Building a Workplace That Recognizes Generational Diversity

By Southard, Glenn; Lewis, Jim | Public Management, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Building a Workplace That Recognizes Generational Diversity


Southard, Glenn, Lewis, Jim, Public Management


Up until a few years ago, generational issues were not being widely discussed by public sector managers. Now, not a month goes by without at least one article in the public sector periodicals on how to manage age diversity in the workplace or addressing the need to recruit the next generation of public servants. Unfortunately, few of these articles actually offer proven suggestions on how to devise an appropriate mix of generations.

Long before it was popular or even identified as a generational issue, the city of Claremont, California, had a series of programs addressing the needs and desires--personal and professional--of its employees. For more than a decade, we've made a deliberate effort to provide our employees with flexibility, professional development, access to technology, mentoring opportunities, a balance between their personal and professional lives, and chances to tackle significant projects early in their careers because we believed this would make for more satisfied, and therefore more productive, employees.

Since then, it's been determined that each of these offerings resonates differently with each generation. While there are some mutually shared values among generations, that which motivates and appeals to workers from the younger Generations X and Y is somewhat different from what appeals to baby boomers.

As a result, the package of programs we originally developed to help Claremont employees reach their full potential has also become the reason for our success in recruiting the next generation, as well as retaining our experienced baby boomers. Little did we know that the programs regarded as innovative a decade ago would now be expected by the next generation of workers, and that these programs would also be a business necessity as we prepare the younger generation to "step up" earlier in their career than others have had to in the past.

THE PROBLEM

Why has it become so critical that we increase our efforts related to generational issues? Because we need to prepare younger workers for higher-level jobs sooner in their careers than ever before. And why is this? Basically, there are two primary factors. First is the statistical reality that there simply aren't enough people in the age groups known as Generation X and Generation Y (those born between 1964 and 1985) to replace the baby boomers (1946 to 1963), many of whom are quickly approaching retirement age.

Aggravating this situation are the enhanced retirement packages and options being offered by various organizations, including the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS). Because the labor pool is shrinking on the front end, we cannot afford to have all our experienced workers siphoned away at the same time.

We're sure the generational shift being experienced in Claremont is similar to what's happening at other organizations. Jointly, baby boomers and the preceding "silent generation" make up 56 percent of Claremont's workforce. Many of these individuals are already of retirement age, while others plan to retire in the relatively near future. Over the next 10 years, an average of seven employees from our full-time workforce of 176 workers will reach retirement age each year.

We don't believe it's possible to recruit enough new young employees to fill the gap completely. Successful strategies for maintaining mature workers are necessary to make up the difference. Only by developing programs and benefits that appeal to each generation will it be possible to attract younger workers and retain longer-term employees.

CLAREMONT'S APPROACH

The programs we've developed in Claremont over the years are the results of some basic research among employees: we asked what was important to them. More recently, we brought some of the leading thinkers of the "generational diversity" field into our organization to conduct workshops and focus groups, which have validated most of our initial findings. …

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