A Matter of Generations


“Do you get these Millennials?”

This question, and others like it, are becoming almost cliché in today’s workplaces. You hear them in the elevator, at the chamber After 5s, and basically wherever people who aren’t Millennials gather in significant numbers.

They speak to an emerging issue, or problem, involving today’s businesses. People talk about Millennnials as if they were some kind of 2016 version of the Rubik’s Cube, something to be figured out, only most of us can’t, or don’t want to try.

We just want to ask questions like ‘do you get these Millennials?’

This issue of BusinessWest is a case in point. You will read that word several dozen times, probably, and usually in the context of generalities — about how they like wide-open, collaborative workspaces and hate those cubicles, and are, for the most part, getting a better start on saving for retirement than the generations that preceded them, probably because they have no choice but to do so .

But Lora Wondolowski, executive director of Leadership Pioneer Valley, which counts a number of Millennials among its ranks and will be dominated by them in the years to come (page 6), gets it right when she says “it’s not just about Millennials.”

Yes, they’re a little different, and, like the generations that came before them, they have their distinct personality traits, she says, but the reality is that they are just one of four generations toiling in the workplace (soon there will be five), and far from the biggest — yet.

The real issue facing businesses large and small today isn’t trying to figure out Millennials, but trying to determine how these various generations can figure out each other and work as a team.

It’s a not a small challenge, especially with regard to perhaps the most important consideration in the workplace today — technology. Without generalizing again (OK, guess we have to), Millennnials embrace technology at every level, and Baby Boomers, the oldest of which can still remember the day their father brought home the family’s first TV, are still somewhat tenuous on the subject. And those Gen-Xers, well, they’re somewhere in the middle, probably a lot closer to the Millennials than the Boomers.

It goes beyond technology, obviously, and to such matters as work/life balance — different generations have different perspectives on the matter — and those soft skills, right down to knowing how to actually put that phone away for five minutes, or five seconds (sounds like a Boomer talking there).

Understanding the importance of this generational challenge, if you will, and the fact that the Baby Boomers are retiring in record numbers, BusinessWest will make these issues key focal points of its upcoming Western Mass. Business Expo on Nov. 3 (www.wmbexpo.com).

Programming, still being finalized, will address such matters as the skills gap facing all employers and efforts to close it; bringing the generations together effectively in the same workplace; and initiatives, such as LPV, to identify and mentor the next generation of leaders. And, yes, there just might be a seminar titled “Motivating Millennials,” or something to that effect.

Beyond the Expo, though, generations in the workplace comprise an ongoing issue for business owners and managers, and, really, anyone who works today. And the question shouldn’t be ‘do you get these Millennials?’

Rather, it’s ‘how do we get all the generations to move a business in the desired direction?’

And far more important than the question are the answers.

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