April 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm #158033
Working across generations in the workplace can be very useful, but it also can create tensions. What are the biggest inter-generational challenges you have discovered?
My sister, a computer programmer, told me about an article about our technical intuiton relative to our children is likened to that of immigrants and their native-born offspring. We are the immigrants (Gen X/Baby Boomers), learning how to integrate new technology and new media into our lives. While our children (Gen Y) have grown up with it, it is all they have ever known and so it is second nature to them. This can create a cross-generational divide within the workplace, as Gen X/Baby Boomer managers are not as quickly developing their technology skills as quickly as their Gen Y subordinates.
This is just one challenge currently in government.
What are your agency’s biggest inter-generational challenge? How have you overcome them?
To hear more on this topic and others come to the 3rd Annual GovLoop/Young Government Leaders Next Generation of Government Training Summit (July 26-27, 2012). For more information or to register please visit our website.
April 10, 2012 at 3:46 pm #158049
Great thoughts Paul! One thing I would note is there seems to be a distinct difference in the way of doing things. I would describe Baby Boomers and Generation X being more focused on process. Generation Y is more focused on outcomes. A simple example is a form we use. There was a revision to the form in 2007 and 2010. The only difference was the color of the form. One of my baby boomer co-workers will not accept the 2007 form, I do. It accomplishes the same thing as the 2010 form. Again the ony difference is the color of the form (actually the grayscale of the printing to be technical).
Our biggest intergenerational challenge is working for a paramilitary organization (law enforcement) Baby Boomers and Generation X did not ask why they needed to do a certain task. They just completed the task. Generation Y employees ask why? This is not because they are lazy or do not want to do it, they are honestly looking to see if the task could be improved or could be done more efficiently. Trying to show everyone in our organization this is not a sign of disrespect or questioning authority has been our biggest issue. We have done a pretty good job though. I sit on a Generation Y panel as part of a training that many of our supervisors and hopeful supervisors have completed. It has done a great job to improve communication.
April 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm #158047
My graduate training directed me to be cautious about attributing behaviour to time, age, or generation that may well result from other factors, or at least not from the one you thought.
I’d be cautious about attributing to generations what may simply be a byproduct of the generic displacement of one set of employees by another. It is loosely linked to social history, but could likely happen at many points in history, and probably will again some 15-20 years from now, given how things work. Keep in mind that governments everywhere started cutting federal jobs in the 90’s, in a collective effort to balance budgets (much as they are once again doing now). The result of that was a degree of age-compression within the public sector, such that there were proportionally fewer junior employees, and more long-timers. For a bunch of statistical reasons, many of those who managed to hang on during the 90’s are retiring in droves now, and replaced en masse by another crop.
Normally, the institutional values of an agency are absorbed over time – values always emerging from history, as they do – and occasionally actively transferred from one cohort to another. But knowledge transfer tends to fall by the wayside during times of austerity, such that a subsequent cohort is not systematically inculcated into the values and mindset of the organization, nor do they have the luxury of slowly absorbing it from their elders.
The challenge, then, is not to the generations themselves, but to the institutions that depend on successful intergenerational transmission and transfer. Will they remain true to their mandate and values? Will any drift arising from failure-to-transfer compromise what citizens or other stakeholders expect from that public institution?
At an interpersonal level, though (which is probably the true nature of the question you posed), one of the challenges that arises with respect to intergenerational conflicts, is that when the agency engages in little developmental hiring, or slow simmering knowledge transfer, one can find oneself in the position whereby the infrastructure does not encourage the next crop of employees to absorb the values, and methods/practices arising from the values, and the preceding cohort has little or no opportunity to transfer what they have become committed to.
It’s like the difference between an apprentice and a new employee. The apprentice understands that the relationship between them and the master is one of slow absorption of approach and wisdom of the craft. The new employee simply shows up and starts doing stuff. My point is that when you have a wholesale changing of the guard, you’re more likely to see “new employees” than apprentices, and conflict as a result.
April 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm #158045
Many issues haven’t changed since the Govloop NGG10 presentation. I often work with client’s in the public and private sector on this issue…and the # 1 issue I often find is around communication – stereotypes and misunderstandings. Per the mention of Gen Y , yes they often do require a culture with factors that government agencies sometimes can’t provide – though government is (though out of necessity) beginning to change.
April 12, 2012 at 6:40 pm #158043
Well, I used to think that we had to get rid of all the old-timers, but I just realized I can retire in 5 years, so I really appreciate the experience and wisdom that experienced government employees can offer.
Pairing up older workers with younger ones can help, especially if they both realize that mentoring goes both ways. Too often older workers don’t want to “get” where younger workers are coming from.
April 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm #158041
I have found one inter-generational challenge. It seems the younger generation gets “bored” real quickly and assignments do not get completed. They tend to jump to the next thing and forget about the uncompleted project at the expense of others. It’s on the job ADHD. I don’t know what else to call it. If the older generation tries to hold their hands to the fire, they get the positive, “I’ll get it done” to appease us and then the circle starts again, until eventually someone else ends up completing the task.
April 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm #158039
I don’t know about employment patterns in the US, but in Australia, the younger the worker the shorter their tenure in any particular position. Whereas permanancy was a major drawcard for Baby Boomer public servants, we’re seeing younger public servants having careers that increasingly involve both the public and private sectors, as well as multiple government organisations. Shorter tenure means that the mix of skills and experiences is increased in our organisations, but puts the pressure on knowledge management and transfer. It also means that professional development and career planning needs to be flexible and transferable to other roles. Public service agencies are having to compete with private sector ‘talent’ managers and put more effort into enticing their staff to stay. This may be a result of international differences in work culture or a strong economy though. I’ve heard friends in the US say they can’t believe how flippantly Australians quit their jobs to go travelling for months and then pick up another job quickly when they return home.
April 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm #158037
All of which leads to the question of why knowledge management isn’t better than we typically see it to be in many organizations (generally not very good).
I imagine part of it is because knowing what needs transferring, and from/to whom it needs to be transferred, itself requires a certain degree of perspective about the organization, and a certain degree of personal history within the organization. I know in our context (Canada), people in HR are among the most mobile with respect to promotions and “churn”.
Maybe this warrants a separate thread: Why isn’t knowledge management better than it typically is?
April 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm #158035
Dorothy Ramienski AmatucciParticipant
The biggest difference between Boomers/Gen X and Millenials, I think, will be how each views the term “career”. In grad school, I have studied the likelihood of a “gig” economy versus the traditional “job market”. I think younger workers are going to be more apt to work a variety of jobs during their lifetime, rather than staying at one organization for 30+ years. I know some people who are Boomers/Gen X’ers who say, “Don’t have too many jobs on your resume! It looks bad!” I think this notion will fade over time as the workforce becomes more mobile and more versatile.
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