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Published: Monday, 8/31/2009

Generation Gap: Clash of Boomers, Millennials plays out in the workplace

BY JOYCE GANNON
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Leadership consultant Joanne Sujansky is a baby boomer. Her three children belong to Generation Y also known as the millennials. She has experienced firsthand the culture clash between the age groups and how it can affect business.

Her assessment is the topic of a new book, Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What to Do About It.

Published this summer by John Wiley & Sons, the book is co-authored by Jan Ferri-Reed, president of KeyGroup, a Pittsburgh training and consulting firm that Ms. Sujansky founded almost 30 years ago.

The book concludes that the millennials are largely disappointed with the workplace, while many boomers believe millennials have too many demands. The stress between the two results in talented young employees leaving jobs within a year or two and costing companies big investments in training and turnover.

It s very expensive to lose millennials as quickly as we do, she said. Our surveys inside and outside the U.S. showed some were leaving companies as early as 18 months [after hiring]. They go through that first evaluation, do a few more things, and they re ready to go.

Some background on millennials: Ms. Sujansky defines them as born between 1980 and 1999 and raised by baby boomers. They are extremely tech-savvy and well-educated but don t think that a serious work ethic should rule out a balanced, fulfilling life outside the office.

That s in contrast to baby boomers many have made their careers a priority and, in the process, often put family and other commitments on the back burner, Ms. Sujansky said.

Millennials remember their moms or dads missing the recital or someone missing the soccer game, she explained. They don t want that.

So it s not surprising that many millennials want to leave the office at 3 p.m. if they ve completed their work for the day and perhaps work 12 hours the next day. Some [boomers] don t trust millennials to do that, she said.

Millennials also complain that some boomer managers during job interviews fail to describe the workplace as it really operates.

One [millennial] told me that when he met the chief executive, the CEO was in casual clothes and was going to play tennis and talked about a place that was really caring about employees and a balance between work and home life, she said. When the [millennial] got there, it was not what the CEO said it was.

Boomers are bothered, the author said, when millennials ask for promotions way too early in their careers when on the job for a couple of weeks or when they skirt the traditional chain of command and take their complaints and suggestions right to the top of the organization.

Among her suggestions for businesses that want to retain millennials is on-boarding programs that replace traditional one-day orientations by providing new employees with a yearlong immersion in different segments of the business as well as training and access to mentors.

Another tip, she said, is: Don t ask millennials what they want and not deliver. There are ways to take a suggestion and make it work. If they say they want flextime, maybe it can t be every week, but employees could look at the schedule and take times that other people don t want. If you can t do it, you need to get back to them.

Many millennials don t feel compelled to stay in a position they don t like if they can go back to living with their parents until the next thing comes along, Ms. Sujansky said.

That may be, she said, because we as baby boomers told them they can do anything.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Joyce Gannon is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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