by Randy Hain | March 4, 2011 1:00 pm
Like many of my fellow business leaders, I do my best to stay current. I embrace social media, read the latest leadership books and stay abreast of trends in the marketplace. And from a workplace perspective, there is one particular conversation topic in full discourse across the country—Generation Y in Corporate America. It should be.
Over the next 15 years, we will witness the exit of almost half of our workforce, mostly from the retiring Baby Boomer generation. With so much written about Gen Y’s challenges and overall lack of readiness to lead, we should be concerned … concerned enough to do something about it.
I am a product of Generation X which, along with Boomers, holds the vast majority of senior leadership positions in our country. We are the hiring managers, mentors, coaches and role models for the generation that follows behind us. What are our assets? I would like to believe we possess wisdom, experience and a strong commitment to the future. Our liabilities? We seem to have reservations about engaging with Gen Y and understanding how they think. For an insightful look at Gen Y expectations in the workplace, read Working with Generation iY by Dr. Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders.
A Simple Gap Analysis
I sense that we have two “camps” looking at each other across a great divide with wariness, suspicion and frustration. The Gen X/Baby Boomer side is focused on the organizations they lead, profit & loss, revenue growth, filling open positions, developing employees, and improving work cultures among myriad other issues related to running a business. Gen Y seems to have vastly different work expectations compared to their predecessors. As Dr. Elmore writes in his article, the phrase “Pay Your Dues” is strongly disliked by this newer generation, whereas that was the working life mantra of my generation.
Gen Y covets, among other things, work/life balance, schedule flexibility, belief in the company mission, and access to and transparency of all information. There is a fundamental shift here from my entry into the workforce more than two decades ago when working 70-hour weeks, climbing the corporate ladder and the phrase “hard work will take you far” were the norms of the day.
A Road Map to Bridge the Generations
So, where do we go from here? What is our call to action … what is theirs? We can’t move forward with arms folded and fingers pointed at each other from our respective camps; following that path will lead to disaster for our companies and the economy. We need to reach across the divide and find common ground. It will take compromise, trust and commitment from each generation to make this work.
The conventional employee-manager relationship is not necessarily a thing of the past, but it is no longer the standard … or won’t be for long. We need to recognize this as not just an adjustment in leadership, but a cultural shift in the workplace. While the roles of employee and manager will continue to morph, the dynamic will always be there. I have outlined five recommendations here for each group. My hope is that actions such as these will serve as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue and true progress.
Recommendations 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 flex where appropriate and tap into the enormous potential of these young minds; but all in the framework of what the business needs.
Recommendations for Gen 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.
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 the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which will be published by Liguori Publications at the end of this year. The Catholic Briefcase is available for pre-order on Amazon.
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