Generational Changes in the Contemporary Workforce

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As the 21st century progresses, the modern workforce is experiencing a noticeable shift, spurred by the presence of varying age groups in professional settings. A somewhat unique contemporary circumstance, employers now see three, sometimes four, different generational groups working together within organizations. Those in charge are increasingly forced to recognize the distinct differences between each group in their learning and communication styles, particularly in regards to training while meeting the full potential for efficiency. Providing sufficient training by utilizing generational tendencies can often yield superlative results, but properly addressing the diversity among generations can be challenging for employers. As the modern workforce continues to experience generational shifts among professionals, recognizing and acknowledging the key differences among generations will be crucial to effective organizational management, as well as maximizing the value of training for all involved.

At the North American Serials Interest Group’s 22nd Conference, demographic changes in the workforce were used as lenses to define customized training procedures and maximize retention for each generational group. Differences among library employees were examined, and the generational paradigms established by Strauss and Howe in 1992 were used to divide employees into training groups (Deeken & Webb, 2007). The generations defined were the Silents generation, born between 1925 and 1942; the Baby Boomers, classified as those born between 1943 and 1960; Generation X, individuals born between 1961 and 1980; and lastly, the Millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000 (Deeken & Webb, 2007). Generational characteristics of these four groups were then outlined and interpreted for the purposes of proficient training, ensuring that the variations among generations were utilized in the training process (Deeken & Webb, 2007). At the conclusion of the conference, it was proposed that the training of library employees, especially in emerging information technologies, should be conducted with each generation’s learning preferences in mind to yield maximum productive results (Deeken & Webb, 2007).

While Deeken and Webb (2007) are advocates for a clear differentiation in training styles among generations, one might argue that it would be more prudent to find ways that generational learning preferences overlap and customize only where necessary. In a study conducted by Gibson, Greenwood, and Murphy (2009), generational profiles were found to be accurate overall, yet the authors advised readers against “overgeneralizing,” instead suggesting an “appreciation for the differences that exist among workers because of their age-related value systems” as a practical application of the study (p. 5). Another study found that generations do differ in their preference for learning ‘soft’ skills, or those involved with communication or interaction, but are widely similar in how they prefer to learn ‘hard’ technical skills required of a position (Tolbize, 2008). In order to truly maximize efficiency, employers should devise specific generational training methods where necessary but also maintain ‘blanket’ training if possible, remaining internally cognizant of generational differences but placing outward emphasis on them only where situationally required.

With increased life expectancy and average retirement age, generational changes in the workforce will likely continue to gain relevance, operating in an increasingly diverse environment both locally and globally. While a generational shift among professionals may seem daunting, diversity in the workplace has long posed a challenge to businesses and employers, manifested in many other ways besides managing ageism. Along with diversity of gender, ethnicity, race, and religion, generational diversity must also be taken into consideration to maintain a superior level of functioning. The generational shift that is occurring in the workforce, rather than be viewed as an obstacle to overcome, should be seen as an advantage, the opportunity to incorporate ever more diverse viewpoints into a global strategy, and illustrate how diversity is embraced by employers to a cross-cultural global audience. Recognition of varying generational values may give businesses the chance to innovate, devising strategies that will resonate on a more universal level, and if utilized correctly, may prove to be an invaluable resource for communication in business.  

References

Deeken, J., & Webb, P. L. (2007). 22nd Conference (2007): Tactics Session: We All are Winners: Training Silents to Millennials to Work as a Team. North American Serials Interest Group 22nd Conference. Retrieved March 12, 2014 from http://nasignews.wordpress.com.

Gibson, J. W., Greenwood, R. A., & Murphy Jr, E. F. (2009). Generational differences in the workplace: Personal values, behaviors, and popular beliefs. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 4(3), 1-8.

Tolbize, A. (2008). Generational differences in the workplace. Research and Training Center on Community Living, University of Minnesota, 1-21.