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Meiss Education Institute

History's Largest Turnover in Human Capital
By Rich Meiss

2010 Marks the First Year That Gen Y’ers Outnumber Boomers 

In this coming decade, 40 percent of America's baby boom workforce will be eligible for retirement. And ready or not, employers are going to have to reckon with the workplace desires of the next generation of workers -- and customers-- if they hope to survive. A consultant on generational differences recently made this statement: "It's going to be the largest turnover in human capital in history, and many organizations are simply ill prepared for this change.”

Companies are going to falter if they don't understand how to recruit and retain younger talent. Even in a poor economy where there might be thousands of people looking for jobs, there may be only five people who can do the job you need. Maybe the job is so technologically advanced that the only people who understand it are Gen X’ers or Gen Y’ers. And their entrance into the workforce is going to require changes on the part of many organizations and their leaders. Let’s examine several changes that will be important.

Discontinue “judging” the motivation of younger workers

The 120 million members of Generations X and Y have been called self-centered, spoiled, slackers and lacking in motivation. They want to work when it's convenient to their lives -- not punch in at some 9-to-5 job and be stuck sitting in a cubicle. They relish a challenge more than a paycheck, and resent it when bosses look over their shoulders or fail to reward them for a job well done. Yet it will do us little good to sit in judgment over these differences, because they are real and they are here to stay. Many of us will need to suspend judgment about these differences.

Work doesn't define the lives of X’ers and Y’ers as it did previous generations. And companies that can't find ways to support the younger generation's insistence on work-life balance will have trouble holding onto them. So we need to flex with the times and address some of their needs.

Look for ways to build technology and social media into the workplace. 

The next article gives some stunning examples of how quickly social media is transforming the way we live and work. So the second change many of us will need to make is to determine how much of this technology to embrace ourselves, and to decide how much to allow into our organizational life. For example at Best Buy, about one-sixth of workers are 16 to 19 years old. Keeping them loyal to the company and its products is vital, so the company has established a Web-based initiative called "@15" that gives teens in that age group a chance to invest money in social causes of their choosing. Best Buy's "Results Only Work Environment" also helps give young workers flexibility to work from any location that works for them -- so long as they get their jobs done. These are the types of changes that organizations will need to pursue.

Recognize that many of the values of all age groups are pretty consistent

Although much has been made of generational differences in recent years, it is good to realize that we are still dealing with human beings with fundamental needs. A study by the international consulting firm, AchieveGlobal, for example, suggests that the value of evaluating workplace behaviors solely on the basis of age is losing its appeal. In “The Generational Divide: Crucial Consideration or Trivial Hype”, the authors cite study data that reveals ALL workers are concerned with financial stability, new work experiences, respect and recognition. So we need to be careful not to promote stereotypical generational behaviors without recognizing the consistency of many human needs.

For example, connecting with younger workers is about more than Facebook, blogs and Twitter. In job interviews, they like to turn the tables, and find out what makes the company so special. Boomer bosses might get asked about the company's social and moral values and whether volunteerism is encouraged. Younger workers have the same need for a meaningful work environment that all generations do.

So let’s balance the need to change and accommodate the “real” differences that exist for different generations with the recognition that some things do not need to change. To quote Thomas Jefferson again: “In matters of taste, bend with the wind. In matters of principle, stand like a rock!”

 

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