When did we go from workplace mentoring to generational war? Wherever I go on the Internet to find information about employment and the workplace, the most talked about issue is millennials vs. baby boomers. According to a recent 2015 study conducted by Harris Poll for Workfront, there is a huge discrepancy between millennials and baby boomers regarding workplace ethics and perceptions; but is this something new? Sounds like a normal workplace to me, though with the influx of information and attention on baby boomers retiring, you’d think it was the end of the workplace as we know it … well, from my perspective, I guess it is! Is this normal? Yes.
This is normal workplace conflict. The reason it makes headlines is because baby boomers have made up the majority of the workforce for so long, and companies fear their mass exodus (retirement) will wreak havoc on their business. It is not a generational issue, it is a planning issue; or more accurately, a failure to plan issue.
Succession planning has been the HR Call to Arms for years. I know this because I was one of those who kept preaching and hiring to replace myself. The recent decade of recessions sped up the retirement process, voluntarily or involuntarily, putting pressure on companies who didn’t have a succession plan to engage emergency measures … boot the boomers and hire the hackers. Not the smartest approach, but people in reaction mode take the path of least resistance, and it is too often the path to easy money.
So where are we now as a result? We are in a world in workplace flux. We are trying to fit square pegs into round holes (or vice versa). The boomers who ARE left in the workplace are overloaded and under supported, with very little time to mentor new employees. When they do mentor the younger generation, conflict often occurs because of these pressures and expectations for this tech savvy group to become the next startup phenomenon. This environment does not breed innovation AND loyalty. Anecdotally based on my own experiences, people want to be appreciated, so they will stay with a company who values their contributions, regardless of age. It’s not true that Millennials are not loyal to a company; they’ve just developed different workplace survival tactics in response to what they’ve seen happen with their parents (Gen Xer’s) and grandparents.
Should and can we do anything about it? To start, develop a balanced succession plan. It is never too late to plan, and a balanced plan follows the adage, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” A good succession plan not only plans for the future workforce, it plans for the current working environment. This includes training and development, benefits, flexible work hours and work platform. Baby boomers have the tribal knowledge, the knowledge to get newbies up and running and effectively engage their talents and ideas to help transform and adapt the company for future success. Generation Xer’s, lest we forget them, are in a perfect position to serve as the cornerstone for an organization while Millennials are transitioning into the workplace with the Baby Boomers (too many pigeonholes).
Millennials are not deadbeats looking for entitlement; they are a lost generation looking for answers in an uncertain workplace. We raised their parents to challenge the status quo, and they raised their kids to BE the status quo. Now we need to meet the challenge as only baby boomers can.