Tradition vs. Innovation

Some local business owners say their younger workers “spend too much time texting” or “aren’t really looking for a career.” And some younger professionals feel underpaid and uninspired. This situation is by no means universal, but it’s also undeniable.

In the professional world, we expect new employees to follow a tried-and-true routine: Respect authority and follow instructions in order to get ahead. This method worked effectively for many of experienced organizational leaders. But a lot of our younger professionals have new priorities and different expectations. Naturally, some tensions have arisen.

Chris Reddin
Chris Reddin

Who’s correct? They both are. The collision of tradition and innovation occurs in every generation. But here I think we have a good match of strong shared values, with some differences in delivery and timing. Let’s look and listen.

Gen Y are the twentysomethings working today. They are a well-educated, pro-learning group (higher graduation rates than any previous generation) who are at ease with ubiquitous technology. (Yes, they’re on their smart phones a lot.) They’re eager and willing to take on big jobs and make a difference and not particularly interested in “paying their dues” to get there. This attitude isn’t a good fit with a routine, menial job with little chance to make a difference for the company. But who does prefer menial work anyway?

Our Grand Valley business community might be well advised to adapt, to be flexible, to meet new priorities — as difficult as that might sound. Worst-case scenario: We risk losing some of our best and brightest young talent to other communities that are willing to improve to meet their needs.

I asked some of the members of Grand Valley Young Professionals and a few well-regarded twentysomethings, “What does our local business community have to do to make this an attractive place for you to work?”

The answers were both daunting and inspiring. They clearly spelled out that it’s tough to attract and retain young talent when comparable jobs pay significantly more on the Front Range. The Valley is great for recreational opportunities, but it has a tough time competing with urban communities that have more to offer both inside and outside of work (particularly for singles). 

What can a company do to retain young talent?  The Gen Y-ers I know recommend that companies offer flexibility in the day’s schedule. Outdoor activities are one of the main attractions here. If your company lets younger workers get their bike rides in during the day and catch up on their deliverables at night, you’ll be offering something different and attractive.

Communicate. Use technology. Try texting. Let younger workers in on your strategic direction, hopes, and plans for the future of the company.

Help them to make a difference. Candice Walton of Ameriprise Financial comments that she would like to see “something along the lines of what REI and Alpine Bank do with giving employees time to give back to the community as part of their work schedule — I love that.”

 The Baby Boom generation is in their late-forties to sixties (and likely to be your boss or executive leadership). They are the children of the 1960s, similar to their younger staff/co-workers in their idealism. The difference is that this group has been trying to make the world a better place for 40 years now. Their core values are still strong, but their actions are tempered by experience and wisdom.

I asked some Boomer-leader types, “How can younger workers convince you to give them meaningful work — and quickly?”

Is there is a disconnect between young professionals having to “pay their dues” and their desire for important, gratifying work? Jerome Gonzales of JG Management Systems doesn’t see it that way. Jerome challenges his Gen Y staff to “be excellent” and take on bigger projects, but he also warns that with these opportunities come equal amounts of accountability and responsibility. He counsels them to “accept both the opportunity and the hard work that accompanies it.” Paying their dues means taking responsibility and delivering results.

Young professionals are advised to listen. Do not assume. Ask questions. What will it take to make a change? What will improvement cost in terms of dollars, time, and energy? You may be surprised to find that the Boomer generation shares your passion for meaningful work, but you won’t know this unless you listen first.

Ask for a mentor. Maybe one of your company’s leadership team would have coffee with you once a month to help you with your career. (And show them some respect by buying the coffee!) 

Find out if your company will help you get connected in the community. Ask to apply for the Grand Junction Chamber’s Leadership Program. Ask if you can participate in the Grand Valley Young Professionals ( Conversation with a CEO series. This is still a small community, and our business leadership is readily accessible.

It will take some simple steps and a little progress from both sides, but the benefits are clear.