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Talkin' 'Bout the Generations: Age Diversity in the Workforce

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So you're telling a story at work, and you make a pop-culture reference you think is pretty common knowledge – maybe a nod to "Hot Lips" Houlihan or New Coke – and you're met with some blank stares and crickets from your younger co-workers. You try to save face with, "Well, I guess that was before your time," but you end up just feeling old.

It's true: The generation gap in the workplace can indeed cause some hiccups. (I'll admit I don't keep up with all of the new tech like I should. I mean, what is the purpose of Snapchat again? And twitting? Tweeting?) In fact, this new age diversity is actually a first for the American workforce. We now have four generations working together on the same teams, under the same roofs, and in similar or collaborating roles—people from many different backgrounds and different ages trying to lead their companies to success. As you can imagine, this presents a few obstacles! I really believe we're in uncharted waters here. 

However, if we're smart, we also embrace the challenge and welcome this kind of diversity. It's good for the community, it gives businesses a healthy balance of mentorship and youthful talent, and it allows companies to create positive working environments with the best possible team. 

Defining the different generations

So who are these different generations? What makes them tick? In a recent white paper, recruiting firm Ajilon Professional Staffing defined the different generations by their working types and qualities and outlined what kind of people belong to each of them.

Traditionalists – Born between 1925 and 1945, these seasoned professionals endured many hardships during an era that included the Great Depression and several wars, while also having limited access to education. These experiences made traditionalists into persevering professionals who are loyal and committed to hard work, and who value respect from their peers. 

Baby Boomers – Boomers were born in the aftermath of World War II, between 1945 and 1964. Many began their professional career during a turbulent time during the 1960s, having been raised during a period of unrest and social change in America. With that, Baby Boomers are competitive, status-conscious and goal-oriented. Sometimes, they're called “workaholics,” but their work ethic has almost always been rewarding. While optimistic by nature, they're in a weird time of their lives where their success, earnings and potential retirement funds are threatened by the recent financial crisis.

Generation X – People born from 1965 to 1979 belong to a generation of highly motivated, self-starting, technologically adept and well-educated professionals. The members of this group are independent and adaptable, and use their careers to achieve the goal of a happy life outside of work, rather than just working their way up the corporate ladder. They value work-life balance and will leave or turn down opportunities if it's threatened. They're entrepreneurial, creative, imaginative and innovative.

Generation Y (Millennials– These are the children of the Baby Boomers, raised during an era of both excitement and angst. As the world got turned on its head by post-9/11 anxiety, it also became a world of technology. Millennials had unprecedented access to education, with computers in every home and classroom. The most open-minded group in the workforce, they're enthusiastic, opportunistic and willing to work hard despite a financial crisis affecting their wage potential in their early professional lives. They'll readily relocate for great opportunities, and retaining Millennials and their talent will be competitive but necessary.

The benefits of a multi-generational workforce

As Kansas City continues to be a place for thriving businesses and entrepreneurship, I’ve seen firsthand how this multi-generational workforce can have profound benefits for companies and the region. It's all about the people! Here are four ways I've seen a multi-generational workforce benefit our business and our team at Country Club Bank:

1. Diverse skill sets and leadership qualities  Our team benefits from having a wide variety of skill sets and leadership qualities that each generation brings, complementing each other.

2. Mentorship – We encourage our more seasoned employees to provide valuable guidance to our younger associates. In turn, they reward that mentorship by using their energy, progressive mindsets and technological skills to help the whole team succeed. In fact, a recent Forbes article reported some impressive findings:

"The recent 2013 Benefits for Tomorrow Study done by The Hartford found that almost nine in 10 millennials (89%) agree that 'Baby Boomers in the workplace are a great source of mentorship' and that 93% of baby boomers agree that 'Gen Yers bring new skills and ideas to the workplace.' In other words, we recognize the value of having various backgrounds and perspectives in the same office—we just have to take advantage of it."

3. A happier team – By customizing our working environment to meet the satisfaction of four different generations, we show our commitment to giving workers the best possible space to achieve in their given roles. Acclaimed millennials keynote speaker Jason Dorsey writes on his website,

"Find specific ways to bridge the generations so Gen Y and our three generations of co-workers perform at our highest levels. It’s in every leader’s best interest to make the most of each generation."

4. Technology and other benefits from younger employees – As technology improves how we deliver banking services, our Millennial and Gen-X associates bring a technological savvy to our older generations.

Hiring, retaining and inspiring the multi-generational workforce

When making hiring decisions, I try to keep a couple of things in mind. First, I get to know the different generations and what kind of opportunities and work environments they’re likely seeking. Second, I understand members of different age groups often show up at different career levels. I'm always open to considering members of every generation for all of our positions. Otherwise, our team could miss out on some valuable talent!

Next, I listen to what associates have to say. I stay observant, and constantly scan our internal environment. I like "stay interviews," a simple but powerful tool if you ask the right questions. I've found we're much more successful if our leaders invest themselves in their associates’ success and work satisfaction. Of course, this is sometimes difficult because each generation has a certain set of needs and goals they’re trying to meet. Managers playing a passive role in this situation will likely lose good people. Instead, our leaders try to put forth a concerted effort to give each generation the best path to career success. 

If you're successful, you'll inspire these valuable staff members to work toward the common goal. Ultimately, a better community is one in which many businesses incorporate a multi-generational workforce. That’s why we at Country Club Bank aspire to hire, retain and inspire these talented members from each of the four generations. Kansas City has an incredible opportunity to share the prospering business community of a four-generation workforce.

So don't worry too much if the new guy doesn't remember Nirvana, or the boss has no idea if Arcade Fire is a band or a video game. Just remember this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build an environment that embraces diversity and uses it for great success!

How have members of other generations strengthened your workplace? Let us know @CountryClubBank!

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Toni Walsh

Executive Vice President- Human Resources

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