Change in thinking, personal development key in helping generations mix in the workplace

05 Jun 2013

By MaryBeth Matzek

It’s a statistic most people in the energy industry know all too well — 50 percent of their current workforce may retire within the next five to 10 years. While that statistic has companies ramping up their hiring, it also poses a very real challenge: How to get the on-the-verge-of-retirement baby boomers working well with today’s young professionals.

As a rule, companies don’t normally do a good job of mixing generations in the workforce, says Denise Manix, global director of organizational development and human relations at Weatherford International and a speaker at the 2012 People in Energy event.

“The key is to get everyone to stop their thinking patterns,” she says. “A lot of companies are deploying traditional strategies, such as mentoring programs, to help and that’s just not enough.”

While challenges exist, Stefanie Hanz, a millennial talent acquisition specialist and another 2012 event speaker, says employers shouldn’t fear multigenerational workplaces. Having employees from a wide range of ages can be a real benefit, she says.

The key is to educate employees – as well as company leaders – about the differences between different generations so team members can communicate effectively. For example, older workers may want to discuss an issue in person at a meeting while a millennial (also known as Generation Y) may just want to address the issue via email or an in-office instant messaging system.

“There’s an opportunity for each team to effectively benefit from the diverse skills each group brings to the table and can do so by focusing on productive behaviors,” Hanz says. “The ability to collaborate is essential to the organization’s success and knowledge transfer as the generations move into, through and out of the organization.”

As millennials begin their careers, Hanz says it’s essential to offer training and development opportunities. She adds they may not be aware of business practices or manners that seasoned professionals see as “normal.”

Manix says companies also need to realize that younger workers think more project-based and are used to working in teams so using both strategies can help them fit in. Employers also need to realize younger workers don’t normally think about spending long periods of times at a single company.

“I’ve seen some companies where their usual trend is to promote someone after 2 ½ years and then the employees leave at year 3. Companies can’t think like they always have,” Manix says. “We need to find different and better ways on how jobs should be structured.”

While baby boomers are preparing to exit the workforce, there’s another issue plaguing utilities – not as many job seekers coming out of college are prepared for careers in the industry. With the exception of computer and information services, the number of college students enrolled in math and science programs continues to decline. In the past 15 years, colleges have seen a 50 percent decline in the number of graduating engineers – a skill that’s in high demand, especially in the utility sector.

For companies worried about a brain drain and not finding enough workers, one idea is to create a mature workers program, Manix says. “People are working longer. They may be interested in leaving their job, but still like the idea of working. One idea is to look to them in a consultant role – that way they can still provide important knowledge and help with the training of younger workers and pass on that institutional knowledge,” she says.

Hanz says one integral way to help younger workers succeed is by supplying regular feedback. She says they thrive on that. Leaders should also know that millennials want their feedback on their work, team and the company to be heard, too, she says.

Millennials have grown-up working in teams and collaboratively and so mentorship programs and opportunities to collaborate on projects with others can help bring them into the employment mix,” she says.

People in Energy Event

The 2013 People in Energy Summit is made possible by the contributions of many underwriters, including Diamond Sponsor: Select International; Platinum Sponsors: iCIMS, SkillSurvey, Merryck & Co., Westwood & Wilshire; Gold Sponsors: SilkRoad and Profiles International.