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September 5, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Survey Reveals Lack of Generational Workplace Interaction

Filed under: General HR Buzz8:36 am

I’m feeling somewhat old today. Technically, I am classified as a baby boomer. This evening I am heading out for a quick weekend trip back to my hometown for my (dare I say it) thirty year high school reunion. Doing some quick math, and not counting my college years, that would mean I have been working full-time for 26 years. Many of my colleagues and contemporaries are planning for retirement; and most, if not all new employees at our company, are considerably younger than myself.

As the HR experts and pundits would have the world believe, I am the custodian of experience and knowledge that is not being shared with younger co-workers to help in their skill and leadership development. This got me thinking. Am I holding out? Am I an active contributor to the succession planning knowledge gap. No, of course not. I enjoy working with team members from diverse backgrounds and age groups. If information and leadership skills are not being shared it’s because organizations as a whole are not stressing collaboration.

Today there are fewer workers with more specialized roles who are often geographically dispersed from one another. To further cloud the waters today’s company org charts often have dotted line reporting relationships, shared resource teams and 3rd party vendors responsible for entire operational components from sales and marketing to development and customer support. So the issue isn’t training or mentoring and knowledge sharing by older workers with younger workers; the issue is providing opportunities for workers of all ages to collaborate and work together towards achieving a common goal.

This month Atlanta-based Randstad USA released its annual 2008 World of Work survey which found that the four generations now in the U.S. workforce—Generation X, Generation Y, baby boomers and “matures” (those born 1900 to 1945)—rarely interact with one another.

That lack of communication, the study found, is keeping key institutional job knowledge held by the boomer generation from filtering down to younger workers.

The isolation among workforce generations is credited to a lack of recognition of the others’ skills or work ethic. According to the Census Bureau, the Gen Y’ers in today’s workforce—born 1980 to 1988—total 79.8 million, which outnumber the baby boomers, or those who were born 1946 to 1964. Those boomers, which total 78.5 million people, are considered the keepers of the institutional job knowledge in companies across the nation.

Randstad conducted the U.S. survey in December and January among 3,494 adults, 1,295 of whom were employers and 2,199 were employees. Employees came from businesses with at least five staffers. Employers sampled were involved in human resources strategies at their companies for at least six months.

Given this scenario, businesses are faced with cultivating more interaction among generations in their workforce.

The study found that although boomers have a lot of knowledge and experience to share with Gen Y workers, 51 percent of them and 66 percent of matures reported little or no interaction with their Gen Y colleagues. And the three younger generations reported little or no interaction with matures on the job.

Other key findings include:
• Gen Y’s reputation as an overly demanding workplace generation no longer applies; since 2006, they have become more realistic about job expectations.
• Gen Y has the lowest expectations among the four generations for “soft” workplace benefits of satisfying work, pleasant work environment, liking the people they work with, challenging work and flexible hours.
• Gen Y describes co-workers of their own generation as positive socially but not necessarily competent.
• With strong social skills, Gen X has the most potential to bridge the knowledge gap between boomers and Gen Y’ers.
• Pressure for people to do more with less creates a stereotype barrier. Employers need to be aware that people just don’t have time to interact.

Source: Workforce Management Online, July 2008, Survey Reveals Alarming Lack of Generational Workplace Interaction by Mark Larson

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