Just recently I had the opportunity to volunteer at a large non-profit agency in Atlanta where a diverse team of employees came together (at short notice) to rescue parrots that were in a state of neglect by a pet lover turned alcoholic. The team was required to handle all logistics: police notice and intervention, local SPCA authorities, temporary shelter, vet, food and medication for birds and a volunteer shift schedule to handle round-the-clock care.
What struck me the most is that staff ranging in ages from 18 to 65 had this great sense of camaraderie – a quality that most reports on ‘multiple generations at work’ don’t seem to celebrate. In fact, we hear complaints on both sides: Boomers: “they’ve got no work ethic” … “they want minimum work, quick rewards”. Gen Y: “their long meetings will kill us ..why can’t they let us work from home sometimes?”
These are just a few of the many issues that supervisors today find themselves facing as they attempt to bridge gaps to get the work done! Experts like Sylvia Ann Hewitt, of The Hidden Brain Drain, hold the view that there’s more common ground in these 2 ‘book end’ generations than we think!
In her survey of over 3000 participants, there are certain elements that mutually motivate both Gen Ys and Boomers and which talent managers can pay attention to. The popular wisdom that Gen Ys have short attention spans isn’t really true; what they want are a range of experiences throughout their work life. For example, Gen Ys will happily trump the pay check, and do sabbaticals abroad where they can volunteer to teach English to students; the same is true for those in their 50 & 60s – who themselves want to ‘mix things up’ and join the Peace Corps or volunteer for building homes with Habitat for Humanity.
Another quality that both generations have in common is work/life balance. No longer content with spending 40+ hours in the corporate mill, they both want time to pursue private passions. Again HR and Talent managers may want to pay attention to this. Finally, despite difference styles in how they approach work, each generation ultimately want collaboration and a sense of team work.
The old adage that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’ holds true here – both generations crave age old values for belonging and balance. The crux now is figuring out ways to make it happen. One simple way may be ‘opening the conversation’ for solutions – how about intergenerational mentoring where boomers may help Gen Ys with ‘navigating corporate culture’ and Gen Ys can help them figure out the latest tech tool. Finding solutions to journey together will create the synergy business needs in these competitive times.