Safety Leader

Leading a Multigenerational Workforce: Opportunities differ by generation

The year 2020 presented many obstacles for us to overcome to achieve professional success. 2021 looks to continue to carry that dynamic forward. One of the more challenging areas we face as leaders in the electrical safety industry is how we manage the varying personalities and generational groups within our workforce.

In 2020, layoffs caused high unemployment, and job and career change became a common occurrence. This led to an influx of new workers and caused some older workers to delay their retirements. Individuals’ financial losses caused many people to rethink their future plans, which has created an interesting and challenging situation in the industry: a workforce with a wider age gap then ever before.

To be honest, this has been going on for several years, but 2020 pushed it further than we are accustomed to. Multigenerational workforces create unique opportunities for leaders. Group members learn in their own ways, respond to direction differently and have distinct long-term goals. Let’s briefly look at some differences.

Learning

Traditional training methods don’t sit well with the younger workers. They don’t want to sit and listen to lectures or review material on computers for hours on end. They prefer to get their information in short bursts and mixed with hands-on learning opportunities. Older workers are used to the traditional style of training (lecture, demonstration, hands-on) and will have a harder time adapting to this more modular approach.

What to do? The contracting industry enables us to meet those various needs, while challenging us to be more creative. One way to accomplish this is by adopting a hybrid style to grab the attention of incoming workers and take advantage of veteran workers in skill demonstrations. This enables us to meet workers’ needs while accomplishing our goal of training.

Response to direction

The new generation has grown up in the age of real-time information. These workers ask more questions and want to know why; they don’t just take your word and follow the directions as given. They seek a better understanding of the process. While older workers and trainers may see it as a sign of disrespect—since they are not accustomed to this type of communication—it actually presents a leadership opportunity that everyone can learn from. By taking the time to answer questions and explain the process in more detail, everyone gains a better understanding of the job, and successful outcomes are more achievable.

Long-term goals

Younger workers aren’t necessarily looking for a lifelong job. They mostly want to learn a new skill, move up in the company and make more money as they progress. If that doesn’t happen in a short period of time, they may move on.

Most of us on the management side are not used to this way of thinking. Older or long-term employees were taught to “pay their dues” before being given the opportunity to advance. If that didn’t happen, they worked harder to become more proficient in their craft and better demonstrate their worth to the company for advancement. This is a good trait to have in an employee.

This kind of thinking is not something that is foreign to the contracting world. Because of the seasonal and regional impacts on work, it has always been a “go where the money is” type of industry, but it does present us with opportunities to adapt ourselves to a changing environment.

The key question to ask is this: can we, as leaders, change with the evolving landscape of industry? It’s a challenge that I believe we can successfully meet. Why? Because once we take a step back and survey everything around us, we see the growth that can happen when we unite everyone—regardless of age, experience or longevity—for one simple purpose: to meet challenges head on, together, for the good of our customers, workers and employers. Change and challenge can be good, if we meet them with a positive outlook.

About the Author

Chuck Kelly

Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or cklk3@yahoo.com.

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