The Generational Divide in State Legislatures

Last Friday, I served on a panel at the National Conference of State Legislatures under the session title “Generational Divide.” Natalie O’Donnell Wood, Senior Policy Specialist for NCSL, kicked us off with a great presentation on her research regarding the experience of Boomers and Millennials in the environment of state legislatures:

Then I shared some thoughts based on questions from the panel organizer: “How do we get Millennials in the doors?”, “Will Gen X climb the ladder?” and “Are Boomers really retiring?”

Following our presentations, we received reactions and feedback from JoAnn Hedrick, Chief Clerk of the Delaware House of Representatives, Patsy Spaw, Secretary of the Texas Senate, and Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research for Pew Research Center. Some of their insights included:

– the difference in “social values” among the generations, with the younger generations being more “liberal” and “tolerant” based on their attitudes toward diversity.
– the importance of instilling in the next generation a “love of the legislative process” through education and mentoring
– finding creative ways for the next generation to move up and around so that they are enticed to remain in state legislative jobs versus finding other places to advance
– using technology as a way to slow down the process vs. speeding it up such that there is limited time to think and examine before speeding ahead, and possibly making bad legislation

Scott Keeter also referenced a great report from Pew on the Millennial generation, which I embedded below:

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Patrick Quinn

I’m delighted people are looking at this issue at the state level. I look forward to looking over the presentations.

The situation at present isn’t much different from that maintaining when telephones were introduced, and I’m old enough to remember when having a TV in an office was thought a bit scandalous. In the long run the different adaptation rates between generations will slow down the transition, and that probably can’t be helped, although I hope we can keep the delays to a minimum. Discussions like this help a great deal. (I was directed here from Twitter by Govdigest, btw.)

Stephan Borau

I’ve started thinking lately that focusing on generational differences is actually counterproductive, especially in terms of increasing an appreciation of diversity and inclusion. They are generalizations (which seem to be accepted as indisputable) which start becoming stereotypes.

The concept of the 4 “generations” was created by marketers (and picked up by organizational consultants) and is more aligned with techology developments than with demographics. There were probably more generations in the workplaces 50-100+ years ago, when teens/pre-teens were working in factories and mines (before labour laws changed).

Not all Millenials want the same things from their work, and much of what the literature says they want is what we all want — flexible schedules, good managers, challenging work, work with a purpose, community, the authority/responsibility to own our work.

Focusing on generational differences is more likely to lead to people being disconnected and isolated than it is to connecting and collaborating with each other. Diversity and inclusion is about me being different like you, not different than you. We all have differences — diversity is the mainstream. Fortifying those differences doesn’t encourage interaction and connection.

Bruce Feustel

Andy: I appreciated your idea about trying co-mentoring, in which the older staffer might mentor in some traditional ways, but the younger staffer could mentor the older on social media and technology. I came away from the session thinking about how critical openness and respect are to bridging generational divisions. If we in legislatures believe we are life-long learners, this is just one more area for us to further our education.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Patrick and @Stephan – I agree with the notion that a lot of the generational differences are largely tied to the technology disruptions of those time periods – radio, TV, PC, web and mobile – and had an impact on how people communicated with one another.

@Stephan – Like this: “Not all Millenials want the same things from their work, and much of what the literature says they want is what we all want — flexible schedules, good managers, challenging work, work with a purpose, community, the authority/responsibility to own our work.” I wish this were more true and I advocate for the idea that web-based and mobile technology can create new bridges across the generations (slides 10-15)…but there are definitely differences between approaches to work in terms of work ethic, communication, time orientation and much more.

@Bruce – Thanks again for the invitation to participate in the event!

Mary Groebner

So, I just want to say, I attended OpenGovWest in Seattle a few weeks ago, and it was awesome – in part, BECAUSE of the diversity of attendees, in age, gender, roles, etc.
Thing is, this was a self-selecting group – people WANTED to attend and to learn more/get more involved in Open Government, so they signed up. When you are in a workplace, people don’t necessarily all want to learn; many of them just want that paycheck. Wanting to learn, being open to it – that’s the distinction.

Andrea Schneider

Thank you for posting these presentations. I am convinced we can create very exciting teams which honor the best in each of us. I would love some help on the technology side of the equation and would love to help with the program side, much of which comes directly from experience before there was any technology. Both are critical, all is valued and we can genuinely learn from each other to become more holistic.
I think it goes a long way toward valuing the job regardless of the age.

Tina Cluver

@Mary Your comment hit the nail on the head for me. We are a small organization with employees who have been here for many years. Some of our processes and functions don’t make sense in today’s reality, yet when anyone questions “why” the answer always is “well that’s how we’ve always done it”.

To me, I find it very frustrating when I hear that because it tells me that there’s no real thought being given to how or why we deliver the services we do and if there’s a better way to do it.. I’ve been here 10 years and always look for ways to innovate in my job (usually by stealing an idea from someone else I’ve networked with at another entity…LOL). I guess I don’t understand why more of my coworkers aren’t motivated to learn because I find that it makes my job a lot more interesting when I’m learning something, rather than just going through the motions “just because”.

Just my two cents.

Scott Span

I think you know my passion around this topic. Some great data and presentations. In sync with my Gen Y Recruitment & Retention Lifecycle TM model and my views as a Gen Y working in Gov’t. Thanks for sharing. We need to increase cross generational communication and understanding and embrace diversity across all generations!

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Scott – You and I should talk soon about our intersection on this topic…good opps for cross-promotion!