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Generational Differences in the Workplace


On Wednesdays, our business news focuses on the workplace.

Today we'll hear about generational differences and conflict in the office. Steve Inskeep spoke with two corporate culture experts about their intergenerational work experiences and their advice for others.

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

A leading edge of the baby boom generation turns 60 this month, and as they streak toward retirement, the boomers will be replaced by a different generation with a different set of values. We're going to talk about that with Fred Miller and Corey Jamison, who know this from experience. Mr. Miller is CEO of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, which is a company that specializes in corporate culture, and he's a baby boomer. Corey Jamison is the president and a member of the younger group that the media have unfortunately labeled Generation X.

Welcome to you both.

Mr. FRED MILLER (CEO, Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group): Thanks very much, Steve.

Ms. COREY JAMISON (President, Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group): Good morning. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Broad strokes first, if I can, and let's start with you, Mr. Miller. How are the younger people coming up in the work force, heading toward management positions, different from you?

Mr. MILLER: When I first started in the workplace, it was actually 1968 on the front edge of the baby boomers. I turn 60 next year. And my expectation was similar to my father's expectation, which was I would work for the same employer my whole career. Now the world changed, and I only work for my first employer for 11 years, but I left there feeling incomplete and like I had disappointed my deceased father as I had not stayed 35 years as he had with his employer. And as I see this next generation, I mean, when they first started coming into our consulting firm, I was hoping that they would stay 15 or 20 years. They stayed three to five years, and I was feeling for many years, if they only stayed three or five, that I had done something wrong or I had selected wrong.

INSKEEP: So the first problem, as you see it, these young people today, they're not sticking with companies in the same way that you would have in another time.

Mr. MILLER: That's for sure, but I've had to change my thinking around that and realize that for them, the three- to five-year sprint at a company is not a sprint for them, but it's really a commitment of long term, as they see it.

INSKEEP: Ms. Jamison, how do you think the older folks are different from you?

Ms. JAMISON: Well, I think the baby boomer generation has made their organizational life their life. Our generation wants to have our own life outside of the organization and outside of that 10 hours, 12 hours that the baby boomer generation spends at work.

INSKEEP: Does that mean you're not as ambitious?

Ms. JAMISON: It doesn't mean that at all. In fact, the Generation X is really the first generation where technology has moved so quickly that we are a moving, changing, growing group. And so for us, success is about innovation and change, and three to five years, for us, is a healthy stint in an organization, and we're ready to move on and try our skills and our capabilities at another place. And that to us feels like success.

INSKEEP: Now I understand you've ended up spending more than three to five years at the firm where you are now, but you've been pushing Fred Miller for advancement over that time.

Ms. JAMISON: Well, I think the pushing part is over. I started...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JAMISON: I started pushing Fred to become president at a pretty young age. Fred was business partners with my mother, Kaleel Jamison, so when I was about 15, and I started lobbying for my future executive position. And all through college and after college, I was working on my developmental plan and really pushing him about wanting to be president someday, and what are the skills I need and give me a developmental plan and really worked--he's been an incredible mentor for me, but I pushed that. And probably for the last seven or eight years, I was saying, you know, `When am I going to be able to be president? What else do I need to do? What milestones do I need to hit? When is it going to happen?'

INSKEEP: Fred Miller, was all this a little irritating from time to time?

Mr. MILLER: No, it wasn't irritating in the sense that--wanting someone to move and aspire in the organization. I also knew that as long as she wanted to be president, it meant she was going to be sticking around, long as I didn't wait too long to make that decision. I think that the challenge was around timing. She saw herself ready and willing to move into that position before I felt like I was ready to move out of my position, which is, I think, one of the challenges for the baby boomers. I think when we all were younger, we all thought that we were going to be retiring early. And as we've all seen with the demographics, many of the baby boomers are not retiring till 60, 65. So I think the issue was around how do I position a firm for a new leader to come in that's going to be 20-plus years younger than I am?

INSKEEP: Now since you are corporate culture consultants, you must have advice on this subject.

Mr. MILLER: Yes. We have many clients where they may have a third of their work force or more retiring in the next 10 years, and as they retire in the next 10 years, it's how do they transfer that knowledge and that skill to the next generation? Most organizations are doing a very bad job of that. The baby boomers are not working across-generationally. They're not sharing their knowledge with the generations coming after them. And so in many organization knowledge is walking out of the door with every retirement. And the newer generation is being left to re-invent the wheel in some organizations.

Ms. JAMISON: So there's some things that we tell our clients to do pretty immediately as--begin to accelerate in the developmental opportunities for younger people. Put them in stretch positions. Give them lots of chances. You know, the baby boomer focus has been, you know, you have to earn your stripes. You have to pay your dues and do what we did to get where we are. The younger generation is not going to put up with that and wait for that. We just don't. So we'll start moving around before we'll stay at one place and have to go through each single incremental step to get where we want to get in the organization.

So accelerating developmental opportunities is critical, as is creating highly involved sponsorships for younger people by tenured people so they're beginning to develop relationships and opportunities to work together across generations. And the baby boomers have an opportunity to share their wisdom, their thinking, what they've learned, what's worked and what hasn't, and the younger generation is able to bring their creativity, their quick thinking and innovation to how business gets done.

INSKEEP: Fred Miller and Corey Jamison of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, thanks very much.

Ms. JAMISON: Thank you.

Mr. MILLER: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Steve Inskeep, I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.