Forum: Communication key to avoiding multi-generation conflicts at work

February 20, 2020

These days, it’s not uncommon to find four generations of employees working alongside each other in Maine companies. But being aware of the potential conflicts that can arise out of miscommunication between them, and averting those conflicts, is time well spent.

That was the consensus among three professionals who offered advice to attendees at the Feb. 19 Business Breakfast Forum at the Portland Public Library. Dennis Boyle, president of Seacoast Dx, a leadership and management consultancy; Genevieve Fullilove, vice president of Permanent Placement Services at Robert Half; and Debby Olken, business development director/HR consultant KMA Human Resources Consulting, shared their insight and suggestions for creating welcome workplaces when baby boomers work with Gen X, millennials and now Gen Z. (Here’s a handy description of each, offered with an understanding that these are broad generalizations.)

With an unemployment rate under 4 percent for four years now, and increasing pressure to keep older workers on the payroll longer, Maine companies need to be smart about hiring and retention strategies. There’s plenty of data to support it. Harvard Business School reports that, on average, employees between ages of 22 and 30 won’t stay longer than 22 months in a mid-level job; and roughly 40 percent of new hires won’t make it past 90 days.

Attendees take their seats at a business breakfast forum to discuss multi-generational communication in the workplace. The event was held Feb. 19 at the Portland Public Library. In the foreground is moderator Carol Coultas of the Press Herald, and Dennis Boyle of Seacoast Dx.

Here are some takeaways from the panelists to make sure your company offers a welcome and fulfilling place to work, no matter an employee’s age.

• Be on the lookout for red flags, said Olken. If you see employees rolling their eyes when another speaks; or using cliché language (such as “fresh ideas” only used in the context of younger people); or developing age-related cliques, you’ve got a problem. Consider addressing those by talking about perceived differences based on age, she said, and look for commonality in the context of the mission of your team. As workers feel valued, differences will disappear.

• All panelists put a priority on laying out clear expectations of new hires right from the get-go. Employees should know immediately what are the qualitative and quantitative expectations of the job, and supervisors should understand what motivates each employee. By having that initial understanding when problems arise, said Boyle, you can encourage reflection by the employee so the manager is in a position of addressing a problem as a coach, not an unhappy boss. And as a leader you must live the company’s mission and values if you expect your employees to do the same.

• Fullilove has seen great success with providing a mentor to every new employee. That provides a new hire with an automatic advocate, someone to show him or her the ropes, to have lunch with and to direct questions toward. It benefits the mentor and the mentee, both of whom have opportunities to learn. She says she has seen mentor programs really pay off with worker retention.

•  If you’re an older worker looking to change jobs, be creative about positioning yourself, said Boyle. Rather than assume salary requirements will keep you out of the running, offer to negotiate with a prospective new employer. No kids at home means you can work weekends if necessary. A spouse with benefits may mean you can forego health care coverage from a new employer. Point to the higher turnover rates of younger hires and emphasize that you’re not going anywhere. Accept a smaller salary in return for a higher commission, or more time off, or other benefits that could make you an appealing candidate.

• Flexibility is now the norm in retaining older workers and attracting younger workers. The consensus among panelists is that companies that are willing to be flexible around hours, benefits, job shares, and opportunities to work remotely stand a better chance of attracting younger workers and keeping veteran employees.

• Consider off-site events that involve community engagement. These encourage employees getting to know one another in a different setting, and provide an opportunity to collaborate. Boyle said one company sponsors quarterly “Days of Giving” when staff are involved in a community project and have found that productivity at work spikes the weeks following the event.

More about the panelists:

Dennis Boyle

Dennis Boyle has spent 25 years in leadership training with businesses as large as Siemens and Kodak, as well as dozens of smaller companies. An adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire, he also holds a certificate in business ethics and etiquette from the Emily Post Business Institute. He is also a member of the Maine Institute for Family-Owned Businesses.

 

 

 

 

Genevieve Fullilove

Genevieve Fullilove has been with Robert Half for more than 12 years and started in the company’s Accountemps division, managing temporary placements in the accounting and finance industry. Since then, she’s held roles as Division Director, Branch Manager and now Vice President of the permanent placement team. During her long career in professional staffing, she has sat on the board for the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and has been a sought after speaker for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). Outside of the office, she has spent much of her time volunteering – particularly with the Portland Adult Education where she’s helped candidates prepare for the job search.

Debby Olken Tim Greenway

For nearly 20 years, Debby Olken worked as HR director for two complex organizations (the Maine Judicial Branch and the Maine State Legislature), and as a KMA consultant, she has worked with a variety of small and medium-sized businesses. As KMA’s Business Development Manager, she meets regularly with prospective clients to understand their HR needs and explore how best KMA can provide immediate assistance and solutions. She earned her SPHR and her SHRM-SCP designations, and served on the Board of the HR Association of Southern Maine.