.”

A few brave souls, wrote Reiner, admitted to fearing peers’ judgments for writing something stupid, or worse, something that “set them apart.” They feared expressing a different opinion would make others dislike them. “The ultimate goal? Racking up ‘Likes.’”

Yes,of course there has been some degree of fear, peer pressure and conformity in every (young) generation. But the level of parental protection and social media exposure the youngest generations have experienced does magnify the problem.

One hopes the Feed the Pig campaign makes many converts. The independent thinking habits regarding financial security can result in growth and self-actualization in other aspects of life and work.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

10 PROBLEMS WITH THE CURRENT DESIGN OF WORK

Each generation’s view of work and how it will best engage them and motivate them to be most productive has changed. But the design of work and work processes has not changed adequately with the times. From surveys, observations and discussions, here are the key issues I see:

  • Neglecting to make work continually perceived as meaningful to workers.
  • Not providing opportunities for all to learn and grow.
  • Recognition and feedback not closely timed and aligned to the event.
  • Metrics that are counter to goals and motivation, e.g., time-based rather than results-based.
  • Uniform facetime demands without rational reasons for them.
  • People showing lack of respect or not understanding what respect of others requires.
  • Differing and unclear definitions of professionalism.
  • Not encouraging input on work design and process from all participants: generations and levels.
  • Hierarchical titles that divide rather than include and encourage collaboration.
  • Not considering who wants and who doesn’t want more challenge and increased responsibility in their work so they are appropriately motivated.

In future posts I will suggest strategies and steps to redesign work so it will work better for all generations.

Please add or comment on other problems you see – or those above that you don’t think are problems. Let’s have a conversation on this significant issue ripe for change.

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