The article “Generations: Boomers and Echos and Nexters – Oh My!” written by Harriet Hankin deals with generational diversity in the workplace. The main focus of the article is the differences of several generations of workers currently trying to thrive, or at least survive, together in today’s workforce. She discusses the different characteristics of each generation, including several significant events which have helped shape everything from the political views to the work ethic of the people of that generational group. She goes on to say it is important for the management of companies facing generational hurdles within their staffs to learn what has helped mold their workforce members in order to find the best way to manage that diversity and achieve great results. She further states the need to manage these differences is becoming more important all the time, as we currently have three to four different generations working side by side and by 2050 that number could be up to five. While the article stresses the differences for each generation, she evaluations which generations should work well together and why.
Again, she argues the historical events surrounding each generation and why she feels these events might cause similarities between members of each group. For example, she compares the outlook of the generation that came through the Great Depression to be similar to the younger generation that saw their parents lose jobs in the late 1990s. She emphasizes that similarities like this make these generations more compatible because they share attitudes about the economic strife they have seen. Ultimately, however, while there are differences stressed for each generation, she makes the statement that managers can learn to adjust to and manage this diversity, but must also remember to continue to view people as individuals. People, regardless of which generation they are part, “share a desire for individual dignity.”
(1) This means they still want to be treated with respect and equality, among other things. It is a lesson we, as managers, will have to continue to deal with throughout our careers, so we must take the time and expend the effort to learn how to effectively manage the generation gap and have everyone work together to make a more productive and effective environment. One of the ideas that Hankin brings up at the end of her article is the need for more workers. Many believe there will be a shortage of workers soon. According to our textbook, by 2010 over one-third of U.S. workers were over 50 years of age. (2) While people are starting to work longer, the baby Boomers are starting to retire and future generations do not have as much population. Because of this, some companies are beginning to change the diversity of their workforce to be more in line with the target market. Places such as Home Depot are hiring older workers” to mirror the demographics of their customers.” (2)
In review of the article, there were many good points made. We did find several items we viewed as weaknesses in her article. One particular point we viewed as weak in substance was how she would comment on the different events for each group, but she did not necessarily tell why or how she thought it impacted the work performance or mindset of that particular group. She discussed it early in the article with the family incident, but not as much when it came to the workforce. We believe she is likely correct in her assessment, but she did not really offer any insight to what a manager could do to identify and manage to the diversity. While every scenario is different, it would have been nice to see her give more insight for that portion of her argument and not just background on each generation. Another area we think she is not as strong in her argument is when she states “understanding generations is a useful tool for recognizing what motivates individuals because members of a generation share some of the same experiences that influence their perception and priorities.” (1) Then she brings up that some people argue for other factors playing a role and having an impact on a person, such as “upbringing, education, affluence or lack of it, and even geography…” (1) While she states that she agrees with this viewpoint, she lends little credence to it, still falling back to believing the birth year is more important. We do not necessarily agree with this viewpoint. We also believe the events that happen in history shape a person, but not more so than actual events and circumstances that happen to that individual. If you believe that every person in a generation is impacted the same way by the same event, you will never manage to diverse backgrounds. Just because a person grew up in a certain time period, they did not have the same experiences as everyone else in that period.
Case in point, Ms. Hankin brought up drug use being very popular in the 60’s, the hippy generation, as it were. But there were many people in that generation that did not follow along and experiment with drugs, so it would be irresponsible to believe everyone in that generation had the same experience because they were born in the same period. Those would likely be two very different types of people to manage and they are from the same generation. We believe a person’s individual life events mold them as much, if not more, than overall period events. A third viewpoint that we find weak in her argument is that a business actually must manage to generational diversity. Many businesses may not have to do so and some may choose not to do that. While we completely agree that it is a great idea to do so, ultimately a company is in business to make a profit. If it will completely change the way they must conduct business, it may not necessarily be the right thing to do for that company. Of course, managers must pay attention to what is going on in their organization and work to adapt to the world as it changes, but it may not be the right thing to offer more flexible lifestyles or a different management technique to a business that does not need it. Does every type of company need to worry about the differences in generational gaps? We struggle to believe every company can succeed if they change their business models to match their employees’’ viewpoints about their needs.
One of the arguments Hankin used regarding the aging workforce also can be disputed. While the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation are retiring, the Echo generation is quickly coming into the workforce. All signs point to those workers staying in the workforce for many years, likely longer than any generation before them. With technology improving and so many workers available, it is hard to believe there will be a shortage of labor. As our text notes, this generation will have a “significant impact on the workplace,” (2) and will likely change the structure and environments of the companies in which they work. All of these weaknesses aside, we do believe Ms. Hankin brings up an excellent point and great topic for discussion. Her article leaves us with the feeling that we want more…more information, more discussion, and more insight on what makes people tick. That was one of the best parts of the article. It made us think and discuss how the companies we have worked for or currently work for manage this particular issue. That is what leads us to the next part of our paper, the ways to implement methods of managing generational diversity.
Unfortunately, one problem many organizations experience with a multi-generational workforce is the transfer of good knowledge and work techniques from one generation to another. Many companies do not think to take advantage of the experience they have in their older workers until it is too late. It is not unusual for a company to wait to replace a retiring worker until they are actually gone or within a few weeks of that time. By having this philosophy and not allowing younger workers to spend time with the more experienced mentor, companies lose valuable knowledge that could have been transferred to the younger workforce. On the flip side of this issue, a similar situation occurs when younger workers are brought into an organization and managers neglect to use the experience and knowledge they bring from their past positions. Many companies remain stagnant in their methodologies because they are of the mindset of “that is the way it is done.” The younger generation brings with it many fresh ideas which can breathe new life into an old process. One suggestion for both of these situations would be to develop a cross-training program that is based on not just standard work instruction, but on actual experiences from workers in certain scenarios. Tribal knowledge can be critical in a work environment, and passing that information between generations can be vital to success. This program should be set up with basic guidelines, but should be constantly evolving to allow all generations to relay their knowledge to
other groups. Another possible way to manage generational diversity is a method Humana uses. When starting a project, it must be followed through the entire life cycle. They do this by breaking the project into four phases: requirement, design, development and testing. Each phase has to be completed before next begins and in the past, this was not very effective because it was discovered most of the time they had to wait until the very end to mitigate or even find an issue. At the time one specific project began, many team members were from Generation X and few were from Baby Boom Echo generation. This methodology did have a distinct difference between how Generation X and baby boom Echo would work and solve an issue. It was not a very effective environment. Humana recognized this problem and decided to try a new methodology and started learning about Agile Methodology. They started following Scrum process under Agile. This basically forms a team with multi generations and has a facilitator for the team. This person, called the Scrum Master, can also be a liaison between this team and business partner. Formation of this multi-generation, multi-culture team brings unity to the team. It also allows different generations to bring their ideas forward and discuss the pros and corns of the idea and how well it is suited for that situation. This type of methodology allowed the team to feel empowered and not micromanaged. They were able to proceed without having to get permission from the manager for all of their suggestions.
The approach of mixing different generations has provided a great deal of improvement in quality and efficiency of the delivered product. It also led managers to encourage the team to come up with innovating ideas and also dictate the incentives that the team deserved to enable them to improve in their technology frontier. The Scrum model not only works fine for Humana, but several other organizations in the US, India, China and Japan subscribe to this plan as well.
The Agile methodology that Humana follows not only introduces and encourages multi-generational team but also cross training among the team members. One of things that this article did not go very deep into was describing what, how and why to incorporate the ideas and views of different generations in the workplace and how managers and companies can make it work.
One of the suggestions that we propose is the formation of a team that will be versatile in what their roles and responsibilities are and also allow them to work on a different business domain. What Humana follows is having a sprint (scrum) planning meeting bi-weekly which allows the team to go over and groom all the business needs that have been prioritized by the business, depending upon the deadline. Then facilitator or scrum master allows the team to pick whatever business applications they want to design, develop and test. This set-up allows and in fact, forces different developers to work on different tasks each time and not only develop, but also design and test, which aids them in becoming more versatile in their roles. Having multiple generations view and discuss each of these areas allows all viewpoints to be taken into consideration, while assisting in the learning process from one generation to the next.
Potential Problems with Implementation
“Easier said and done” will perfectly fit in this scenario. Some of the suggestions mentioned above by the group are being followed in some organizations. A few of these suggestions are being successfully followed, but some are difficult to implement due to various factors. One of the factors is buy-in of your team members. It is one of the most common difficult factors that organization has because of multi-generations. Processes or procedures that are formed or put together by a team or a manager may not be agreed with by all team members. When this happens, not everyone believes that this method is going to work or help the team. This is one of the reason you must have diversity in the team, but it is also one of the struggles to maintain a cohesive group. Another factor is less participation by team members. Even if most team members agree on the terms and conditions, if even one of the team members does not participate then it may demotivate and discourage other team members, who may then fall off the teamwork wagon. Managing the diversity is especially important in this scenario. If you have members of the Baby Boomers (workaholics) doing most of the work while a Gen-X’er or Echo sits back and does not participate, members get frustrated and the project goes poorly. In addition, trying to make a corporation understand how important it is to cross-train based on
generational diversity may be a difficult sell. Most companies do not think they should change their methods to please their employees. There are few companies that put the employee first, even though there are business models that prove this is a good idea, such as Southwest Airlines. If companies can change their management style to ensure all generations are satisfied with their workplace, and that people from every age group understand the business, it would likely improve morale and productivity.
“10+ ways to minimize generational differences in the workplace” This recent article by Calvin Sun (4) from the web site www.techrepublic.com highlights different techniques a manager or other leader could exercise within a multi-generation team. The main focus of this article is describing the methods an organization and/or management can follow to make their team more productive and more successful. In this time, which is a very interesting one indeed, we can see all four generations in a workplace trying to fit in with new technologies, multi-cultural team members, new rules and new perspectives. The article by Harriet Hankin did not focus on the implementation part of integrating different generations in workplace, so this article compliments our author’s view by saying what and how to manage in a multi-generational situation. All the different ways that are specified in Sun’s article are very valuable and have been implemented in many companies. The following section shows how Hankin’s ideas of generational diversity can be managed to minimize differences in the workplace. 1. First way to minimize differences is “Focus on similarities rather than differences.” (4) The first few paragraphs in Hankin’s article describe how functionality and need of a sock has been different for 3 generations in her home. In relation to that, this first point in Sun’s article does say how to handle those differences by focusing on similarities instead of differences. The similarity would be the fact that the sock covers their feet, but the reasons they are using this sock to cover their feet is different. That part is not the idea to on which to focus.
2. “Recognize that change does occur” (4) is one of the most important points a manager can remember. Different generations see things differently.
Older generations are resistant to change, so managers must harness that and teach them to embrace the change. Hankin explains how the technology in phone world is different now than 20 years ago, but she did not talk about how to make that change more feasible for every generation. The more recent article does talk about how to manage these changes in life style and technology and to make team members more constructive. 3. Learn from the past but do not get stuck in the past is the main basic idea of this third passage. “Recognize the value and the perils of the ‘tried and true.’” (4) Hankin does briefly mention in a broader sense about how the past helps the future, but she neither goes into detail on how the old helps new, nor she emphasize the idea of past verses present. In his article Sun highlights that one can learn more from past and use that knowledge to develop a more innovative future. 4. “Be aware that “new” technology may not be” is a more realistic way of stating that nothing is really new, but has been invented or discovered or implemented in the past some way or another. Whatever we follow in the present and will be following in the future is not necessarily new, but a new implementation of a past method with more improved technology and tools. 5. Curiosity and being inquisitive is the most powerful weapon for a human brain. These curiosities improve neuron connections in the brain and make humans think and come up with ideas that improve mankind in different ways. Sun’s article talks about how the desire to learn things is one way for different generations to mingle and share their knowledge. Hankin does not touch on this topic, which is too bad because this technique will bring human brains, ideas, and therefore generations together. 6. “Ask questions rather than making statement” (4) is a very important idea that Sun sheds light on in his article. Instead of trying to teach someone by lecturing, ask questions and make them think about an answer. It brings generations together because they hear ideas from each other. 7. “Avoid characterization based on Age” (4) is a very common practice that is and has been engraved in most of the younger or baby boomer echo generation’s minds. The author in this article talks about how people of the different generations have different perspectives. After reading this article, it triggers us to start thinking how we may view things differently than older or younger generations, and that we should take precaution in generalizations. 8. Acronyms cause a great deal of confusion even within
organization among different departments. It is helpful to form a Wikipedia within organization to avoid confusion. This is not talked about anywhere in the Managing Diversity article but it surely can cause distress for both older workers that have new technological acronyms to learn, as well as new employees that are trying to learn a new business process. 9. “Paraphrase before answering” (9) is very common practice that has to be followed, not only in work place but also in personal life. Even if you are from same generation it can cause problems between you and your partner. This can be only developed by experience and by practice. Hankin does talk about how one’s individual circumstances and past can shape them. This experience is what helps the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers to think and choose their words very carefully before they communicate. Not all Baby Boomer Echo’s know or realize how important it is to paraphrase. 10. On-line and our author does agree and mention how important culture and historical references are for a universe to shape up.
11. Complementing the other generation is a key to organization success. This simple positive criticism can make wonders to individual’s self-esteem and to the team.
Value of the Hankin Article
While we have pointed out some weaknesses and made some arguments disputing her article, we feel overall, Ms. Hankin makes some very valuable points. We definitely agree that there is great value in learning to manage among all generations and finding the strengths and weaknesses of each group. We feel we would need to dig much deeper into this to discover the true value of what she says, but as noted, some companies are already taking notice of the generational differences and are trying to bridge the gap. The most important part of the article for us is the fact that it made us look at our businesses differently, and in fact, to look internally at our own management techniques. We were all able to come up with different scenarios where we could see how managing generational diversity would improve the workplace atmosphere, so overall we think it is a great topic to research and bring to our companies.
Generations: Boomers and Echo’s and Nesters – Oh My, is a very broad article that defines different generations; different facts that occurred during those generations and capture few important aspects of what are the differences between generations. But this article did not give us any ideas or theories or examples of how and what to implement in a workplace with multiple generations. That said, this article does trigger and lead readers to think on ideas, to talk and learn from other members and to share ideas that can be used in their organization. One of the ideas that need to be taken away from this topic is the idea that different generations also want different things from their employer. For example, an older workforce may be more interested in a strong health insurance plan as a benefit where a younger person may not care about that. As noted in our text, different generations may have different needs…healthcare, childcare, flexible scheduling, retirement. (3) This is a topic that needs to be addressed and managed along with the rest of the diversity issues. The article stressed that while dealing with generations as a whole is important, you must remember to deal with people as individuals. Even if someone is part of a certain demographic, they still want to be respected and recognized as individuals. In keeping with this portion, it reminded us that regardless of age, people want to be treated fairly, continue to have flexibility and appropriate feedback. They want to have adequate advancement opportunities based on their performance and they want to have their ideas respected based on the idea and not based on the year they were born.