Category Archives: Hiring

Addressing Multiple Generations in the Workplace 

The Office LogoPicture the scene; you have a recent graduate working alongside her seasoned 58-year-old colleague on a critical project.  Both are working toward the same goal, yet each come with a different set of expectations and views of the task at hand.  “Stacy’s new ideas are clashing with what Bill’s many years of experience tells him and tensions start building.  What happens next?

It’s safe to say that workforce trends have shifted over the past decade.  For the first time in history we have five generations working side by side; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials.  Instead of embracing the many perspectives, we muse on how perceived differences of others hold us back from achieving “workplace Nirvana.”  You’ve heard the stereotypes: Baby Boomers are stodgy workaholics, Gen X is callously indifferent, and Millennials are lazy with a false sense of entitlement.  It’s safe to say that each generation brings its own priorities, interests and communication style.

Clearly, people of various ages view their workplace differently.  However, this is not the likely culprit for generational conflict.  The conflict has less to do with age differences than it does with miscommunication.  Whether this multi-generational workforce is viewed as happy and productive or challenging and stressful is, in large part, up to one thing – conversations.

Think about it.  No matter your age or your profession, the one thing you will have almost every day is a conversation with another human being.  No matter the generation differences we all want to have a voice and be heard.  Therefore, communication is increasingly important in present times.  Yes, it is such a cliché term.  Yet when you really think about it, each conversation has the power to either advance or derail teamwork and progress towards goals.

Thus, when it comes to addressing five generations in the workplace, focus on the common daily activity each will have: conversations.  Take for instance what Susan Scott of Fierce Conversations says,

“Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.  While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.  Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.  It could be.  Participate as if it matters.  It does.” 

Whether you are a Traditionalist, a Millennial, or anything in between; conversations are what bind people together in work and in life.  How we approach our communication with others will be a decisive factor in our success.  It is as simple and complex as that.  

Too often people hastily enter conversations through a lens of “judgment” where we are bent on winning the dialogue.  This is when we interrupt by talking over the person speaking, jump in with a declaration before the issue has been clarified, and/or respond quickly with little or no thought.  The end result with this approach is never optimum.

What we should do is silence our inner biases so to enter conversations from a place of wonder and curiosity.  This is when we resist our primal hardwiring of fight or flight and remain present in the conversation.  We seek to understand the other person’s point of view.  Rather than cast judgement, we work to identify why each side might see things differently.  This is made possible when we ask questions to frame the issue(s) at hand.

Herein lies the key to addressing multiple generations in the workforce; train your entire organization how to approach conversations with more questions than declarations.

In teamwork and in management, questions transcend all generations.  

Questions redefine relationships between people — when I am “advising” or “managing,” I am the expert.  But when I’m “asking” you for your ideas, I’m a peer.  Questions honor you as a person and communicate your value as an equal.  Ask open-ended probing questions like, “Will you help me understand things from your point of view?” or “Might there be other ways of looking at this?”

And because this asking approach changes the relationship, it also changes you.  Think of an instance when you left a conversation thinking, “Well, that was one-sided!  The whole thing was about him.”  We all hate it when others can’t stop talking about their own thoughts and ideas but we’re blind to how often we do it ourselves.

Organizations would be wise to put more emphasis on training staff how to approach and execute meaningful conversations — and it all starts with questions.  This is when the magic happens.  Individuals, teams, and their organization begin to blossom and flourish around effective communication.

Train on generational similarities, not generational differences –Emotional Intelligence and Conversational Capacity.

What is emotional intelligence?

The OfficeEmotional intelligence, or EQ, is an ability to recognize and understand our emotions so to manage our reactions.  Emotions are not a choice and you cannot manage them.  They are psychological reactions to events in life and can only affect you.  On the contrary, you can (and should) manage your reactions to these feelings.  This is where we can get into trouble because our reactions will be perceived as good or bad; and they affect everyone.

When employees are well versed in self-awareness and self-management, productive communication occurs.  This then leads to heightened conversational capacity.

What is conversational capacity?

“Conversational capacity isn’t just another aspect of effective teamwork—it defines it. A team that cannot talk about its most pressing issues isn’t really a team at all. It’s just a group of people that can’t work together effectively when it counts.” – Craig Weber, Author of Conversational Capacity

Like EQ, conversational capacity is about approaching conversations, being genuinely open, really asking, and paying attention to the other person’s response.  It’s about interrogating the issue and not the person.  When people engage in this everybody gets to advance towards their better selves, as individuals and together as a team.

While the workplace may be in constant change, one thing will remain the same, our need for communication with others.  Here at the JFC Staffing Companies we treat dialogue as a discipline.  It begins with the onboarding process when new hires go through three training sessions with me personally (CEO a.k.a. Chief Enthusiasm Officer).  The idea is to set our people up for success when communicating with others.  After all, communicating in open, balanced, meaningful ways creates winning mindsets, winning teams, and winning organizations.  Who doesn’t want that?

My closing advice to the managers reading this: Exhausting precious time and energy on all the differences between generations is futile. Focus on what each era needs, which is meaningful communication with others.  Invest in training your people to have meaningful conversations.  Once mastered, everything else seems more manageable and conquerable within multigenerational teams.

Reach out to me if you’re interested in learning more about these topics.  I offer insight/training, free of charge, to area businesses as my way of giving back to the community that I live and work in.

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Emerging Workers Meet Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Manage emotional culture for survival and growth…

“Do what we tell you and get a paycheck, healthcare, and retirement bucks. Do that long enough and eventually you’ll tell others around here what to do: Maybe everyone.” Those are the rules, right? That’s what you learned from the punches, and battle-scars that the hardest work and sharpest focus invited on your trip toward the C-Suite.

Okay, maybe when you strip away the context, that’s a little Sheldon Cooper-ish. Sheldon Cooper? You know the Ph.D. from Big Bang Theory who’s floating in an Asperger bubble which deafens him to either his own or other people’s emotions. Dr. Cooper is a highly functioning autistic who’s immersion in a super-specialized field of interest obscures what drives other people.

dr-sheldon-cooper-quotes

Fact is, that model worked. It was a paradigm for enterprise cultures that prospered because they laser-focused upon serving markets by creating goods and services in return for gold. This revenue provided paychecks, healthcare, and retirement bucks.

So? What’s changed?

Employees are increasingly becoming a market that enterprises must also please. Otherwise they lose access to the STEM technicians and specialized management professionals who allow an enterprise to serve customers with their goods and services. As the labor markets have moved away from a demand from brawn to a necessity for brain… Well, Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s begun to realize that the emotional drives of his colleagues are now part of succeeding in the super-specialized field of interest which defines modern market competition.

Increasingly labor-force entrants with productive skills want something more out of a job and especially management.  Too quickly their appetites have been stereotyped by the Sheldon Cooper myopia of the past which dismisses these emerging workers as solely interested in trophies, instant gratification, or fast-tracking to the top. Their emotional cravings for flex-time, telecommuting, social significance, family time, interesting objectives, meaningful tasks, and continual feedback leave Sheldon Cooper cultures muttering… “These kids are good for nothing! They… they… don’t know the meaning of hard work!” Sound about right?

Shhhhh… Hear that? It’s the din of cultures clashing!

Look, the reality is not that younger generations are a challenge to hire and manage.  Instead, too many executive suites have the wrong core belief about managing emerging workers. And being wrong about that core belief means every subsequent decision only makes things worse because every decision is ultimately tied to that belief.

Successful enterprise cultures must evolve and adapt with the workforce or risk irrelevance.  After all, executives demand similar flexibility to the demands of their product markets, right? The reality is that the Millennials and Generation Y who characterize the emerging workforce are not the problem: Sheldon Cooper’s the problem.  Too many of us manage in a narrow tunnel walled off from the emotional culture we create.  Increasingly we must focus upon how employees feel: Yes, the emotional drivers.

Adaptive enterprise cultures are learning to identify, use, understand and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome internal challenges, and defuse conflicts. Succinctly, they learn to read their community’s signals and react appropriately to them. All of which are the components of effective EQ management. Meaning they are pricking the Sheldon Cooper Asperger bubble.  They’re synthesizing that traditional management driver with the aspirations of emerging workers. This for relevancy in a world that blurs self gratification on the job with gratifications from ideals, families, and self awareness.

Is this affordable? Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace Poll” found that 70% of the nation’s employees are disengaged at work.  They estimate that these disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.  A “Global Workforce Study” by Towers Watson showed only 48% of employees report that their top management is doing a good job of providing effective leadership. In the face of those sorts of metrics, is the Sheldon model still affordable, particularly in a world of out-sourcing, and off-shoring? Is it cost-efficient in a world of market competition without borders?

This is not some soft kumbaya movement.  It’s real and the emerging workers are more mindful of it than most in today’s C suite.  It’s unfortunate given the critical importance of emotional culture that EQ is rarely managed if managed at all. Unfortunate since it influences soft measures like employee engagement but also the hard measures like retaining top talent and financial performance.

Most of us over thirty years of age have barely heard of emotional intelligence (EQ).  Raised in a Sheldon Cooper business culture we were never shown that feelings are primary drivers of behavior and thus we’ve ignored the drive of key emerging workers to shop for the employers who make deliberate attempts to harness this concept.  In the increasingly competitive market for high-productivity talent, enterprises need to grow attention to emotional intelligence (EQ) and its effect on both the front and bottom lines.

It starts at the top, the executive suite.  The old ways might still get you compliance but they will never let you maximize the productivity of focused attentions and commitment.  Disregarding the feelings of others makes employees insensitive and indifferent.  Which will permeate out to customers causing dominos to fall – turnover (employee and customer) creates a costly clatter.

Executives who invest in their EQ management are in fact investing in the overarching emotional culture of their company.  Their front line employees blossom out of happiness and pride rather than wilt from boredom and anxiety.  They perform to higher levels so the customers receive more positive experiences nurturing both profitability and growth.

EQ is the cure to Dr. Cooper’s management Asperger’s. Or at least it’s strategically dialing down the profit-distracting din of colliding cultures.

Article originally published in Lancaster Business2Business Magazine February 2016

The greatest compliment I can receive is a referral from readers.  Please SHARE my blog with your network.  Thanks for not keeping us a secret!  

Follow me on Twitter @JimCarchidi