York Co. seminar: Communication key to bridging generation gap

dworthington@heraldonline.comJuly 24, 2013 

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Maximizing productivity in a multigenerational work force comes down to an age-old business problem – communication – concluded speakers and participants Wednesday in a York County Regional Chamber of Commerce seminar.

About 50 people, many of them human relations directors for Rock Hill and York County companies, attended Wednesday’s seminar “Cross Generational Collaboration: Your Competitive Edge” at Winthrop University.

The focus of the seminar was to not only understand the differences between generations, but to understand how those differences can affect a businesses’ bottom line.

They discussed ways to improve how baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, interact with Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1979, and Generation Y, those born after 1980.

Baby boomers were once the largest segment of the work force, but now, every eight seconds a boomer reaches the age of 55. Each day, 11,500 boomers reach the age of 65.

Gen Y, frequently called the Millennials, are now the largest segment of the work force at 40 percent and that percentage is increasing.

The challenge is getting boomers, who were taught their hard work would be rewarded with promotions and more money, to work with Gen Y, whose outlook is “I work to live, not live to work.”

Wednesday’s featured speaker, Stacey Randall, a Gen Xer who has been studying generations since 2008, said the difference can easily be seen in the way the U.S. Army has marketed itself over the years.

For the Greatest Generation, the slogan was “Uncle Sam Wants You!” – tapping into their sense of patriotism as well as the mandatory draft.

For boomers, the slogan was “Join the People Who Join the Army,” playing on that generation’s competitive desire, the need to “keep up with the Joneses,” she said.

For Gen X, the slogan was “Be All You Can Be,” appealing that generation’s individualism.

For Gen Y, the slogan is “You Made Them Strong, We Make Them Army Strong,” appealing to that generation’s close ties to their parents.

Suggestions by Randall, other panelists and those attending the seminar included adopting the Gen Y need for instant feedback and applying that to both employee and customers.

Parents of Gen Y children told them how great they were, every event resulted in trophy, medal or certificate. As a result, Gen Yers expect immediate feedback, Randall said.

Giving more frequent feedback can take several forms, participants said.

One is employee performance reviews. Rather than a once-a-year review, employers can offer more immediate performance analysis and when it comes time for a formal review, the process should spend about 1/3 of the time looking back and 2/3 of the time looking to where a company wants an employee to be.

The same standard can be applied to customers, as companies should turn customer surveys around quicker, getting information into the hands of employees with suggestions for improving service.

Ways to improve communications include helping new employees understand a company’s culture. Companies usually have two sets of rules, their formal policies and their informal ways of doing things.

It’s important that new employees understand their informal rules, participants said. Employees’ immediate supervisors often are the best resource to teach these informal rules.

Another way to improvement communication and engage employees is sharing not only the “why” something is done, but also the “where are we going.” That kind of communication could include things such as the company’s finances, its challenges and its goals, participants said.

Randall and other seminar speakers said that technology is not a generational issue, but how quickly people adapt to new technology. Technology is, however, an enabler for businesses, helping them thrive or survive, said Lonnie Emard, director of staff resource management for the information technology at Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and executive director for IT-oLogy, a nonprofit organization to promote information technology development.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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