"Big Four" Highlights


Bridging the Generation Gap in the Workplace

Helping ‘X’, ‘Y’ and Boomers get along at work

By Randy Hain

Over the next 15 years, we will witness the exit of almost half of our American workforce, mostly from the retiring Baby Boomer generation. Generation X (in their late 30s and 40s) will be moving into senior leadership roles, and Generation Y (teens and collegians of today) will be entering the workforce and seeking to make their mark. With so much written about the challenges posed by Gen Y and their overall lack of readiness to lead in the business world, we should be concerned – concerned enough to do something about it.

A clash of cultures is coming, but we can help smooth the transition by how we respond.

I have outlined 5 recommendations here for each group. My hope is that actions such as these will serve as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue and true progress.

For Gen X / Baby Boomers

It doesn’t require a radical makeover of our beliefs, values and organizational structures to prepare Gen Y for leadership. They view the world differently, but so did we at the beginning of our careers. Remember to listen, engage and be flexible where appropriate and tap into the enormous potential of these young hearts and minds; but all in the framework of what the business needs.

1. Start listening, stop assuming – We have to engage with these newest employees and listen to what they have to say. Don’t assume we have them figured out because we read a book about it.
2. Be present on college and high school campuses – Want to make a difference in how they view the workplace? Talk with this generation and share your expectations; help them manage theirs. Don’t wait until they show up for their first interview and be shocked they don’t act like we did at that age.
3. Start viewing Gen Y as a strategic business investment – Put resources and time where it is critically needed: engaging, hiring, training, developing and retaining our future leaders. They will someday run our organizations and if they are not ready, we only have ourselves to blame.
4. Scrap “do as I say, not as I do” – These young people are very bright; they watch and learn. If they desire reasons for why we do things, tell them. What does that hurt? If we can’t provide them with an authentic experience, we have little chance of coming together, or retaining them.
5. Smart organizations will learn to tap into their potential – This generation grew up with advanced technology and instant access to information. They understand social media. They want to make a difference and they will follow trustworthy leaders.  Successful organizations of the future will find a way to harness their power.

For Generation Y

You are the new kids on the block, vast in number and the future is yours. But, today’s business leaders hold the keys to that future. They have experience and insights which you need to be successful. Listen, engage and be flexible – this advice applies to both camps.

1. Perspective is important – Today’s leaders grew up in a very different world. Much of what research says Gen Y wants out of your careers took most of us a long time to earn.  Today’s leaders have a different perspective and that is a good thing, learn from them.
2. Be patient – It is human nature for managers to expect you to earn their trust, to impress them with your abilities and make a long term commitment to their organizations. You may have a different timeline and plan for your career, but be patient and stay long enough to maximize the opportunities in front of you. Change is normal but is sometimes met with resistance.
3. Look at relationships and communication differently – The explosion of social media has heralded the arrival of the “virtual” relationship and Gen Y leading the charge. Gen X/Baby Boomers are more likely to value fewer, more personal relationships over an extended network of affinity-based connections. The prevalence of texting to communicate is typically not well received in most businesses. Also, LinkedIn, not Facebook, is currently the preferred social network for making business connections.
4. Convey respect while pursuing goals – It is appropriate to have goals and pursue them to your fullest, but cultivating positive and respectful relationships with company leadership and learning from their successes will help you achieve them.
5. Pursue mentors and advocates – Most business leaders will point to mentors and advocates early in their careers who played important roles in their success. There is enormous value in having experienced guides to help you navigate your career. Many leaders are willing to be a mentor, but you must win their trust first by showing your commitment to the relationship.

Compromise is inevitable as we hire, train and develop this next generation of leaders. Their day will come and there will be pain, tears and hopefully laughter along the journey, just as it was for us. Let’s enthusiastically embrace this next generation of leaders, take them under our wing and teach them how business is done. I hope that in turn, Generation Y will be open, patient and accept our help. Here’s to finding our way forward together.

Randy Hain is Managing Partner and Shareholder of Bell Oaks, an executive search firm based in Atlanta. This article is adapted from a longer analysis that appears on belloaks.com. He can be reached at rhain@belloaks.com.