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Diversity in the Workplace

Cooperation Between the Generations

By Steve Aranoff & Robert FitzPatrick

Last month, we discussed the impact of ethnic diversity in the marketplace, more specifically within local markets, as an important consideration for success. By diversity, we meant multiculturalism, as our target print market now consists of groups with different values and/or needs with respect to the products they buy. Some may purchase on price, others quality. Understanding these needs and goals is the key to serving them.

In this article, we tackle a similar situation involving diversity within the print market. Whether printers, dealerships, or suppliers are in-volved there are two issues about diversity that need to be understood. The first issue is multicultural. It is common in the workplace for employees to come from various ethnic backgrounds.

The second issue involves the generation gap. Members of the baby boomer generation represent the older employees in the print marketplace. They are followed by Generation X and Y.

Generation Y
Organizations are tripping over themselves to hire younger employees. Generation Y is different from those that preceded them in the marketplace. They are successful graduates armed with technical degrees and special printing training.

The jukeboxes, pool tables, and fancy wallpaper that were once displayed in the early ‘90s to attract the brightest of Generation X is no longer a sufficient means to entice the younger crowd. The youthful Y generation is fully versed in the digital media world. These members of the workforce are generally more aware of the luxuries of a successful work/life balance than those before them.

Many companies espouse things of interest to Generation Y, but don’t really walk the walk. This frustrates the younger employees. Their employers and older colleagues don’t get it.

What older company employees are struggling to learn is self-evident to Generation Y. The productivity of digital communication tools is and will always be an integral part of their lives. It is dismaying to them that these tools are not fully incorporated in business organizations.

Many companies still run according to the older expectations of working as many hours as is necessary, writing memos, holding meetings, and other things that Generation Y doesn’t feel the need to participate in. So, while many of the older set try to bring the younger group into the fold, they don’t generally understand Generation Y’s resistance.

The need to be continually stimulated and challenged is foreign to baby boomers. Nor do they notice a new kind of expertise stemming from the younger generation that should be sought out and listened to. What they must learn to do is to treat members of Generation Y as equals regardless of the age difference.

Conversely, when Generation Y is given the chance to participate, they need to learn how to be better communicators, this will generate more recognition and opportunity. Their need for immediate recognition is also a concern. Even managers have a hard time reconciling the impatience of Generation Y, seeing it as arrogance, rather than understanding their eagerness to bring something useful to the table.

The Older Generations
At the other end of the spectrum, older workers also feel that they are treated unfairly. After all, they’ve put in their time and developed their fair share of expertise, both in the print markets and how the company works.

These older, experienced members could be quite useful in mentoring the younger generation if asked to do it. However, they feel put upon by youngsters who are not ready to fully accept responsibility. They also see their ranks diminishing as many companies use younger employees to lower the salary structure. Despite all the talk about the economy needing the older generation to continue working to fill the jobs, all they see is the diminution of rank.

In the middle, Generation X sees itself pushed and pulled by both sides. They are losing their enthusiasm for the chase, as they watch the generation above and the younger generation below block their careers. Jobs given to the younger set leave older peers feeling that Generation Y has not yet earned nor do they deserve these positions.

Relative Values
In the end, though, the differences between the generations are not nearly as big as they are trumpeted to be. Workers of all ages share the same basic core values. They all strive for the work/life balance. They want to feel that their contributions are important.

Recently, many companies are forgetting that employees count and that people have different personalities. If companies truly want to conquer the generation gap, they must understand that their employees are a far greater function of who they are than how old they are.

In reality, as you expand the definition of good employees to include those with different types of views or personalities—stemming from age differences—you not only expand the pool of available talent, but also allow for more creative operations within the organization.

Our personal experience with age diversity includes a fascinating and successful combination of these three generations that all contribute to their company’s success. The older employees are accepted for their printing industry knowledge and the contacts that they have developed. Partners respect them. Without these contacts, the company would have a hard time maintaining its presence.

But, the baby boomers are not viewed by the organization as the only ones to provide leadership. The middle generation is the backbone of the company. Experienced enough to make a valuable contribution, they are the ones that provide most of the organization’s continuity and product knowledge. They can make the organization work towards its goals, because they possess the experience to work at a team level to succeed.

Not to be outdone, the younger generation adds significant skills in the way of technology that helps the organization run faster and more creatively than they were able to do in the past. And, given their technological background, they can easily learn the products. Each generation’s strengths, if properly channeled, make for a stronger company.

Company meetings with everyone present are a physical example of the success of three generations working together. Managing progress on the situation at hand is the hardest task of all because everybody wants their ideas heard. In the end, the breadth of the choices discussed, the opportunity to understand the significance, and the knowledge that you are able to proceed intelligently, makes a multi-generational organization shine.

We appreciate how the diversity of our two-man team contributes to stronger writing that neither of us could do on our own. Both of us come from different sides of the print marketplace. One is a hands-on manager for product oriented companies serving pre- and post press. The other is a facilitator of relationships between the various players in the marketplace. We each respect the others’ different viewpoints and the quality of our interaction.

If companies can achieve the same kind of cooperation between generations, with the added dimensions of ethnic diversity, they will be better poised to succeed as the print market continues its dramatic changes.

Apr2008, Digital Output

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