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HR Policies and Practices

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Resources
Wordcount: 5495 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Motivating and Retaining a Multigenerational Workforce Through HR Policies and Practices


In today’s workforce management must learn to engage their employees who are of different generations and backgrounds. With roughly half of the workforce primarily Baby Boomers who are expected to retire within the next decade, management must learn to cope with loosing primary employees and training Generation Y and X employees on how to successfully complete Baby Boomers jobs. In the meantime, management must also learn how to keep each generation motivated and feel appreciated in order to produce the company’s mission statement successfully. HR professionals will need to ensure management is aware of what the future holds by strategically planning and aligning employees to reach future goals.

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There are three generations that make up today’s workforce: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. In order for management to successfully manage their organization, they must understand what drives and motivates each generation, what specific behaviors each generation posses, and what values they each perceive as important for their work environment. Since each generation is different, experts suggest that managers adjust their style of leadership in order to avoid problems (Crampton, 2006). The focus of the recommendations tends to be on Generations X and Y. Less attention is given to Baby Boomers and Veterans, because after all, they are about to retire (Crampton, 2006). As management begins to focus on what makes these generations different from one another, they will be able to maximize the organization’s profits and prolong competitiveness in the future economy.

To better understand each generation, we must gain knowledge about each one individually. Piktialis (2006) briefly describes each generation:

“-Baby boomers, ages 41-59, make up almost half the U.S. workforce. They grew up during an era of economic prosperity and experienced the tumult of the ’60s at an impressionable age. Baby boomers tend to be optimistic, idealistic and good team players. They are driven, love challenge and want to be stars and build stellar careers. Because they have had to compete with each other at every step of their careers, they can be highly competitive.

-Generation X, ages 28-40, makes up just 29 percent of the workforce. This generation witnessed parents’ experiences with corporate downsizing and restructuring in the ’70s and ’80s. Raised in an era of two-earner households and rising divorce rates, many of them got a child’s-eye view of work-centric parenting. They value flexibility, work-life balance and autonomy on the job, and appreciate a fun, informal work environment. They are constantly assessing how their careers are progressing and place a premium on learning opportunities. They are technologically savvy, eager to learn new skills and comfortable with change at work. They appreciate frequent and honest feedback from their managers and mentors.

-Generation Y, ages 27 and younger, makes up just 15 percent of the U.S. workforce. Over the next two decades that percentage will grow to approach that of the baby boom in its prime. Generation Y tends to be well organized, confident, and resilient and achievement oriented. They are excellent team players, like collaboration and use sophisticated technology with ease. They are comfortable with and respectful of authority and relate well to older people. More than any generation that has come before, they are comfortable with diversity. They want to work in an environment where differences are respected and valued, where people are judged by their contributions and where talent matters.” (Piktials, 2006)

As future managers, we need to analyze each generation separately and devise recommendations on how to fully engage employees to the commitment of the company. Here we will analyze Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y in more depth and learn what makes each one unique as well as how to properly communicate and achieve success.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and are predominantly in their 40’s and 50’s. They are well-established in their careers by now and hold positions of power and authority. This generation constitutes a large majority of corporate executives and other managerial positions of power. Their typical characteristics include optimism, politically conservative, and they are active, competitive, and focus on personal achievement and accomplishment. They work hard – maybe too hard, and are often stressed out. They like to set and reach goals, continuously seek self-improvement, care for children and aging parents, and complain about things at work but accept them as part of the job. They are an idealist generation that has predominately experienced a world of peace (Fransden, February, 2009). With single-parent households, growing children, aging parents, demanding jobs, and approaching retirement, baby boomers can’t find enough time to go around. Collectively they pushed the work week from a long-time standard of 40 hours up to 60, 70, or more hours per week. They often experience conflict with younger generations who do not share their values. Their primary work focus makes them the generation most susceptible to burnout and stress-related illness (Fransden, February, 2009). Baby boomers are characteristically loyal, work-centric, independent, goal-oriented and competitive. They believe that Gen-Xers and Ys lack work ethic and commitment to the workplace, and should conform to a culture of overwork. Baby boomers equate work and position with self worth; they are clever, resourceful and strive to win. Boomers are well suited to organizations with a strong hierarchal structure, and may have a hard time adjusting to workplace flexibility trends (Brazeel, 2009). Understanding the workplace differences between generations is more important now than ever. As companies look to hire over the next several years, they will interview and evaluate candidates spanning three age generations. Interviewers will meet with a multitude of candidates, and will come face to face with generational differences. Taking into account the foundational characteristics of each generation will add to a more robust assessment and selection of talent that meets organizational values and goals (Brazeel, 2009). In 2005, one in four workers was over age 50. By 2012, it will be nearly one in three, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, between 2002 and 2012, the fastest-growing group in the nation’s workforce will be the one made up of people between ages 55 and 64 (Cadrain, 2007). Labor statistics indicate that nearly 80 million Baby Boomers will exit the workplace in the next decade. These employees are retiring at the rate of 8,000 per day or more than 300 per hour. This is an unprecedented loss of skilled labor (Kane, February 2, 2010). As the shortage of workers escalates exponentially, future-focused leaders need to be strategic about how to keep their boomer talent engaged. The key, according to career counselors Beverly Kaye and Joyce Cohen, is to focus on the aspirations that middle-aged people in the professional workforce have developed overtime. Most senior boomers want to remain productive and to “leave their mark” on their company and their profession. Good managers will find ways to engage boomers’ interests and in so doing reduce attrition among their ranks (Anonymous, January 2010). Kaye and Cohen suggest that there are five strategies to engage baby boomers: Contribution: Encourage boomers to tap their unused talents. Help them explore their skills and interests and determine which ones spark creativity. How to begin? Ask each senior employee pertinent questions to discover their interests and talents. Ask questions like, “What are the favorite parts of your job?” and “What would you like to do more of?” or “Less of?” and “What would you like to learn in the next two years? How can I help you reach these goals?” (Anonymous, January 2010). Competence: Encourage boomers to raise their competence levels and quotients. In this era of self-management, employees must continually upgrade their skills and hone their behaviors. Besides content expertise, employees should develop their technical skills, be more aware of other generations, balance work and life, expand their language ability and cultural know-how, integrate new information, deal with change, and transfer knowledge. All of these are essential survival skills and abilities in the new workplace. Good management will help senior employees find a niche in the expanding array of new competencies (Anonymous, January 2010). Competition: Help boomers look internally and externally at what’s happening in their professions. Managers need to coach direct reports to ensure they are aware of the impact of globalization, competition, deregulation, new technologies, and emerging skills that change the nature of their work. Employees should know how their current organization could be threatened in the not-too-distant future. At staff meetings or informal gatherings ask all employees, but especially boomers, questions like, “What areas are growing within the firm? What are trends that could impact how we do our work here? What skills would it be smart to increase over the next three to five years? To get ahead of the curve in the profession, what could you and the firm be doing right now (Anonymous, January 2010)? Choices: Help boomers identify their desired type of work, level of commitment, and plan of action. Options like cross-training, rotational assignments, travel opportunities, short-term sabbaticals, temporary assignments, and transition management need to be carefully considered and implemented as needs arise. To begin, initiate a dialogue about their interest in each of these learning vehicles (Anonymous, January 2010). Changes and concerns: Encourage their ability to transfer knowledge and take ownership for making it happen. As baby boomers retire, the issue of knowledge transfer is essential and is everyone’s responsibility. Are experienced boomers working every day with younger people to help them understand problems and solutions? “Legacy-leaving” is a viable, cost-effective way to solve problems internally, escalate creativity and build the next leadership tier (Anonymous, January 2010).

These five areas are fertile ground to launch and expand conversations. It doesn’t matter who or what launches the discussion; what matters is that these conversations take place. Boomers have carried the ball for years. The shift to a new backup role will not be easy for many of them. But many others, with the capable guidance of firm managers, will realize that – easy or not – new responsibilities will be better than walking away (Anonymous, January 2010). There are skills shortages already among health professionals, teachers and public administrators. The average age of a registered nurse is now 47. There are upcoming shortages among scientists, engineers and manufacturing employees. Employers are beginning to take more notice and more action about the impending drain on talent and loss of knowledge, according to findings of a Society for Human Resource Management Weekly Online Survey of 483 HR professionals in March/April 2007, titled Future of the U.S. Labor Pool (Cadrain, 2007). Some examples of best practices for recruiting and retaining workers ages 50 and over are the Atlanta-based Home Depot and the CVS drugstore chain. Both have created a 50-plus employee brand: CVS promotes ‘Talent is Ageless,’ and Home Depot promotes ‘Passion Never Retires.’ “Both companies feature pictures of older workers on their web sites and have made their hiring and screening practices age-neutral (Cadrain, 2007). Some employers, such as Stanley Consultants of Muscatine, Iowa, have formal phased retirement programs that allow employees to move into retirement gradually by reducing their work schedules and permitting them to continue to receive a portion of their salaries as well as benefits such as health care and pension funds. Carondelet Health Network of Tucson, Ariz., has a seasonal worker program where older employees work fewer than three-, six- or nine-month contracts. Borders, of Ann Arbor, Mich., and CVS have “snowbird” programs aimed at retirees who split their time between homes in different climates. Home Depot offers benefits and tuition reimbursement for anyone who works more than 10 hours a week. The company provides annual wellness visits to identify and prevent chronic health conditions. Finally Baptist Health of South Florida (BHSF) has raised the level of its hospital beds to ease back strain on employees caring for patients (Cadrain, 2007). Generation X Generation X is the most interesting of today, being in between the Baby Boomer and Gen Y generations. This generation consists of those born between born between 1961 and 1976. They are mostly known as the “latch key’ kids, because they came up during a time when their mothers had to work and they had to stay home alone (Glass, 2007).

Very different life events shaped members of Generation X – the term coined by British authors Charles Hamblett and Jane Daverson in their 1964 book Generation X. Canadian author Douglas Coupland popularized this terminology – making it part of the lexicon – in his book of the same name (Glass, 2007). A growing body of literature suggests that this current group of young potential managers (also referred to as Gen X, Xers, and the Baby Busters) is a generation that appears to be significantly different from its predecessor (Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, 2007).

Born at a time when the divorce rate was twice the rate of Baby Boomers when they were children; there are far less members in Generation X than that of Baby Boomers. This is because there was easier access to birth control and also because people decided to have smaller families. There was no decision or way of controlling this during the Baby Boomer times (Glass, 2007).

During the time of Gen X production, the US Social Security system began to come under scrutiny as potentially not being able to pay Gen Xers in their retirement years; an issue that still exists with Gen X and Gen Y today. This was also a time when it was popular for both parents to be working; something not at all common during baby boomer time. The term latch key kids stems from this, being kids who came home to an empty house, with a key literally on a chain (Glass, 2007).

Glass suggests that it’s also important to recognize that these parents experienced one of the first rounds of mass corporate layoffs in the 1980s, which also shaped their children’s own work-related viewpoint (2007). This was a time when many factories were coming to an end and many people were being laid off. Mothers that were used to staying home and being housewives now had to go out and work to support their family. This is the cause for Gen Xer’s have little trust and faith in the organization they work for, and more so putting their family first.

According to Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, “Since an individual’s work habits first develop in the early teens, the economic and political climate prevailing at the time of formation can strongly influence an individual’s work values. Although a worker’s values do change as the individual matures, the generational experiences tend to influence work values more than age or maturation” (2007). The way the members of this group were raised, the things they saw and went through, are all contributing factors of them being the most criticized generation.

It’s critical for management to understand the different traits and styles of the generations. Generation X is characterized by many traits, but the most important being work/life balance, which is something they don’t feel Baby Boomers have. Compared to baby boomers, they are often seen as skeptical, less loyal, and extremely independent (Glass, 2007).

According to the SHRM study, there are three main areas where the generations differ: work ethic, managing change, and perception of organizational hierarchy. Xers’ tend to feel that if the work is done, it does not matter how it was done or where; they are much more concerned about the outcome than the process. They have a strong since of working on their own and become extremely irritated when micromanaged (Glass, 2007).

Because they have been raised in the milieu of such things as computer-training, latch key social conditions, the shopping mall, MTV, video games and a myriad of other contributing environmental factors, current literature suggests that the Xers have demands, expectations, values and ways of working that are quite different from those who make up the current strata of management, particularly the Baby Boomers (Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, 2007). With this being said, boomers and Xers are constantly at odds; and it’s management’s job to break that barrier, by offering different forms of resources and ways of communicating.

Members of Generation X feel that if they did not struggle for balance in their lives, all they would do is work; since due to the prevalence of PDAs and wireless technologies, they can and are expected to work everywhere. They are results oriented, and do not focus or care about the method used to achieve the results. Many Xers see baby boomers as resistant to new technologies and change. Also, when it comes to communication, they will use whatever form is most efficient, which is similar to the preference of baby boomers (Glass, 2007). Xers strive for balance in their lives, particularly between work and family, since they would be consumed by work given the technology to work anytime from anywhere (Beautell & Wittig-Berman, 2008)).

Another important trait for managers to understand about Gen Xers, is the fact that they truly enjoy feedback. Regardless of if it’s positive or negative feedback, they want to know how they are doing; which is contrary to baby boomers, who require little feedback. This can sometimes be a problem when an Xer is managing a Baby Boomer, because the Baby Boomer can become insulted due to specific instructions. This can also be a problem, because the younger managers sometimes feel intimidated by the boomer, making it difficult for them to give accurate feedback (Glass, 2007).

So, how can management overcome this important trait within Generation X? Glass suggests simply asking the employer or employee what his or her expectation is regarding feedback and instructions, and then learning to adapt one’s own approach to the answer (2007). A great manager will understand that some require more and less attention than others, just as well as some require different styles of feedback than others.

There are several ways management can leverage everyone and win; and when doing so, there are four basic areas to focus on for overcoming generational conflict: changing human resource policies/corporate philosophies, ensuring an environment of effective communication, incorporating collaborative decision making, and developing internal training programs that focus on the differences (Glass, 2007).

Glass states that, “Every generation wants to earn money, but that is not the only deciding factor in choosing and staying with a job. To better explain this, Xers are yet again compared to baby boomers. Boomers don’t care to hear or learn about stock options, because they don’t have time to exercise this type of benefit. On the other hand, Xers are greatly interested in this subject and trust when their companies actually teach about and offer this type of benefit (Glass, 2007).

In terms of an example of how Gen Xers and Baby Boomers get along, one can bring up mentoring. Baby boomers tend to enjoy teaching or mentoring their younger generation. At the same time, Gen Xers seek the opportunity to learn and have extremely high standards for self-improvement (Glass, 2007).

As mentioned earlier, the most important trait of Generation X is work/life balance. This is critical for management to understand, because a Gen Xer will pick a lower paying job if it offers less stringent work hours and far better benefits, in turn allowing for a greater work/life balance. Gen Xers will likely focus more on firms offering maternity leave and daycare benefits, which again, allow flexibility (Glass, 2007). They tend to focus more on the benefits, culture and flexibility of an organization when making a job decision.

If a promotion is available, Xers will be more concerned about how everything else is affected before making the decision. They have begun to construct the strong families that they missed in childhood. Many organizations have not achieved the flexibility and work-family support that is consistent with their way of thinking (Beutell & Wittig-Berman, 2008). Although it’s important to find a way to motivate and retain the other generations, this is a critical area to understand when trying to reach that goal with Generation X.

The needs of most employees will change throughout their working lives; they may take on caring responsibilities, want to live in another country, or decide to embark on a completely different career. If one organization cannot meet these needs, they will not hesitate to look elsewhere for one that can (Deegan, 2009). Few companies adjust to these flexibility needs, but as Gen X becomes the new managers of companies in the future, this is likely an area that will change.

Generation X brings a lot to the table, including a fresh perspective, effortless techno-literacy and an easy adaptability to change. As they take their places in the workforce, their ability to work effectively in teams will contribute directly to the success of their organizations. This is why it’s so critical for management to understand the different traits of the generations (Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, 2007).

Sirias, Karp & Brotherton suggests that there are three variables that are important to gen Xers, which are:

* Self-reliance – Xer’s feel that individuals have to have the self-confidence to be able to perform their individual tasks. They strive to give 110 percent and if they do less than this, they are seen as a free rider or a burden to the team.

* Competiveness – Xer’s have a high level of competiveness, which should not be seen as an obstacle, but more so an opportunity.

* The willingness to sacrifice yourself for the team – To gen Xers, this represents a reflection as to the team should operate and that self-sacrifice is needed for team success.

If management focuses on motivation in these areas when dealing with Generation X, success is prevalent. It’s important to understand what’s needed to retain the generation and it’s things like this that assist in that area (Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, 2007).

Gen Xer’s urge for individuality and have a higher potential for task effectiveness. As the workforce becomes more heavily populated by generation x, what needs to be considered are approaches in which organizations can modify team values and structures to meet the changing needs of the individual team members.

Beautell & Wittig-Berman suggests that Gen Xers value work-life balance, growth opportunities, and positive work relationships. They want challenging work that can be accomplished in a single day working flexible hours. They value flexibility and expect their employer to accommodate their work-family-life issues (Beautell & Wittig-Berman, 2008).

Work-family-life or what one can consider to be flexibility is by far the most important aspect of any company to Gen Xers. Although this may seem odd or overwhelming, companies that learn to adapt to this need can reap the benefits of this generation. The benefits that can stem from using flexibility as a motivating factor as follows:

* Increased retention – Employees are more likely to stay with a company that adapts to their needs and seems to care about their overall well being and not just the company.

* Higher engagement and productivity – Happy workers produce great goods or service.

* Enhanced recruiting and competitive position – When employers enjoy where they work, they have a habit of bragging to others about the company, which can lead to those individuals seeking the company when applying for new employment.

* Reputation as an “employer of choice” – Again, happy employees brag about the company, which leads to the word spreading of the company being one to work for.

* Improved scheduling and coverage across time zones and continents – This again stems from the employer feeling happy and content at work, which makes it simple for employees to work overtime when needed. This also makes it easy for everyone to learn to work together.

* Reduced real estate costs – Sometimes being flexible means allowing employees to work from home, which in turn saves the company space that would have normally been used.

Employers that get the business case for flexible work arrangements will reap the rewards through increased employee engagement and loyalty, which in turn will drive their business to even higher levels of performance and productivity (Beautell & Wittig-Berman, 2008).

Managers should try to make work meaningful and fun for Gen Xers and understand their skepticism for what it is: a reflection of their honest observations about the relationship between employer and employee (Gibson, Greenwood and Murphy, 2009). Meeting employees’ needs does not mean compromising on performance; it’s about enabling employees to their full potential (Deegan, 2009). In sum, the relationship between the employer and employee is what’s being judged. They don’t just care about working, but more so about how work adapts to their personal life. Companies that pay close attention to the main motivating factor of Gen X will quickly run into understanding that flexibility is the key with this generation.

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Generation Y

Although demographers often differ on the exact parameters of each generation, there is a general consensus that Generation X ends with the birth year 1977. Born in the mid-1980’s and later, Generation Y legal professionals are in their 20s and are just entering the workforce. With numbers estimated as high as 70 million, Generation Y (also known as the Millennials) is the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce (Rothberg, 2006, para. 1).

According to the author of “Generation Y”, these folks “grew up with technology and rely on it to perform their jobs better” (Kane, 2008, para. 2). This generation prefers to communicate through e-mail and text messaging rather than face-to-face contact and prefers webinars and online technology to traditional lecture-based presentations. They always have cell phones and all sorts of other gadgets on hand (Kane, 2008).

Some suggest that Generation Y people live on the fast track, and that they are “willing to trade high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance” (Kane, 2008, para. 3). “While older generations may view this attitude as narcissistic or lacking commitment, discipline and drive, Generation Y legal professionals have a different vision of workplace expectations and prioritize family over work” (Kane, 2008, para. 3).

Generation Y people are also achievement oriented. Just as mentioned on the article, the author describes this generation as one that has been:

“Nurtured and pampered by parents who did not want to make the mistakes of the previous generation, Generation Y is confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers, seek out new challenges and are not afraid to question authority. Generation Y wants meaningful work and a solid learning curve” (NA, 2006, para. 4).

The authors of Leadership and the Future: Gen Y Workers and Two-Factor Theory describe Generation Y as being more idealistic than Generation Xers when it comes to the workplace but compared to Baby Boomer workers, they are described as being more realistic (Baldonado & Spangenburg, 2009).

They value teamwork and seek the input and affirmation of others. Part of a no-person-left-behind generation, Generation Y is loyal, committed and want to be included and involved.

“Generation Y craves attention in the forms of feedback and guidance. They appreciate being kept in the loop and seek frequent praise and reassurance. Generation Y may benefit greatly from mentors who can help guide and develop their young careers” (Johnson & Hanson, 2006, p.5).

Rothberg states that those workers who are part of Generation Y workers “have a reputation for experiencing boredom and frustration with slow-paced environments, traditional hierarchies and even slightly outdated technologies” (2006). Dr. Larry Rosen, author of the Mental Health Technology Bible” and “TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work, @Home, @Play, argues that:

“The biggest difference between members of Generation Y and those who came before them is that they have spent their entire lives surrounded by technology.”Technology just is for them. It’s part of every aspect of their lives, unlike a lot of the people they will be coming to work for” (Rothberg, 2006, p. 2).

He suggests that the difference is more than a generational experience gap; it’s a difference in personality. Some state that the reason this generation is so different is because they grew up during one of the best economic times in the last 100 years, allowing them to grow with more luxuries than other generations (Rothberg, 2006).

Baldonado & Spangenburg point out that a survey was conducted in order to guide a descriptive study of Generation Y. It was designed to “explore motivational needs of Gen Y and their impact in the workplace” (2009, p. 2). Upon analyzing responses, several recommendations were provided in order for managers to be able to motivate this new workforce generation. The following is a list of suggestion provided by the authors in the article Leadership and the Future: Gen Y Workers and Two-Factor Theory:

The authors suggest that companies should:

1. Support work/life balance in the workplace – According to the article, Gen Y believes that their personal life is just as important as their professional life. It is recommended for companies to consider options such as fitness facilities/discount membership, education/training opportunities, flexible working arrangements, family leave policies, and childcare/eldercare programs.

2. Provide Gen Y workers with opportunities to grow in their job -Managers can provide Gen Y with challenging work as their skill and knowledge progresses.

3. Use achievement as a way to reward/motivate Gen Y workers – Generation Yers are very interested in being recognized in their work environment. Suggestions include: employee of the month award and gift certificates among others.

4. Managers must clearly articulate safety and fun at work to employees. Having a fun and comfortable working environment can greatly motivate Gen Y cohort, according to the author.

5. Generation Y workers enjoy challenges. That is why the authors suggest increasing responsibility as a reward. This is considered a good motivator for this ever changing generation.

6. Finally, it is suggested for managers to create a fair salary/compensation package. (Baldonado & Spangenburg, 2009, para. 14).

According to the authors of the article Don’t be so Touchy! The Secret to Giving Back to Millenials, constant feedback is an almost critical ingredient in performance and job satisfaction (Ferry & Sujanski, 2009). The children of Baby Boomers, the Millennial Generation, have been raised in an atmosphere of high expectations, plenty of feedback and heaps of praise. They have received feedback on class assignments at each stage


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