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Friday, March 23, 2012

Clash of cultures on the way?

Companies need to prepare for up to six generations in the workplace

A career military man and veteran of the Korean War, Richard Waterson toed the line and respected his superiors throughout his work life. The Edmonton senior, now a community volunteer, says he's troubled that both values appear to be in decline.
"Today, the younger generation seems to want everything without doing anything," says Waterson, who at 80 says he's discouraged by how frequently he encounters self-interest, disdain and disengagement among those his junior. "When I was growing up, you respected [your elders] thoroughly."
If the immortal lyrics of Aretha Franklin seem applicable now, just wait.
In the coming decades, labour analysts predict there could be as many as six generations working alongside each other - a situation they say could plague organizations that aren't prepared for the inevitable clash in values, work ethic and, indeed, respect.
"You're going to see lots of conflict between different levels of employees. But what it will really be is conflict between generations," says Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa.
When Ofelia Isabel entered the corporate world, she says, she looked at her organization's senior employees with the utmost deference. The Toronto woman says she's not sure she'll command the same knee-jerk respect from young hires when it's her turn on top.
"I see it as an opportunity," says the member of the Canadian leadership team at Towers Watson, a global human-resources consultancy. "The respect will still be there, but it won't be automatic just because of having a title. It will have to be earned."
Divides are already being seen already these days between baby boomers, members of "Gen X" and those belonging to "Gen Y."
"It's amazing the number of times I'll have conversations with boomers, and some Gen Xers, who will just roll their eyes and say: 'Gen Y's work ethic is completely different. We're doomed,'" says Isabel. "They raised them, and yet they now struggle with what they created."
She suggests that to thrive in the new multi-generational culture, workplaces are going to have to start focusing less on seniority and hierarchy and instead place more emphasis on acquiring skills and relationship-building.
What are the perceived differences between baby boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers?
. Born between 1947 and 1964, baby boomers are often described these days as prioritizing benefits and a good pension. They're also, experts say, likely to question the work ethic of younger generations.
. Gen Xers, those born between 1964 and 1974, are generally believed to be bottom-line driven, but, at the same time, they're focused on work-life balance. They're said not to be looking for friends at the office and they expect good pay for their talent.
. Their successors from Gen Y -born between 1975 and 1990 - are known for their optimism, need for positive reinforcement and love of a team atmosphere, Duxbury says. But they don't respect workplace hierarchies as much as previous generations. They want flexible hours, challenging work and more vacation time.
Mike Cuma, an expert on human-resources and labour relations, says companies should already be considering ways in which these differences will affect them.
Near the top of that list are relationships.
Managing multiple generations simultaneously is going to be a challenge, he predicts.
"I can see younger people banding together in the workplace and the senior folks banding together into another group," says Cuma, a partner at Legacy Bowes Group in Winnipeg. "It's not good for teamwork, it's not good for getting things done and it's not good for the organization."
Among the other issues he highlights are situational dynamics (the eldest generation supervising the youngest or middle-aged workers supervising those much older than themselves); resistance to change (whether in office culture, technology or policy); scheduling considerations (more flexible shifts, allowances for extended leave and more sick days); and the potential for a polarized workforce.
Carleton's Duxbury, a pioneer in the field of organizational health, says she believes that, in the future, organizational structure will come to rely less on the traditional model of climbing the corporate ladder.
"Diversity will be so omnipresent that we won't categorize people by their age so much as ability," says Duxbury. "The older generations, however, will be more likely to be in the leadership roles, setting work culture and expectations."
Over the next 25 years, the number of Canadians over 65 will more than double, to 10.4 million. By 2051, analysts project there will be only 2.5 people aged 20 to 64 for every senior in Canada, compared to 4.7 in 2009.
In other words, the phenomenon of older people prolonging their time in the labour force - whether by choice or obligation - isn't likely to limit the entry of younger workers into the job market at that time.
But not everyone is convinced that delayed retirement, and the resulting changes in employee demographics, will turn organizations upside down. A number of leading experts in the field, in fact, predict it could be a good thing - provided companies are adaptable.
"Each time you introduce a new social segment into the workplace, management has to step back and ask themselves: "Is the way we've always done things still useful and necessary? Can we do things differently to accommodate the changing workforce?'" says Sandra Robinson, professor of organizational behaviour at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business. "Asking such questions not only leads to smarter management practice, but also usually introduces flexibility that all employees - regardless of age - can gain from."
More people expect to keep working after age 65. Is the workplace ready for the revolution? A special series.
Monday: Will employers want workers in their 70s and 80s. They may have extra health care needs and declining abilities.
Tuesday: Researchers are working on innovations that help older employees bounce back from falls - a leading cause of injury.
Wednesday: As aging drivers take over rush hour, industry is eyeing everything from bigger fonts on street signs to car seats with heart monitors.
TODAY: Labour analysts predict there could be as many as six generations working alongside each other and organizations must prepare for a clash in values and work ethics.

By Misty Harris, Postmedia News