By LaTina Emerson | Staff Writer
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Mark DeTroye, 62, is a baby boomer. Brett Yardley, 24, is a millennial.
Given their generations' differing views on the workplace, one would think there might be a little friction between them at MAU Workforce Solutions, where they handle business development and marketing projects.
The two men have a harmonious working relationship, though.
"I like working with Brett," Mr. DeTroye said. "He's energetic, enthusiastic, and I think he comes up with some pretty good ideas."
Human resources experts and analysts are shining a spotlight on management challenges of managing several generations in the work force.
"For the first time, you've got the potential of four generations working side by side," said Paul Holley, a spokesman for the staffing firm Manpower Inc.
The generations have been generally defined as:
- Traditionalists -- people born before 1946
- Baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X -- people between 1965 and 1980
- Millennials (also called N-Gen or Generation Y) -- people born after 1980.
Of the four groups, baby boomers are the largest, making up 45 percent of the work force, Mr. Holley said.
"Needless to say, when you have four different groups with four fairly distinct sets of values and viewpoints, you're bound to run into some conflicts from time to time," he said.
Baby boomers, for instance, are considered to value power, prestige and money. Millennials, he said, are "shaped by the Internet," and are reliant on immediacy and innovation.
Mr. Holley emphasized that everyone must be careful not to "succumb to stereotypes about the other generation." Embracing diversity can actually advance the work environment, he said.
"If you have one segment of your work force contributing all the ideas and making all the decisions, you can very well miss a terrific idea that someone in another generation had," Mr. Holley said.
Laura Bernstein, the president and CEO of Des Monies, Iowa-based VisionPoint, said that overall, the generations have more in common than different. The company provides full-service diversity training to companies worldwide.
"All of the generations bring a very solid, positive work ethic, and they all value the same things," she said.
The challenge for companies is in getting employees to work together despite their differences, she said.
These differences include how people view situations, challenges and issues; their work styles and preferences; and perceptions of work-life balance, loyalty and technology.
Employers must focus on problem-solving and effective communication, she said.
Mr. DeTroye, who works as a business development specialist, said MAU works diligently to bridge the gaps among its 180 employees in the Southeast.
He has worked at the company since 2005 and said the environment is special, adding that it has monthly employee-appreciation luncheons.
Mr. Yardley said his youth has been an issue when interacting with clients.
"I get asked quite regularly 'How old are you?' " he said.
He heads off any concerns among co-workers with "hard work and dedication."
"For me, at least, I don't think it really impedes the normal activities of the day or hinders the working relationship," he said.
T. Ray Bennett, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management's expert panel, said many people underestimate the abilities of millennials.
"They're extremely hard-working individuals," he said. "They know where they want to go and what they want to do."
They can be challenging to work with, however. Wayne Guilfoyle, the owner of Augusta Tile Crafters Inc., said he finds younger workers are more easily distracted by cell phones and pagers and are less punctual.
"You'll find out with the older people in the work force -- if you're there to work for a company for eight hours, you're there for eight hours," said Mr. Guilfoyle, whose staff ranges in age from 26 to 65.
He said that he holds regular meetings to maintain a team atmosphere and deal with problems effectively.
Differences in generational attitudes toward work are playing out in the health-care industry, where older doctors are discovering that their younger counterparts are seeking a better work-life balance.
Dr. D. Douglas Miller, the dean at the Medical College of Georgia, said residents are not inclined to work 15 to 16 hours a day like their predecessors, he said.
"It is a phenomenon and a reality that medical students in this generation are considering careers that have a better lifestyle quotient than perhaps a generation or two ago would have been looking for," he said. "They would like, if possible, manageable working hours."
In fact, medical students are opting for "shift work" jobs such as emergency medicine, hospitalist care, dermatology, radiology and ophthalmology, he said.
"This doesn't mean that they don't work just as hard, but they're setting limits," Dr. Miller said.