Poorly handled generational differences threaten productivity and engagement at many organizations, warns Sherri Elliot-Yeary, author of “Ties to Tattoos.” I recently spoke with Elliot-Yeary to learn her advice on how to bridge the (yes, multiple) generation gaps that employers now face. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

What inspired you to write the book?

When I started my own HR consulting practice, I noticed many of my clients’ issues were not based on poor communication or policy infractions, but on a disconnect between the generations. In particular, I realized the Millennial generation needs to be motivated and provided plenty of opportunity to grow and develop their skills or they become bored and appear unmotivated.

What do you think is the single most important step that employers can take to maximize the engagement and wellbeing of workers across every generation?

Employers need to understand what motivates that person by understanding their generation, and then develop the entire work experience to ensure that they are meeting everyone’s needs. This includes policies toward compensation, time off, and training. Some employees want gift cards to Starbucks or iTunes, while other generations would be happy with an award on their wall for a job well done.

What do you say to critics who say generational differences are overblown?

As an HR executive with 15-plus years of international experience, I know that these critics have not been educated on how to differentiate between generational and economic issues. Once they have walked in the trenches on a daily basis, they’re more likely to see a trend in employee issues.

After all, understanding generational differences holds the key to a more productive, effective and happier workforce. Millennials for example were raised to enjoy life; work is merely a tool to support their lifestyle. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, work to live. Boomers are the targets of most wellness programs, medication and counseling ads, because we struggle with developing a work-life balance.

Also, age discrimination claims are still an issue. In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a 28% increase in age discrimination claims. The current average cost to defend, not win, a lawsuit is approximately $300,000 and that does not include the soft costs such as weakened morale for the people left behind.

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4 Responses to “Bringing 4 generations to work”

  1. If only life were that simple! I have helped a number of high profile organizations leverage their generational workforce differences into opportunities. Yes, it's important to understand where people are coming from, but at the end of the day it's what we do with this information that matters most. Focus on increasing, trust, respect and communication across all the generations and you will see employee engagement soar!

    Roberta Matuson <a href="http://www.yourhrexperts.com” target=”_blank”>www.yourhrexperts.com
    Author of the forthcoming book, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (January, 2011)

  2. spears2000 says:

    I am a strong believer in this. I straddle the line between Gen X and Gen Y chronologically, but definately have the Gen Y mindset. Then, I look inside my home and see even stronger Gen Y mindsets in my children. The nice thing is that I can take what I learn at home to work and vice versa!

  3. What do I see in GenY? A group of young employees who want the same things from work and behave in very much the way I did when I was their age. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll likely admit the same. Sure they want to be at the top. That’s where the action is. They know they have to work hard to get there, though. But if you’re not giving them the “gold stars” – meaningful feedback on their work and praise when they do it well – how will they know they’re doing the right thing? But their drive does create one big challenge for business today – creating opportunities for them to grow into greater responsibility and contribution quickly, and remaining true to the company values at the same time.

    That’s right – company values are very important to GenY. In fact, recent BlessingWhite research showed that, before all else, company values, mission and culture are what’s important to GenY. They want to make a difference, and they want to work in a company that they think is making a difference, too.

    I link to the research and discuss its implications in more depth here: http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2010/09/geny-so-di

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