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The Workplace Generation Gap

July 6, 2009 2 comments

As the economic downturn continues, with unfortunate staffing reductions, it’s normal for tension in the office to build. Not only are staff feeling the stress (so are firm owners) of seeing their co-workers positions eliminated, watching the news and worrying about their job security, and carefully planning their finances, but they are also facing an intergenerational workplace that can (and will) present its own challenges. 

With potentially four generations in the office, there is bound to be animosity, mostly based on the lack of understanding of each others values. Hearing more and more complaints from all sides, I thought I would share an article I wrote some time ago that tries to summarize each generation, where they can best fit in and their strengths, and how the other generations might view each other. 

 

By Justin G. Roy

“What’s with kids these days? They don’t know what an honest day’s work is. The work day starts at 8:30 and they want to show up at 10:00. Sometimes they disappear for hours and I have no idea where they’ve gone. Don’t they know what it takes to get ahead in this business?”

If you are a Baby Boomer, and view the younger generations this way, you are not alone. Generation Xers and Yers are not like you were. They are not going to metamorphose into what you were at the same age. Get over it.

If you are a member of Generation X or Generation Y, you may wonder what’s with these rigid, workaholic bosses, and why they don’t understand that “just because I’m not at my desk doesn’t mean I’m not working. I’ve got access to Wi-Fi and a Blackberry. Starbucks is my second office and I often get more work done there than in my cubicle.” If this sounds like you, it behooves you to try to understand why your bosses hold their attitudes towards work and management.

There is a real generation gap in today’s workplace that stems from different cultural experiences and attitudes. Generation gaps impact many aspects of a firm. Rather than expecting all generations to conform to the wishes of another, firms should develop an understanding of how members of each generation think and work out policies that can accommodate all while keeping mind what is best for the long-term future of the firm.

Defining the generations

Today’s workplace consists of four generations as defined by demographers:

  • Veterans (born 1920-1942)
  • Baby Boomers (numbering 80 million; born 1943-1960)
  • Generation X (46 million; born 1961-1979)
  • Generation Y or “Millennials” (76 million; born 1980-2000)

Architecture firm Gensler, in a report titled “Strategies for an Intergenerational Workplace,” defined the generations according to their attributes:

Veterans
Veterans bring a traditional, heroic attitude to work. This generation is practical, respectful and accustomed to hierarchical leadership. They are a reliable and steadfast presence, but somewhat uncomfortable with the wild blender of technology and age/gender/ethnic diversity in today’s workplace.

Baby Boomers
Boomers are typically driven and optimistic—and somewhat self-centered. They grew up the center of attention and enjoyed the progress of television, the Space Age, and modern suburbia. While they hold some of the Veterans’ duty-driven work habits, they were also the originators of collaborative work and consensus-based leadership. They’re cautiously pro-technology and interested in helping younger generations learn, but can be frustrated by what looks to them like a less ambitious approach to work.

Generation X
This group is influenced by sweeping social change and sandwiched between the optimism of the post-WWII generation and the complexity of a globalized world. Often children of divorce, they grew up self-reliant and not nearly as trusting as the Boomers. They have a tendency to be skeptical and anti-personal commitment, however, given work that is meaningful to them, colleagues they respect, and schedules with work-life balance, they are highly creative and productive.

Millennials
This group has lived with unprecedented economic prosperity and the optimistic influence of “make-the-world-a-better-place” Baby Boomers like Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. Raised by parents determined to provide them the best life experiences, they are smart and sophisticated, yet keep very close ties to their parents. This generation only knows a world with DVDs, iPods, wireless access, multiple cell phone families and homework done over the web. After years in play groups and organized after-school activities, they are natural collaborators.

Areas of potential conflict

Each generation has different concepts of authority and management, and this is a prime area for potential conflict. Veterans are believers in chain-of-command and order. They expect to be told what to do, or to tell others. Boomers refined this management style to a more consensus-based model and originated the concept of performance reviews.

In contrast, Generation X is uninterested in giving or taking “because-I-said-so” leadership. This group gives respect based on merit and is often unimpressed by titles. They tend to have an informal and collaborative leadership style. They are turned off by enclosed offices, particularly when they are seen as status symbols. They sometimes seek a solo workspace outside the office, causing older managers to wonder where they’ve gone. Millennials are even more known to shift the place and time of work to suit them.

“There is a growing realization that the gulf of misunderstanding and resentment between older, not so old, and younger employees in the workplace is growing and problematic,” according to the Gensler report. The report recommends trying to find common ground and coming up with workplace policies that bring out the best in each generation.

Boomers have key responsibilities

Boomers, who now occupy the majority of managerial positions in the A/E industry, are in the best position to bridge generation gaps. They need to change their attitude towards Generations X & Y. These younger workers are eventually going to assume management roles and take ownership of firms. There are much fewer of them than Baby Boomers, so the need to retain them will be stronger than the need to keep Boomers has been.

The younger generations want to be encouraged to try new concepts and strategies, and be rewarded when they succeed. They believe strongly in earning promotions primarily by merit, and not due to years of service. They value a healthy work/life balance more than money or climbing the corporate ladder. They don’t expect to be with the same firm for a whole career. Firms should keep these issues in mind when revising their recruiting and retention strategies, and compensation and benefits plans.

Generations X & Y are also motivated by finding meaningful work that benefits society, thus, they are turned on by working for firms and clients that are socially and environmentally responsible.

In short, Generations X & Y are dedicated, technologically adept, and creative workers. Understanding what makes them tick will make it easier for firms to attract and retain the best of these groups.

What do you think? Let us know.

Creating Networking Connections: Causes are the Key!

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment

By: Mark J. Carter, One80  & Saving The World

How do you connect with people at professional networking events?

How do other people connect with YOU in similar situations?

Many people use (traditional) “elevator speeches”, “personal infomercials” and other related tactics. Which are ultimately designed you get you interested in buying their product or service.

If you don’t enjoy being sold something new every week or feeling like a sales person when introducing yourself to other people…what can you do instead?

When you meet a business professional you might be able to work with in the future (maybe an architect, developer or business owner) BUT have no immediate reason to do business together—how can you fuse that connection anyways?

Get involved with a CAUSE (a non-profit, a community organization or other professional group). That way you always have something to talk about besides “what you do” and you can create a common ground without an immediate business transaction.

Getting involved with non-profits and cause-related organizations helps your networking world in many ways, including:

  • You meet like-minded people in “non-sales” environments ; which creates a comfortable and interesting common ground.
  • You have more than “elevator speeches” to talk about—”how did you get involved with (the cause/organization)?”
  • You double your chances for networking opportunities—while most people are at the usual business events you can build an additional network through organizations you’re passionate about helping.

Here’s an example of an organization, Networking For A Cause, which connects professionals with a variety of non-profits they can get involved with (and we have an event in Boston this week):

The Boston Event: http://www.networkingforacause.eventbrite.com

THE KEY: Be sure to get involved with a cause that you are genuinely passionate about; your sincerity (or lack of) will clearly show while you’re talking about it.

Stand Out at Work

March 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Chris Brogan had a guest post the other day by GL Hoffman who runs What Would Dad Say.  Hoffman discusses how you can make sure you are not anonymous at work and stand out amongst others. 

This is great advice amidst our economy.  Here are the subjects Hoffman talks about (make sure you click below to read his advice on each):

  • See Work
  • On Time
  • Be Perfect
  • Can Do
  • Do the job no one else wants
  • Be sales minded
  • Customer-focused
  • Always improve
  • Don’t wine, gossip or complain
  • Become an evangelist

Click here to read the full post.

Hire People Who "Get It"

February 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Great post from, Marketing, Relationship Building and the Technical Product, by Jerry Guerra, The JAGG Group blog, AEC Insight.  Jerry talks about the importance of people, both relationships and employees, when submitting proposals.

“How can you prevent this from happening in your firm? The easiest way is to hire people who “get it” – who understand the importance of treating client relationships like the precious currency they are. Some call it an “ownership mentality.”

Click here to read the full article and story.

The "Obama Generation"

January 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Great post last week on Web Strategy By Jeremiah, The Obama Generation.  Jeremiah talks about how the new generation of employees will grow up with “knowing” and feeling connected with the President. 

They will remember how he reached out to them on social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube.

They will remember, and expect to be, how connected they feel to their friends regardless of location.

The A/E/C industry talks alot about the “me generation” and how their work ethic is considered poor.  Fortunately, not all architecture, engineering, construction, and real estate managers feel this way; there are plenty of firms who embrace this next generation. 

There is a lot to look forward to from them, from the understanding and ability to grasp new online concepts that will build the business and increase efficiency to their willingness and ability to question everything.

Click here to read the post.

Measure What Really Matters

January 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Mel Lester wrote a great post on his blog, E-Quip Blog last month, Are You Measuring the Things That Really Matter?

Lester talks about what architecture and engineering (A/E) firms should really take a look at and measure.  Not billings nor projects, as you might think.  But he talks about the following:

  • Client satisfaction
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Supervisory performance
  • Targeted behaviors

These four subjects are sometimes very difficult to measure, and pretty tough to wrap around in a time where we are all looking for the next project or client.  However, making sure your current clients are satisfied will ensure they remain with you when there is a project, and the same goes for employees.

Though the unemployment market is the subject on too many minds of architects or consulting engineers, as a firm owner you should take a look at your talent and make sure the right people are happy and satisfied with your firm.  Given many firms are feeling the pinch, many more are recognizing this is the time to start recruiting architects or recruiting engineers to either “beef up” their staff, upgrade, or simply have the opportunity to hire somebody who they previously thought unattainable.

Click here to read the full article, and tips on how to, and what to, measure.

New Kids On The Block

December 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Clever title from Pam at We Know Engineers.  Pam recently wrote a great article about Millennials and tips on how to manage them.  Here is an excerpt from the article I found very interesting, along with some of the tips Pam shares.  Make sure to check out the full posting!

I had breakfast with another associate this morning who reminded me of the need to involve and value the Millennials. This associate, who is 60, owns a firm that works in the A/E arena. Of his 9 employees, all but one are Millennials. He was bragging about how smart they are, how involved they are, and how much they want to contribute.

They relish responsibility, demand instant feedback, and expect to accomplish things. They are socially responsible and want to work for companies that are involved in good causes.

And, of course, they are the technology generation. My son didn’t know how to fax a document-he had never needed to. But if he has his way, WeKnowEngineers.com will soon be available on YouTube and podcasts.

Here are some tips on how to manage your Millennials.

  • Create coaching relationships between your experienced staff and the Millennials.
  • Give constructive feedback immediately-not once or twice a year.
  • Treat them like a colleague or associate, not a subordinate.
  • Don’t shut down when they ask “why” you do things a certain way. Explain. Turn it into a learning opportunity.
  • Teach basic self-management skills, such as planning their time, assigning priorities, etc.
  • Work with them to develop a career plan, with goals, timelines, resources, etc.
  • Create a database of “go-to” people that can help them with their learning in different subjects.

Click here to read the full article.

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