For the first time in history, four generations actively engage in the workforce. The reason is irrelevant. Some posit that economic conditions play a role. Others believe that the improved quality of medical care plays a role, yet others point to the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers finally achieving their lifelong dream jobs as reasons for this unique combination of workers. Regardless of the reason, the bottom line remains that we have drastically different value systems and work styles at play.
The Reluctant Mentor, by Lew Sauder and Jeff Porter provides a unique glimpse into the dynamics of two very distinct, yet complementary value sets in the modern work environment. Expertly crafted to draw in the reader, yet providing valuable insight and experience in working with multiple generations, Lew and Jeff “hit the nail on the head” and identify how generational clash is an emerging issue for today’s managers.
Within the next 5-10 years, Generation Y, or as I prefer to call them, Millennials, will become an ever-present fixture in the workforce. Millennials (those with a formative experience that includes the advent of the internet, 9/11 and the cell phone as fixtures of their worldview) will become a dominant force. Many point to statistics noting that 46% of Millennials have some form of “body modification” (a visible tattoo or non-standard piercing) and scoff—“I can’t have those people working for me, what would my customers think?” First, those are the customers of the future. Secondly, would you rather have someone with body art or someone completely unqualified? Or worse yet, close your business for good?
As a university educator and administrator, I interact with these Millennials on a day-to-day basis. The struggles that I have with “helicopter parents” and the perception of entitlement are the issues of tomorrow’s workforce. However, Millennials present not only significant challenges, but great opportunity. Many believe that this group will have to change when they enter the workforce, but statistically this viewpoint is unrealistic. With a shrinking number of Generation Xers, corporations and small business alike will have to look to the millennial generation for talent, skill and innovation.
Turnover research demonstrates that those who leave the workforce are normally very high performers – leaving for better opportunities or low performers – being “managed out” of organizations. Theoretically, a firm without a strategic focus on retention of employees will have a mediocre workforce; unless of course they create unique links or somehow embed their employees in their organization through means other than the actual day-to-day work. This will ring especially true for Millennials as they value work-life balance much more than previous generations.
Some view this value of work-life balance as laziness or unrealistic expectations, but perhaps this is due to careful attention to the struggles of prior generations. Maybe they have seen their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or others chewed up and spit out by corporate life. Perhaps they have seen a lifelong employee of a large organization have their long coveted pension squandered by the unethical choice of an arrogant CEO. Perhaps the Millennials are more intelligent than we think. They may have figured out that balance doesn’t mean less work, it means less burnout!
This is but one of the lessons that might be learned via multi-generational mentoring—both in practice and in Lew and Jeff’s new book. As sage older workers, we believe that mentoring relationships go only one way. That we as the older, supposedly wiser, experienced individuals in the relationship will impart some great knowledge on the younger, fresh worker with idealistic views. In reality, backed up by volumes of academic research, the true value is sometimes gained in reverse.
Robert G. DelCampo, Ph.D.
Rutledge Professor of Management
Bill Daniels Business Ethics Fellow
Anderson School of Management
University of New Mexico