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Buahene: Evaluate Your Culture to Engage All Generations

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR  10/1/2007

PHILADELPHIA—If you want to engage employees nowadays, you need to be an engaged organization, said Adwoa K. Buahene, managing partner of n-gen People Performance Inc. in Toronto, during a concurrent session at the SHRM Diversity Conference & Exposition held here Oct. 18-20, 2007. Evaluating the organizational culture with a few key questions can help organizations better engage workers from all four generations, she said.

Before reviewing the characteristics of the four generations found in the workplace, Buahene added a caution for employers: Please dont label, but consider this as one lens through which you can view groups, she said.

Generational identities influence how employees relate to the organization, authority and colleagues, she said, as well as how they work, manage and learn. But even the terminology used by Buahene, such as loyalty and authority, is subject to interpretation, she said.

Traditionalists, those aged 62 to 85 years, for example, tend to be loyal to the organization as a whole, while baby boomers are loyal to their team or functional group. Generation X workers, in contrast, tend to be loyal to their manager, and the newest entrants to the workforce are loyal to their colleagues.

Similarly, Buahene said, authority is defined by titles and tenure for baby boomers and Traditionalists, while Generation X and Generation Y tend to focus more on competence and skills.

The two younger generational groups tend to have more flexible and fluid work styles, while the two older groups tend to be more linear and structured, she said. Individuals might be more or less open to change depending on their generational group, she added.

Evaluating Organizational Engagement

To determine if an organization is able to engage all four generations effectively, Buahene suggested participants ask themselves two questions:

  • Who in your organization determines the organizational culture?
  • Which generational identity tends to dominate the organization culture?

Organizations are often dominated by the traditionalist perspective, she said, which can make it challenging for the other generations, particularly the youngest two, to feel engaged. This is a problem, according to Buahene: Many of us have problems recruiting and retaining peopleand its only going to get worse.

She said employees have a new mind-set in which they view themselves as investors of their human capital. They seek a mutually beneficial relationship with an employer in which the organization delivers on its promises in a transparent, responsive and partnering framework, Buahene said. But these expectations are grounded in business logic, she said: Were not suggesting that its just about being nice; its about performance.

Buahene suggested that attendees explore the extent to which their organizations are transparent, responsive and partnering, qualities that she says define an engaged organization. Transparency involves open information sharing across all levels, as well as obvious organizational motives. Responsive organizations are those that listen actively to employees, take timely action when possible and manage expectations carefully. And employees are viewed as investors in organizations with a partnering focus. Win-win solutions are sought in such organizations and managers and leaders are considered part of the team, rather than outsiders.

The goal of an engaged organization is to get em, keep em and grow em, according to Buahene. At the get em stage, for example, employers need to consider how appealing their recruitment message is to each generation. They also need to be sure they dont promise things they cannot deliver quickly.

Buahene suggested that participants evaluate how each strategy, program and policy they have addresses the values, expectations and behaviors of all four generations. At the same time, organizations should continue to evaluate their engagement and the behavior of their managers to support the organizations engagement.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is online writer/editor for SHRM.

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