Tinker Barnett foresees problems for businesses unwilling to bridge generational gaps in the workplace.
Aging baby boomers, many of them in management and ownership positions, must not only understand their differences with younger employees, but also adapt business practices to those differences to avoid costly turnover and lost productivity.
While the issue isn’t as pressing in the aftermath of a recession and slow recovery, it will become more urgent when the economy improves and young employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs start looking elsewhere.
“Those challenges will change the way business is done,” said Barnett, a Grand Junction businesswoman who has launched a generational gap coaching firm.
For the first time ever, four distinct generations can be found in the United States workplace, Barnett said.
A generation dubbed Traditionalists age 66 to 83 comprise only about 6 percent of the work force, while baby boomers age 47 to 65 account for the largest share of the work force at 41 percent. The work force also includes members of Generation X age 31 to 46 and Generation Y under 31.
Barnett said the differences are particularly profound between the baby boomers who own and manage businesses and members of Generation Y who are just starting out in their careers.
Baby boomers tend to consider their careers one of the most important aspects of their lives and believe work should be done on the job until it’s completed, she said.
Members of Generation Y, on the other hand, are more likely to try to strike a balance between work, family and friends, she said. Thanks to technological advances in computers and telecommunications, members of Generation Y believe work can be completed anywhere and on their own schedules.
These differences and others foster frustration in the workplace, Barnett said.
Baby boomers believe members of Generation Y don’t want to work hard and disrespect older managers and co-workers. Meanwhile, members of Generation Y believe they’re not getting the career experiences they need and consider leaving.
There are a number of reasons why it’s important for businesses to resolve that frustration, Barnett said.
As baby boomers age and retire, they’ll leave behind open positions for which there aren’t enough members of younger generations to fill, she said. Since many members of Generation X tend to distrust companies and value their own interests, they’re less likely to step into management roles. That leaves Generation Y.
There are advantages to the situation, though, since Generation Y is second only to the baby boom generation in terms of education, Barnett said. In addition, members of Generation Y are more resilient and better suited to a changing workplace.
Businesses can avoid a coming brain drain by creating workplaces that attract and retain members of Generation Y, she said. Such workplaces offer not only more flexible schedules and opportunities for telecommuting, but also clear career paths and meaningful work.
Barnett said she can help businesses through coaching and workshops to understand generational differences, improve workplace relationships and institute changes that attract Generation Y workers.
For starters, business owners and managers can complete a free, 10-question assessment available on Barnett’s Web site at www.GenerationalDivideCoaching.com.
In addition, Barnett said she’s looking for two companies with which to test her coaching and workshop services at no charge. More information also is available by calling Barnett at 589-0020.
Barnett brings to her venture nearly 20 years of experience with the U.S. Postal Service in Grand Junction, including supervisory positions. She also worked with the office of development at Colorado Mesa University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in business administration.
In addition to her work experience, Barnett has worked with the young participants of the Mesa County Partners Western Colorado Conservation Corps.
While businesses face difficulties if they don’t bridge generational gaps in the workplace, Barnett said it’s possible to not only bridge those gaps, but also profit from the differences younger employees offer.