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SLICING AND DICING THE BOOMER GENERATION and the workplace implications

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Here’s an illustration of what we mean when we say the generational cohorts are defined by “formational Influences.” And we need to look beyond “convenient” Census Bureau definitions by birth year.

Humorist P.J. O’Rourke turned to his Boomer generation (he’s an older cohort Boomer born in 1947) for a book, The Baby Boom: How It Got that Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault). In an article for AARP magazine he drew on interviews with Late Boomers and other observations to distinguish between the ends of the Boomer generation. The older half he calls the “loudest” generation. Many of he younger segment are quieter, more conservative, have no memory of Woodstock, and have considerably different formative (political, social, economic and cultural) influences according to Pew Research Center findings. They constitute one-quarter of the Boomer population. 

O’Rourke claims to have lived all the stereotypically wild, “let it all hang out” experiences of Boomers and wrote “These youngsters turning 50 are a mystery to me.”

While he took a light-hearted approach, his examination of the subject reinforces the significant point that the typical definition of the Boomers needs to be sliced and diced for a more accurate view of their general attributes (true also of Gen X and Gen Y). And even members of a typically defined generation need the insights gained through cross-generational conversation - within their own generation! 

In some ways the late Boomers more resemble the older Gen Xers: more individualistic and transformed from a (likely misinformed) slacker reputation to become very serious. O’Rourke wrote that the late Boomers are “like the quiet youngest child in a big family of older siblings. They grew up in the baby boom universe and take it for granted. They may not know there was ever another cosmos.” The older Boomers were born into the world of what we now consider “inappropriate behavior and wrongheaded social norms (as portrayed in “Mad Men”). And the older Boomers destroyed it utterly,” wrote O’Rourke.

So what does this mid-generation transformation mean for workplace succession planning? What kinds of conversations need to take place between older and younger Boomers?

  • Will the Late Boomers and Early Xers feel for urgency to go beyond vocal expression of beliefs and act tenaciously on them?
  • Will they make significant strides to change work cultures and policies to sufficiently satisfy Gen Y/Millennilals before the latter succeed in pushing them out of their way?
  • Who will initiate meaningful and ongoing cross—generational conversation?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

INVOLVE YOUNGER GENERATIONS IN SUCCESSION PLANNING

To achieve long-term success, it is extremely important to align succession planning with the strategic focus of the organization. Too often firms are not clear on their strategic focus, succession planning or both. Further, when these are undertaken, many important stakeholders are left out of the process. Organizations need to think in terms of both generational and other diversity challenges – two of the most difficult challenges in business continuity because both are totally human challenges.  These types of internal issues may also relate to client needs and preferences, so they can’t be ignored.

A Role for Younger Generations

The crucial alignment of the generations with organizational objectives will require a greater focus on people at all levels, a greater representation of all ages and types of diversity, and a greater effort to harness the wisdom and institutional memory of the senior professionals and executives – all this while capturing the hearts and imagination of the best mid-level and junior-level people that the firm has.

Most people think that succession planning is a top-down activity involving management and seasoned professionals. I strongly suggest that it is better to involve the younger generations as well so they can help create a vision for what the organization aspires to and for what it is looking for in long-term leadership – looking forward, not backward to a world that no longer exists. In order to retain the most talented young people, they must have a voice.

If you think of succession planning as a continual process, one way to involve the younger generations in the firm is to hold at least periodic meetings with junior employees (professionals and staff), invite them to ask questions, and encourage their input. By tapping into the collective wisdom at all levels they will learn a lot about what can make their firms more successful and what professional attributes and skills the organization needs to continue developing.

The younger personnel have a longer future ahead of them, and they see and experience the world in different ways. By engaging them in this ongoing dialogue, the firm will be more likely to retain the best talent.

At the same time, management should also be looking for leadership qualities among the younger generations. They need to encourage and allow junior people a chance to volunteer and take on responsibility for significant internal projects. In that way, they can prove themselves beyond mere technical competency. That initiative must be recognized in a way that is meaningful to both junior and senior personnel.

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

Note: This article contains excerpts from Chapter 34 of The Rainmaking Machine by Phyllis Weiss Haserot (Thomson Reuters, 2014 edition.)

PERKS, BENEFITS, MOTIVATION AND WHAT PEOPLE WANT

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Following in Facebook’s footsteps, Apple Inc. is about to start “selling” something new. The latest announcement from Apple is getting as much attention in some quarters as the latest iPhones and iPads. Steve Jobs might even approve, since the newest perk or benefit (choose your term), also made possible by technology, seems aimed at making it easier for women to stay working longer when they are likely to be most productive and reproductive.

I am referring to the new policy of offering to pay up to $20,000 for the expensive medical procedure for women to freeze some of their eggs in the hope of achieving pregnancy at a later date. I have raised the subject of pros, cons and motivations on social media. My purpose here is not to debate that, but rather to get us thinking about what benefits or perks people of different generations want, what the employers’ motivations for offering them are, and whether the offerings really motivate people to higher performance, retention and loyalty. 

The Apple announcement quickly generated articles in major business media (New York Times and Forbes, for example and TV political talk shows)) about the specific egg freezing perk and what could be downsides of generous perks as well. But none I saw looked at the perks and benefits issues from a generational perspective.

Benefits that appeal to all generations include, among others, employer paid health insurance, free or subsidized food, on-site or paid gym memberships, concierge services and flexible work arrangements. 

Those only directly benefiting younger workers include paid maternity and paternity leave, freezing eggs, on-site and emergency childcare.

Baby Boomers, though they tend to have better attendance records, likely use their health insurance more and may have higher premiums associated with the policies. They also may make more use of benefits that cover time off or other expenses to care for elderly parents, as might older Gen Xers.

These are life cycle realities not tied to any currently labeled generation.  And in fairness, no generation should be discriminated against because of demographic and biological factors. Yet there often are stigmas or resentments related to costs of benefits, offering of perks and finger pointing across the members of multigenerational workforces. Older workers may resent that younger ones are now getting flexible work arrangements and childcare they would have loved to have, and instead they had to struggle through on their own while trying to build careers. Younger workers might argue that health care costs are higher for older workers.

Workers may wonder if some of the generous employer perks come from a stealth motivation since they can lead to the trap of working 24/7 rather than giving the workers more control over their lives. For instance, taking advantage of free or low-cost meals and various concierge services on site discourages taking breaks to reduce stress, walks for exercise and time for useful reflection.

The benefits and perks have been shown to help attract and retain people in the talent wars. However, there has been little evidence that they motivate people to work better and harder. Especially competitive people want recognition of their achievements rather than some of the perks and only team recognition.

People of all generations welcome benefits and perks and won’t turn them down. But motivations come from another source. Here are some things that motivate – generalized to generations:

Boomers

Opportunities to keep learning and contributing

Being made to feel continually relevant

Making role transitions respected and appropriately compensated.

Gen X

Recognition of individual achievements

Opening paths to leadership slots

Opportunity to do things their way

Gen Y/Millennials

Having their ideas listened to

Being shown how their role is important to the whole

Providing frequent new learning experiences

For most people the above connect to intrinsic motivations – the strongest and most lasting kind – more than the latest shiny perk. Firms/organizations need to get a better grasp on what really appeals in a deeper way to the talent they covet and pursue that path.

Please send your thoughts to pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com or comment hre or on the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot      www.pdcounsel.com  

HOW TO UNBLOCK THE GENERATIONAL GRIDLOCK PROBLEM

 

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I am frequently asked about the potential for conflict between older and younger people in the workplace “Why won’t those Boomers realize it’s time to go?” some of them think.

Boomers are sticking around for two credible reasons: 1) they like the fulfillment, feeling of making a contribution, challenge and social opportunities work brings; and 2) they may very well need the money. In some cases there is a third reason as well: uncertainty that successors are well prepared to shoulder their greater responsibilities.

Economic reality meets career desires. The Great Recession had given many organizations a breather from brain-drain threats. At the same time, many Boomers would like to keep on working for a long time more, even if they can afford to retire. Surveys in 2004 and 2005 when the economy was robust and retirement funds were healthy revealed that about 80% of Boomers wanted to keep working after age 65 in some capacity – reinventing retirement.

While personal priorities will dominate each individual’s decisions, there’s a bigger picture need for restructuring. Even if we should see a booming economy, things won’t go back to what they were 20 years ago because the generational cohorts have different worldviews and expectations for their careers and work lives. And, significantly, they don’t understand each other’s perspectives and influences very well. When that understanding is achieved and accepted on an emotional level, we can move to greater cross-generational respect and collaboration.

REMOVING POTENTIAL CONFLICT

Achieve role shifts and transitioning that benefits clients/customers and the organization as a whole. I am not in favor of involuntarily removing productive people, who do not wish to retire. Yet for the sake of providing opportunities to the generation waiting in line, senior professionals’ and executives roles and responsibilities need to shift at some point.

Shifted roles must come with respect attached. The transitioning process requires employers to rethink value and compensation for functions that were assumed to be provided gratis in the context of professional roles. Too often financial rewards come only from performing other functions that leave little time for knowledge transfer, mentoring, training and coaching. Financial disincentives need to be eliminated to reduce conflict.

And oh by the way – a word to Boomers and senior professionals: Gen Y/Millennials have discovered and seek out role shifts and lateral/lattice moves that keep them learning and doing new things. It energizes, engages and provides more choices and marketability for the long term. So why not take a lesson from them and explore that avenue to extend a career while giving those experienced and waiting a chance to move up? Consider it an opportunity.

The trick is to capitalize on Boomer knowledge and experience without alienating the bottlenecked Gen Xers and later, Millennials. One answer is to pay Boomers still in place now to transition their valuable acquired wisdom, contacts and skills before they up and leave with these precious assets or fail to pass on the baton and client bonds. That will prepare Gen Xers to thrive when the bottleneck opens as Boomers transition out over time.

If knowledge transfer and coaching is not built into transitioning roles which are made attractive by according them respect and providing work/life flexibility and engaging challenges, how will the next generation of leaders and managers get prepared to succeed? Willingness to prepare the next generation and shift roles through gradual transition can avoid generational conflict as both generations reap the benefits.

The real enduring challenge is building sustainably strong organizations that engage and retain the most productive talent of every generation. It will take frequent dialogue, listening, mutual mentoring and empathy. Organizations have to assess and re-think the connections between attitudes and expectations and the policies and financial and non-financial incentives that foster attitudes in order to prevent tensions among the generations and provide continuing opportunities for all to make meaningful contributions.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

KEY ISSUES TO TACKLE IN THE MULTIGENERATIONAL WORKPLACE NOW

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Earlier this summer I was interviewed for a research project and master’s thesis by an EY (rebranded from Ernest & Young) Fellow in Ireland. For one of the questions, I generated a long list that provides an overview of challenges in the current multi-generational workplace. I am happy to share this with you.

Q. What do you feel are key issues affecting the multi-generational workplace at present?

A.  I easily named over a dozen issues, challenges and frustrations:

  • Senior management/decision-makers not “getting” the significant direct impact of generational challenges on the bottom line on their business.
  • Making mutigenerational teams better appreciate each member and work more effectively together.
  • Sharing and transferring knowledge – owing to compensation systems, lack of know-how and/or cultural resistance
  • Attracting and retaining clients/customers of different generations – and not taking different approaches
  • Attracting and retaining employees of different generations  - not using different approaches to meet their needs and expectations
  • Knowing when facetime is necessary and when not
  • Different generational perceptions of what teamwork is and what’s in it for them
  • Doing an effective job of orienting new employees, conveying the big picture vision and setting elear expectations
  • Comfort level with feedback and how to do it right – both giving and receiving
  • Avoiding turnover of valuable employees
  • Communicating messages that are received as intended by each generation
  • Excluding younger generation voices on leadership from succession planning
  • Tensions when older workers report to younger managers

No doubt this is a long list with much to tackle. Of course, not all of these are present in all firms/organizations or to the same degreee.

Which issues – or others – are occurring in your workplace or do you see elsewhere?

Please comment about which of these challenges and solutions to them you’d like to know more about to pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com or the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.

Let’s begin cross-generational conversation about these issues toward making more workplaces “best places to work.”

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

Birth of a Vision: THE ORIGIN OF CROSS-GENERATIONAL CONVERSATION DAY

Have you ever found yourself literally bolt up awakened by an idea that just kept coming and wouldn’t quit?

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My inspiration for Cross-Generational Conversation Day was the stunning example of determination and resiliency of a 36-year-old friend and star teacher, Karri Ankrom, to jump back into life after episodes of a series of daunting illnesses. The idea of declaring a “Day” literally woke me up with a fountain of details pouring out of my head. It was the morning after celebrating an almost miraculous “recovery” of her then most serious set of medical complications.

Somehow my subconscious associated the two – or probably relieved of the immediate worry, freed me to birth the idea I had conceived of two months before, told one person, and then forgot about. The mind can be full of surprise associations!…. I felt if she could persevere facing all her difficulties, I can be committed enough to implement my vision. It and she continue to inspire me.

Once it was quickly outlined in mind-maps and notes on two pages of lined yellow paper, I was determined to take the concept to reality 

I know in my gut that the world and virtually every organization need cross-generational conversation as an integral part of its culture and business model. I had been working on programs and using the phrase in consulting work, writing and speaking for several years. What would create more awareness and urgency for more action in all types of organizations? We needed something dramatic – a focal point, a trigger that would capture attention… So unanticipated, the “Day” concept was born!

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Think about it! What is it worth to you to invest a day or even half a day of your team’s time if the outcome would be greater insight, productivity and reputation as a best place to work for the top talent in all generations? 

Contact me to find out more about Cross-Generational Conversation Day and prepare to participate in this groundbreaking process of multi-generational insight and collaboration to grow engagement, competitive position and revenue. 

pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com    www.pdounsel.com

Are Tech Companies Avoiding the Age Diversity Issue?

Tech companies in general have a reputation for preferring young employees, whether or not they are really more tech savvy than older, experienced individuals. This is especially true in the Silicon Valley area culture.

When the San Francisco Chronicle requested employees' age data from the seven tech companies that have recently released diversity reports - Google, Pinterest, Salesforce, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn - as well as more than a dozen others, they either declined to provide the information or did not respond to the request.

Only Hewlett-Packard, shared information related to workforce age. A substantial number for a tech company, about 18%, are over 51 (Boomers); more than half are between 31 and 50 (mostly Gen Xers), and a 25% of HP’s U.S. employees are 30 or younger (Gen Y/Millennials).

"Age is one very important demographic that signals whether or not a company has an inclusive culture,” said Freada Kapor Klein of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. “ It's important alongside race, gender and sexual orientation."

Of 32 tech companies surveyed by PayScale last year, only six, which included long established companies IBM and Dell, had a workforce with a workforce median age of over 35. Only two companies the San Francisco Chronicle queried about median age, Autodesk (median 40) and Cisco (median 401/2), provided data.

The San Francisco Chronicle has recently requested diversity data from all the well known tech companies in Silicon Valley and received either sparse or no data from them. Very few responded they would release data and virtually none on age diversity.

We understand that data gathering requires some effort. But the lack of it or reluctance to release it gives the impression that the companies don’t regard having a diversity of ages in the workforce as important and valuable or they are protecting a culture of youth exclusivity. With authenticity and transparency rising in value and values today, what’s the real explanation?

BOOMERS STILL WANT TO WORK

As was expressed in 2004-5 surveys and again in 2014, Boomers want to keep working beyond traditional retirement age. Now there’s evidence they mean it. A recent study by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave of workers over age 50 revealed these findings:

  • 72% say their “retirement” will include some form of working. Obviously we need a new word to label this non-retirement.
  •  Twice as many respondents say the most important reason to work is for the mental stimulation (62%) rather than money (31%).
  • 80& of those working say they are doing it because they want to.
  • 83% say working helps keep them more youthful.
  • Why do they want to work? – Boomer continuing workers fall into 4 categories:

        -       33% are “caring contributors” desiring to give back and make a difference

        -       24% are “life balancers” who want jobs that allow them to keep valued social connections

        -       15% are workaholics – still driven to achieve and feeling in their prime

        -       28% are “earnest earners” who need the income and would not choose to be working otherwise.

  • 58% of those working have transitioned to a different line of work from their major career.
  • Their advice to others;

        -       Be open to trying something new (76%)

        -       To do something you really enjoy, be willing to earn less (73%)

So assume Boomers will be in the work world for some time. Understanding their motivations for working and what they are looking to contribute and get out of their work is valuable in getting the most productive outcomes for both solo work and multi-generational teams. A continuing challenge will be achieving effective cross-generational conversation and collaboration.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

THE #GENERATION OF “1776”

Today (July 4th) I watched the full, original, uncut version (3 hours long) of the 1972 film “1776” - a serious and funny musical film I have always loved. This time I found it more mesmerizing and powerful than ever. I was moved to tears in parts and so drawn into the wonderful dialogue that captured in a very astute and entertaining way the full array of characters who comprised the Congress that debated, attacked and insulted each other, displayed their humanity and in the end compromised to create and approve the Declaration of Independence.

Serious history and seriously entertaining and powerful on this day 

 P.S.  The age range of the representatives in the Congress was 32 to well into the 80s. (Jefferson was second to youngest, and Franklin was the oldest.) Talk about cross-generational conversation and diversity of thought!

 

WILL MORE FLEXIBILITY BE COMING FOR GEN Y AND GEN X WORKERS?

The work flexibility movement has taken steps backward since the recent recession took hold.  New research from the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed 1051 employers on 18 different flextime options and considered which were increasing and decreasing in implementation and use. Overall in less formal ways or one-offs, flexibility has increased. For example, two-thirds of responding organizations allow occasional work from home, up from 50% in 2008, and 38% allow working from home regularly, up from 23% in 2008.

But when viewed by individual options, the findings are the reverse. Compared with 2008:

  • Job sharing is down from 29% to 18%
  • Sabbaticals decreased from 38% to 28%
  • Only 2% of U.S. employers offer any kind of voucher or subsidy for child care, down from 5%

The survey also looked at phased retirement, parental leave, ability to switch shifts, control over time of meal and bathroom breaks, health insurance coverage and other policies.

While workers’ stress has been increasing, employers during the recession and since have felt the need to reduce personnel and costs, which limits ability to be flexible.

So the question is whether as the labor market tightens and talent wars resume (if they do) the younger workers will see work/life flexibility on the upswing and benefit. Will more companies see the value of being perceived as a "best place to work"? Will workers finally experience work arrangements more in tune with their values and their ideas on how, where and when work should be done?

Please comment and add your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

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