Will this Recession Finally Erase the Boomer/Gen Y Divide?

Paul Hebert Paul Hebert, Total Rewards

Youngold2 With the economy delaying Boomer retirements and the “new” generation taking on tasks left undone by those laid-off – will companies finally put an end to the rift between “old” and “new” workers?  The lack of experienced middle managers and the new longevity of Boomers means that companies will have to look for new ways to engage and connect these previous disparate audiences.

In the past, it was easy to allow the older workers to just fade away and have the young Turks take over but these times are not like old times.  The speed of business is approaching light speed, and allowing young managers to “grow” into their positions isn’t a viable strategy.  The vast quantity of information available via the internet and other sources means experience is critical to filter that information in order to separate signal from noise.  Older workers (or should we say more experienced), have the benefit of history to guide them and put that information into a perspective new managers just don’t have.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Instead of looking at this economic period as a recruiting and talent management issue – look at it as a fundamental change in the way you manage your business.  This is the perfect opportunity to explore and utilize new technologies that connect your new Gen Y managers – and your Boomer knowledge repositories.

First of all, Boomers own history – they own the experience – they own the “wisdom” within your organization.  Gen Y, however, owns the fire, the desire, the fearlessness that new ideas and new opportunities require to germinate.  Your goal must be to connect those two audiences.  Now, more than ever, it is important to leverage the social network tools that have started to form the backbone of business.

Social Networking

First and foremost, as an organization you must begin to connect your people through informal networks – and formal ones – to allow for more conversations and encourage a diversity of input that will lead to better decisions and more innovative solutions.  Many believe that when companies are under stress, a more directive form of management is required.  However, true innovation comes from diversity of thought.  Doing the same things with fewer resources isn’t the way to drive success.  We have to do things differently – and the diversity of thought that social networks generate will bring more and better solutions to the surface.

Use the Tools – Recognize the Behavior

Gen Y will be familiar with these networks and will take advantage of them without much prompting.  And if you can believe the recent statistics, Boomers are one of the fastest growing demographics at sites such as Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter – the technology adoption hurdle has been crossed.  However, in most companies adopting, a fairly open management style will be different.  And different is scary.  Your goal is to remove the fear.  One way to remove fear is to reward the new behaviors.  Reward and recognize both audiences when they adopt and use social networking options.  Make your recognition public – make sure the audience understands the company expects and rewards sharing and collaboration.  While the past may have been about the individual – the future is about the team.

Look Outside

Depending on the way in which layoffs were handled at your specific company, there may be the opportunity to leverage the knowledge capital found in those who were laid-off.  In many instances layoffs are “packages” that employees may volunteer for and therefore they may have an interest in continuing their connection to your company in an “advisory” role.  Don’t assume everyone who left is negative and bitter.  Some may find the opportunity to “volunteer” as a great way to really let their light shine now that they are no longer under the scrutiny of their managers.

It’s About Diverse Input – Common Output

Set up teams of Boomers/Gen Y’s – create a common goal for these teams – then allow them to develop their own individual communication style and process.  Your job is to provide the tools – not the direction.
Gen Y needs the input from these constituencies.  They are a collaborative and consensus-driven group.  They thrive when they can discuss and get multiple inputs.  Social networks can satisfy that need.  Boomers have been marginalized in the past few years and now that they are adopting technology as a connecting force, they will welcome the opportunity to contribute.

By connecting your new managers with your “wisdom” employees and potentially those outside your company –you bring the passion of youth together with the wisdom of experience.  Leveraged correctly that is a powerful business force.