This week I led a “Bridging Generational Communication” workshop with a major DC Government utility. The groups of managers and employees (a mix of Boomers and Gen Xers) were asked to identify an area of breakdown in generational relations and then list some problem-solving recommendations. One team focused on how many of the “older” field employees are techno-dinosaurs, at least with computers. And now management wants to put laptops on the trucks so workers can immediately process field reports. Stress and frustration levels are increasing!
I was an observer-participant during this group’s “taming the dinosaur” brainstorm. (My newest mantra: “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur.”) We came up with several recommendations, besides employees attending computer training, including:
1. Have the Mountain Come to Mohammed. Even mandating computer classes at HQ for field employees still might not be the most effective recruiting tool. How about a mobile computer lab traveling to different work sites during the day?
2. One-On-One Computer Coaching. I personally shared my “computer virgin” status in the early ’90s, including struggling with my “Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure.” The smartest thing I did was hire an out of work computer consultant, to sit with me, walk me through key operations, hold my hand as necessary, etc. She came to the office about twice a week for four weeks. I have no doubt that a faster learning curve was my ROI, not to mention the money I saved on anticipated psychotherapy sessions.
3. A Generational Bridge. The group understood the value of personal coaching or mentoring relationship with a potentially anxious or resistant student. One group member discussed the importance of having a trusted colleague as a coach. Clearly, not wanting to feel embarrassed or humiliated was on folks’ minds. Eventually, though, I saw a generational bridge just waiting to be put into operation: how about pairing a Gen Xer or Gen Y/Millennial as a coach or mentor with a more senior and computer stressed colleague? (Naturally, at home the kids can potentially coach the parents, though this might be tricky.)
And later that evening I had a semantic “aha”: a new neologism and “job description” for our multigenerational workplace. When a younger employee helps a computer or social media averse member of a more senior generation improve their techno-literacy and comfort, the former is playing the role of “Gentor.” And the Gentor’s immediate function is to help bridge the digital divide. And while Gentoring may invert authority-status roles and sound original, challenging and hip, it’s in the footsteps of a time-honored tradition of socialization, knowledge sharing and facilitating a vital rite of passage.
So get moving on that “Gentoring Program.” The younger generation likes being consultants, and hopefully this relationship will also increase their sense of responsibility and commitment to their colleagues and to the company. And the seniors can give their younger co-workers some of the recognition and affirmation that provides motivational meaning. Sounds like a win-win communicational-generational bridge that will help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as “Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst” known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations. In addition, the “Doc” is a team building and organizational development consultant. He is providing “Stress and Communication, as well as Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building” programs for the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Expeditionary Support Command, Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral Medicine Services. Mark has also had a rotation as Military & Family Life Consultant (MFLC) at Ft. Campbell, KY. A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, The Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online “HotSite” — www.stressdoc.com — called a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s “Practice Safe Stress” programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected] or call 301-875-2567.