The Challenge of Attracting & Retaining Talent Across Generations
A few years ago, I was attending Dreamforce, an annual Salesforce user conference, which takes place in San Francisco. (It’s basically a technology nirvana). We had recently started using a new cloud storage app and I had a meeting in the app’s office to talk about our pending agreement. I like to think of myself as open-minded and technologically savvy; I mean, I attend Dreamforce, after all. But during that meeting, which took place in a super-hip conference room with three young professionals, I felt out of place.
They were asking me questions about our company, presenting documents and positing solutions so quickly and in a shared language that I just couldn’t keep up. I literally couldn’t follow the conversation. It was one of those moments where the generational divide was incredibly apparent.
So I had to say, “Excuse me, but do you mind slowing down a bit?”
They looked at each other, thinking probably, “Okay, let’s use our senior citizen voices.”
Eventually, they explained things to me in a way I could follow. We later laughed about the meeting, I joked about my age and my Southern accent, making me extra slow and “needing a translator” type jokes.
The workforce seems to be aging, but younger generations — millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) — are graduating from college and entering the workforce, too. This contributes to a diverse mix of generations at every level in all industries, including, and perhaps especially, more old-fashioned industries like the building service industry, construction, maintenance or even banking.
The workforce seems to be aging, but younger generations — millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) — are graduating from college and entering the workforce, too.
According to Forbes and Pew Research, the number of seniors in the U.S. is going to double by 2050, and fewer than half are expecting to retire by age 65. Today, about 75 percent of Americans work past retirement age. At the same time, millennials will comprise a whopping 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. Gen-Z, those born after 2000, will make up 20 percent of the global workforce by then, right behind millennials. Last year, BSCAI published a helpful graphic guide to the generations and their working styles, which I find myself checking when I need a reminder about how different age groups tend to think and communicate.
Organizations today must be intentional about creating diverse teams, reflecting our communities and cultures. Like other challenges and opportunities we face around teams and diversity, generationally diverse teams performing at high levels only happen through intentionality.
So, how do we get there? Start with two areas:
1. Your recruiting strategy.
Here are some questions to ponder when it comes to attracting generationally diverse talent:
Does our company branding, relative to recruiting, speak to multiple generations?
Most companies today are recruiting three to five generations. And while we may be looking for similar qualities in all generations, such as honesty, integrity and fit, how you articulate and position your brand message is essential to engaging and drawing potential applicants that reflect generational diversity.
Does our sourcing strategy evaluate the message relative to where our target demographics are likely to look for jobs?
For example, baby boomers may use traditional job boards and look more closely at traditional benefits like health care. Jobs posted on such sites should be structured to capture the attention and interest of that audience.
Millennials tend to prefer job boards that focus on a specific field, position or industry. They are also most likely to interact with a company’s social media account. Engaging content is key, as well as job posts tailored to generational similarities and differences. This will help fill your pipeline with talent.
Millennials and Gen Zers will use mobile devices to look at postings, and positions. Is your recruiting site Mobile Optimized with text message job alerts?
2. Your retention strategy relative to a generationally diverse workforce.
Here are a few questions you can ask to help you get started:
How do you communicate across generations?
If you want to attract and retain the best talent, make sure you are communicating on a platform that everyone is comfortable with. Generational differences are often most obvious in the way different age groups communicate. Consider abandoning the approach of “This is the way I communicate” to “How will we communicate best as a team?”
I find it very helpful to ask my team members how they communicate best. Why not poll your entire team to find the best combination of platforms to facilitate collaboration? If you put time into an email and notice that someone on your team doesn’t read long emails carefully, then it’s OK to tell them either in the subject line or in a phone call, “I want you to read this one email very carefully.” If somebody tells you they prefer chatting online during the day to troubleshoot problems efficiently and quickly, it’s up to you to make sure you are signed on and checking that platform, too. It’s about negotiating a win-win for the team rather than assuming a mode of communication and expecting the other person to share that style.
How can you design mentoring relationships that go both ways?
I believe in the power of mentoring and relationships to help organizations retain and manage talent throughout entire careers. Whether you have a formal mentorship program or encourage informal mentorships, this is one of the best ways your team can come together more effectively.
I’d like to also encourage the idea of reverse mentorship. We often focus on keeping up with new technologies, but we don’t focus on getting the people we have on board with new technologies. If your workforce is getting increasingly younger, but you also have baby boomers and Generation Xers working for you, then you have an opportunity to give your younger talent the leadership role in training the team on how newer technologies work. This could even go for social media.
Finally, reflect on your perspective and get started – with yourself.
The challenge with humans is that there will always be differences, but we should never connect character or personality traits with a generation’s differences.
As you carve out a plan for your team to create intentional space for generational differences and a plan for each of your employees, consider your own biases, write them down and then let them go.
Talent management is the number one challenge to achieving sustainable success. It’s a balancing act that starts with intentionally recruiting a team comprised of all ages and perspectives, and continues by valuing those perspectives. The questions listed here are just a few that can help us all examine our talent management strategies.
What questions would you encourage others to ask?
Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.
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