Dealing with Generational Issues in the Workplace

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#USAMfgHour Twitter Chat Recap for April 2, 2020

“No matter the generation as long as you speak to people with respect and explain what you expect from them, give them the tools to succeed and then listen and appreciate their feedback it works pretty well. There will always be hiccups, that’s life.” – @witzshared

This week, Jennifer Wegman, Social Media / Communications Manager for Service Caster Corporation (@SERVICECASTER) hosted the #USAMfgHour Twitter chat, which was focused on generational issues in the workplace.

After introductions, Jennifer asked participants whether they have noticed generational issues arise as a result of COVID-19 social distancing. Most of the companies said they hadn’t; however, @IEN_Now said, “It has certainly shed light on who is more risk-averse than anything. Within the industry, we’ve heard of multiple issues from management (workers taking excused extended leave, causing staffing issues) and employees (fear of going to work, possible exposure).”

The first question of the chat asked participants how many generations they have working together at their companies. Answers ranged from two generations at work to four or five. @AxisNJ said, “Our company has employees from a variety of different generations – we realize that everyone brings something unique and valuable to the table, regardless of age.” When asked whether they’ve seen inter-generational conflict, most companies could (happily) say they hadn’t. However, two companies mentioned differing opinions on what work ethic means between generations, as well as an “I’ll just quit and find another job,” mentality.  

When inter-generational conflicts occur, participants expressed that they mainly handle them by focusing on communication by offering opportunities for staff to communicate with each other and leadership. @FelixNater said that sometimes disputes are a form of poor communications emanating from frustration, so opportunities for mediation and conflict resolution are invaluable. @CVTPlastic mentioned that just talking to the workforce and sharing information on what’s going on can be helpful.  

We kicked off the second half of the chat by asking whether participants have seen a difference in how each generation prefers feedback and asked how they’ve adapted. @FSCabinetDoors said, “I think younger generations search for guidance and the opinions of our elders much more than is stereotyped. We want to know if what we’re doing is beneficial to the business operations and practices. Older generations seem to have more independent work styles.” Other participants said that being unable to accept feedback or criticism often seems more of an individual problem versus a generational one, as they’ve seen people get offended by simple suggestions and take changes in policy personally. (What do you think, folks? Individual or generational?) While becoming friendly with staff can help them receive feedback more easily, it can also create boundary issues. However, using positive reinforcement consistently can minimize reactions to criticism.  

How do you manage different learning, training, and working styles? Several participants mentioned collaboration and teamwork on projects as ways to minimize conflict around different preferences. @CVTPlastics stated that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and that overcoming barriers is a process while @FelixNater said that connecting business needs and operational requirements is a management expectation and responsibility.

The last question of the chat asked how participants are recruiting and/or retaining employees of different generations. A few people mentioned that current closures of higher education facilities as a result of social distancing have hindered their recruitment efforts. Normally, though, they often look at recent graduates for positions or fill the pipeline by bringing in interns. Others use external recruiters or staffing agencies, as well as personal references. While there is a focus on qualifications rather than age, it begs the question of workforce continuity. What if all the qualified candidates are older? Will they bring in younger talent and train them with the intent of passing on knowledge in order to keep their businesses running in the future?

Before closing the chat, Jennifer provided a helpful report on generational differences in the workplace. 

Next week @DCSCInc and @SERVICECASTER will be co-hosting an informal discussion on resources for manufacturing professional development.  

The #USAMfgHour chat is founded by @DCSCInc @BIllGarlandSpkr @witzshared and @SERVICECASTER. Be sure to follow the official account for chat highlights, recaps, and information at @USAMfgHourChat and visit us on other platforms to keep in touch between chats.

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