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How To Keep Boomers Feeling Valued In The Workplace

02/17/2016 03:20 EST | Updated 02/17/2017 05:12 EST
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Cheerful smiling senior man with his colleagues

Penny is a "lifer." She has worked at the same retailer for most of her professional life, starting in the shipping department when she was 22. Now, at 59, she has probably seen her last, long-awaited promotion to merchandising supervisor in the women's sports apparel section at the company's flagship store.

Penny has had her share of frustration using shifting technology that involves re-training one week of every month. She believes that a manager's place is on the floor to manage her staff and to serve customers. (She has won so many employee of the month awards that she has almost run out of wall space in her small office.)

She has had many bosses, but none quite like Tony, who at just 29 has just been hired as the company's VP of merchandising. Tony brings a stellar sales record and is acknowledged as a "tech wizard."

Both offer proven skills that are essential to the company's success. But both have trouble seeing eye to eye when it comes to collaborating. Penny doesn't feel comfortable at Tony's team building events that are competitive and often held outdoors in summer. Many colleagues her age feel the same way.

Not since the Industrial Revolution (when thousands of manual workers and artisans were replaced by machines) has there been such a sea of change in the workplace. It is heralded by the fact that the Millennials (between 18 and 34 years old) have become the largest cohort in the Canadian workforce. The Gen Xers (between 35 and 50 years old) are now the second largest with the Boomers (between 51 and 70 years old) running third. Approximately 9.8 million Canadian Boomers are considering retirement and by 2020, 425,000 Canadians will retire each year.

Numerous articles, academic papers, and books have been written by people of all generations about the new complex social and organizational dynamic in the workplace as Millennials and Boomers vie for corner office or executive parking spaces.

Both cohorts have a role. As Boomers retire, the knowledge and experience drain will accelerate. While Millennials offer great tech savvy, they can't do it all themselves. This begs the question: What programs and attitudinal shifts in the workplace will executives like Tony require to meet the needs of Penny and her cohort? And how do senior managers and business owners begin to bridge the often costly divide between the Penny's and Tony's who have different thoughts on how business should be done and how employees should be rewarded?

Consider starting by assessing what motivates each group. For example: Millennials seek meaning in their jobs; will change jobs to enhance their skills; enjoy teamwork; like recognition for a job well done; and want to avoid the stresses of putting in long hours as their parents did. Boomers, on the other hand: take pride in having a good job and raising a family; are competitive and strive for more financial or emotional rewards from hard work, family time or travel; and enjoy mentoring and sharing their experience and skills with future generations.

This assessment will provide insights into creating the following work arrangements to satisfy each group.

  1. Establish mentoring programs to allow younger workers to gain from those close to retirement. Older Boomers would add mentoring to their job description so they feel fulfilled while leaving a useful legacy to the benefit of younger employees and the company.
  2. Boomers would be allowed flexible work arrangements where they would receive full-time pay for flexible hours. They would remain with the company for longer as mentors to the younger employees while adapting to their changing needs and interests.
  3. Thoughtfully plan team building events after getting input from representatives of each cohort. Avoid last-minute, hastily planned events that may do more harm than good in bringing different cohorts together.
  4. Ensure that recognition programs and success stories feature members of all cohorts.
  5. When selecting charities for the company to support, choose some that support young audiences and others that benefit older audiences.
  6. When bringing cohorts together to work on a project, first focus on the reasons for the project, its mission and the benefits of a successful outcome. Then, focus on the process and technical considerations to get the job done.
  7. Set up a project team of different cohorts in a dynamic versus a hierarchical structure. Encourage each cohort to add to the process. For example, Millennials can guide Boomers through models, software and other technical considerations. Boomers can share practical experiences that can help ensure the project's success by engaging Millennials and saving time and money.

When Boomers and Millennials pool their respective talents and aspirations supported by collaborative and confident managers, trust in each grows. Even as workers of different generations continue to compete for jobs and seek personal satisfaction in shifting times, establishing mutual trust and respect goes far in helping each group reach their goals.

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