Some Demographic ‘Sticking Points’ to Conquer

121199603-- age demographicsCame across this interesting take on just how frustrated workers — all workers — are today. Haydn Shaw, a speaker and generational expert, has a new book out, Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. In it, he itemizes the 12 different sources of tension troubling the different demographics trying to work together for the betterment and success of their organizations. As his release says:

Frustrations have never measured higher in the workplace. Some blame the recession and the fact that there are now more hours to work and less pay. The cost of living and healthcare is rising, but not salaries. Others see how generational conflicts are lowering productivity in organizations as misunderstandings, lack of teamwork and communication pull teams apart, leaving team members at a loss for resolving issues across the generations. Those same generational tensions show up at home as well.

These tensions are caused by four different generations working side by side in the workplace for more than a decade: the Traditionalists (born before 1945), the baby boomers (born 1945–1965), Gen X (born 1965–1980), and the millennials (born 1980–2000). Time has not solved the issues created by multiple generations in the workplace; it has only magnified them.

His release didn’t go into much detail on just what those tensions are, so I called him to at least get the full rundown. Here are those 12 “Sticking Points” that cause conflict between the four generations: communication, decision-making, dress code, feedback, fun at work, knowledge transfer, loyalty, meetings, policies, respect, training and work ethic.

Some are fairly intuitive — dress codes, for instance. All you have to do is imagine someone in pumps and someone in flip flops walking into the same meeting. And, pondering communication, we’ve heard plenty about social media driving more of a wedge between the generations than bringing them together. And respect might conjure up the different age groups’ views on schedules and start times.

But rather than conjecture, I asked Shaw to expound himself on the top four — in his mind — that come up most often and what employers can do about them. Here’s what he had to say:

On work ethic — The farm and the factory shaped the expectations of Traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-1964) that the workday started early in the morning and you put in your time. My father-in-law used to say, ‘Give a full day’s work for a fair day’s pay.’ But as work moves from a job with set work hours to service and knowledge-driven projects  that can be performed 24/7, the definition of work ethic must move with it. Create clear work standards and then measure your employees by what they produce, not by the hours they work.

On communication — For those of us who have spent most of our careers communicating through memos or e-mail, mobile technology and access to Facebook is a nice bonus, but not essential. We have trouble understanding how big it is for millennials. Cisco did a study in 2011 of 2,200 college students and young professionals worldwide to see what they wanted from their employers. They found that 56 percent of college students globally would turn down a job offer from an organization that banned access to social media (or they would ignore the policy). If your organization is going to succeed with millennials, you’re going to have to get familiar with the tools that they can’t live without. And then get clear as to when to put them down and make eye contact.

On respect — Millennials are redefining respect and causing teams to get stuck around the questions, ‘How long do you have to pay your dues before you can say what you think or put new ideas on the table?’ ‘How long before you don’t have to do the junk jobs that no one wants to do?’ Employers need to get their people talking about the different ways each generation answers these questions so people will quit assuming everyone defines respect the same way. Then they will quit taking personally what another generation doesn’t mean personally. That breakthrough idea allows us to leverage generational know-how rather than complain about the differences.

On loyalty — Getting unstuck around loyalty has two parts. First, we need to quit stereotyping and name-calling. To do that, we have to help the generations get a clear definition of loyalty that fits current economic and work realities. If we don’t, older generations will always think younger generations have a moral defect because they’re not as loyal as the older generations, and the younger generations will think the older generations don’t understand the new economy. Second, we must shift our energy away from criticizing other generations’ definitions of loyalty and toward discovering ways to make our organizations better so all generations want to stay longer.

“When we understand why another generation thinks the way they do,” he says, “we are much more likely to appreciate the differences and speak their language.”

Granted, much of what he says underscores points others have made and stories we have published, but I like the way he says it.

Coincidentally, this byline that just went live yesterday on our website, HREOnline, offers another — maybe even more probing — look into what goes wrong when managers simply can’t connect with employees around what’s important to each side. The title kind of says it all: “Dear HR: Why I am Leaving.”