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Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials—oh my!

Training

March 2014

Talent development remains critical to small business performance. Deep-rooted organizational initiatives investing in a company’s best asset—its people—can boost morale, foster collaboration, address skills gaps and heighten productivity.

Yet, today’s workforce presents a compelling quandary: three generations of workers each possessing its own unique characteristics, attitudes and social values that quickly render one-size-fits-all development programs ineffective. The solution?

By recognizing each generation’s strengths and areas for improvement, a small business can tailor its employee development programs to each generational group in a way that improves engagement, drives performance and promotes a workplace culture of continuous improvement.

Baby Boomers
The sons and daughters of The Greatest Generation, many Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) learned a strong sense of loyalty and work ethic from their parents, two invaluable skills in today’s workplace.

With decades of professional experience in their back pockets, many Boomers hold a holistic view of business. They’ve observed industry shifts and trends, the evolution of company objectives and client needs, and, as the result of some tough lessons learned, better understand the big picture.

The development opportunity: As Boomers did not grow up in a tech-charged world, they’ve long been playing catch up with their younger peers. Leveraging the tech-savvy ways of Gen X or Millennial co-workers, businesses can help Boomers see the value of using technology to create efficiencies, spark new relationships and power performance in today’s marketplace. As an added benefit, the intergenerational interaction can also help each generation understand the unique talents of the other and breed a more cohesive, collaborative workplace.

Gen X
Despite being the largest group in today’s workforce, Generation X (born 1960-1980) is an oft-overlooked group, overshadowed by the Boomers’ power and swelling excitement for Millennials.

For most Gen Xers, idealism has given way to pragmatism. Many are mid-career pros settled into an industry or career track. For some, a continued ascent up the corporate ladder remains a priority; for others, life’s other burgeoning requirements—family, work-life balance and looming retirement in a post-Recession world—trump blind ambition.

The development opportunity: While many Gen Xers will dismiss the pursuit of an advanced degree at this stage of their lives, they may still want to sharpen their skill set and better position themselves for advancement opportunities. Mindful of this dynamic, businesses might direct Gen Xers to relevant certifications, a less costly and time-consuming venture compared to an advanced degree, and also consider integrating them into new business challenges that will promote energized commitment and acknowledge their organizational value.

Millennials
No group today earns as much ink as Millennials (born after 1980), otherwise known as Generation Y.

Among Millennials’ greatest assets stands their life-long familiarity with technology. They have already graduated from Myspace and blogs to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, and are ready to embrace the next tech wave—a welcome mindset for businesses trying to keep pace in a more connected world.

Generally a goal-setting group, many Millennials remain eager to learn new skills and tackle fresh challenges that will bolster their professional portfolio. And many desire meaningful work. This makes Gen Y ideal for development programs.

The development opportunity: With an interactive development program rooted in mentorship and regular feedback, small businesses can help Millennials see beyond themselves and understand how they fit in the existing company framework. This will not only help Millennials better recognize their individual roles, but also provide important perspective on what they must do to accomplish their desired career objectives.

An ongoing process
Channeling development initiatives throughout the small business team—from newer employees to veterans—breeds a workplace culture of continuous learning that positions a business to maximize its potential on the shoulders of a motivated, earnest workforce. With relevant development initiatives and the support of leadership to invest in the organization’s human capital on an ongoing basis, a small business can confront today’s competitive marketplace with spirit and strength.

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