Unifying the multi-generational workforce

October 25, 2016
Ward Alles President and Brand Consultant

How employer brand training can directly influence corporate culture

If you’re like most companies, you probably have three major “generations” working side by side in your workforce today. Each is quite different from the other. So the potential for, shall we say “misalignment” among them, is quite real.

Think of some of the conversations you may have heard “around the water cooler.”

“Young people feel so entitled …”

“You want to work from home? Uh … no, that’s not company policy.”

“There’s no loyalty these days. Just a lot of job hopping.”

Differences. Conflict. Distraction. When your workforce is spending time complaining about each other, they’re spending less time truly working together.

So why are these kind of judgmental statements made?

Well, based on when you were born and what you’ve experienced in life, “working for the company” will mean different things to different employees.

Without management and ongoing training, employees will likely default to the DIFFERENT BEHAVIORS of their own generation rather than the SHARED VALUES of your company’s mission.

Take a closer look at some facts and some generalizations (admittedly, there are ALWAYS exceptions) about each generation in the workforce today, and you’ll quickly see from whence all of this judgmental vitriol percolates.

  • Baby Boomers
    Born between: 1946-1964)
    Population: 84 million (27%)
    Number in the workforce: 44.6 million
    Attitude towards employment: Loyalty (“If I’m true to my company, they’ll be true to me.”)
    Attitude towards life: Work first; family second
  • Generation X
    Born between: 1965-1981
    Population: 68 million (21%)
    Population in the workforce: 52.7 million
    Attitude towards employment: Loyalty to themselves (“I’ve got to be marketable in case of layoffs”)
    Attitude towards life: Striving for “work-life balance”
  • Generation Y (Millennials)
    Born between: 1982 – 2000
    Population: 79 million (25%)
    Number in the workforce: 53.5 million
    Attitudes towards employment: Loyalty to people and to causes (“I want my life/my job to have meaning”)
    Attitudes towards life: Always “on” via technology, so work and life are blurred and blended

Bottom line, generations value different things because they were raised under different political and socio-economic conditions, so they view employment differently. If they don’t appreciate each others’ backgrounds and values, conflict can (and does) arise. And that can take you off task. You end up managing people issues rather than managing growth.

What’s the solution?

We’re not suggesting enrolling everyone in sociology classes so that they can suddenly understand each other, unite and sing kumbaya.

But we do suggest enrolling them in training – and make it entirely about your company’s BRAND and each department’s role in it.

If you occupy a chair in the C-suite at your company, you should be directing your HR team to (get this!) work with your Brand/Marketing team to develop basic blocking and tackling training around “The (insert your company name here) way … and your role in it.”

Yes, this is all of that soft stuff. You know, the vision, mission, values stuff that you wrote and then put away in a desk drawer. But it’s actually the super glue that can hold a multi-generational workforce (folks with vastly different experiences and agendas) together.

Existing employees should be “retrained” around your brand and receive ongoing reminders on how their role supports it. New employees should be recruited and on-boarded around your brand. And then be shown how each department (and therefore each individual at the company) delivers on its promise.

You’ve got to get all of the gears meshing instead of grinding. It requires alignment. It requires focus. It requires management.

So don’t let the differences between generations be the conversation. Let the brand be the conversation. How to say it. And how to live it. Every day. Every one.

Consistently address this topic and you’ll be far more productive, efficient and (imagine) happier as a workforce.

Question is: Do you have the internal folks to guide these discussions? Sometimes you have to outsource to an advisor, simply because HR and Marketing won’t play nice together … or “no one believes a prophet from their own land.”

If that’s your situation, reach out to us. We love helping clients rediscover the power behind their employer brand – and apply it for every person in your company.

*Data from: “Ready or Not, Here They Come! Understanding and Motivating the Millennial Generation”, by Dr. Gustavo (presentation to Vistage, August 2016)

Ward Alles is a Brand Consultant and President of Core Creative.


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