Bridging the gap: Winning the generations game with DBIA-MAR

Kelly Dean of CMA; Brian Johanning, vice president at Shafer, Kline & Warren; Danni Livingston, director of planning, design and construction at Johnson County Facilities Management; Brett Gordon, president of McCownGordon Construction; and Dennis Burns, Crossland Construction.

Kelly Dean of CMA; Brian Johanning, vice president at Shafer, Kline & Warren; Danni Livingston, director of planning, design and construction at Johnson County Facilities Management; Brett Gordon, president of McCownGordon Construction; and Dennis Burns, Crossland Construction.

Today’s workforce consists of four generations working side by side, including traditionalists (born 1900 to 1945), baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), generation Xers (born 1965 to 1981), and millennials (born 1982-1999). The stark differences between each of these cohorts presents organizations with an array of challenges and opportunities.

Take into account the following statistics: Millennials last year became the largest living generation, surpassing the baby boomers. By 2020, half of the U.S. workforce will consist of millennials. By 2025, millennials will become 75 percent of the global workforce.

While millennials may be flipping traditional working models upside down, each generation has a unique perspective on individual leadership, communication, problem solving and decision-making. Design Build Institute of America-Mid America Region recently held a multi-generational panel to discuss the different issues, challenges and opportunities that this diverse workforce provides.

Moderated by Kelly Dean of CMA, the panel consisted of Danni Livingston, director of planning, design and construction at Johnson County Facilities Management; Brian Johanning, vice president at Shafer, Kline & Warren; and Brett Gordon, president of McCownGordon Construction. Here’s a few of their selected comments.

What challenges does a multi-generational workforce present?

Brian Johanning: “The real challenges associated with the multi-generational workforce boil down to communication. Different people are motivated by different things. Different people like to be recognized in different ways. If you want to talk to [older generation workers], you need to call them on the phone. Sending an email is probably not going to illicit an immediate response; You need to pick up the phone and have a conversation with them. That’s the biggest challenge in the workplace: using different forms of communication and communicating effectively to each group. From my perspective as a millennial, there are many things to be learned from the older generation: lessons on loyalty, experience, and interpersonal skills. Our generation needs to pass up skills as it relates to tech applications, diversity applications, and a greater appetite for risk taking.”

How is the workplace changing as a result of multiple generations working side by side?

Danni Livingston: “At the county, we’ve taken a different approach with our environment. When we built our sunset office building, we thought specifically about millennials. We designed that building to be flexible and engaging – a place for future generations. We looked at sustainability issues, and as a LEED Gold building a lot of things were incorporated: flexible work station components, access to nature and water, public art, and most recently we added – at the request of the occupants – an outdoor covered meetings space. We provided central break areas which was a little different for our organization, instead of having break areas for each department.”

Brett Gordon: “Benefits are much different today than they used to be. Millennials and Gen Xers have very different expectations. It’s much more about the stage of their life. For millennials, life/balance isn’t an option – it’s a must. They’re going to have a work/life balance whether you provide it or not. If you don’t provide it they’ll go somewhere else. Gen Xers are tied to a mortgage, kids, and so they’re looking for stability, so you have to provide that. Baby boomers are interested in health insurance, pension, things for the long-term. You have to build an organization that caters to all of those. One thing we implemented a few years ago was PTO. It used to be that you had a few weeks of vacation and sick time. When you are young, you don’t use sick time, so now the younger generation uses the sick time for PTO as additional time to spend with families or on vacation. That’s just one issue of transition we’ve had to implement, and that’s even transitioning more today where many offices have unlimited PTO. We’re all adults; just be responsible and get your job done and we really don’t care if you’re doing it from home. That’s a difficult transition for us baby boomers.”

Brian Johanning: “More investment in technology. In my first year at SKW, we’ve tried to empower our workforce with more mobility: laptops, tablets, flexible work schedules to allow young parents to spend time at home with young families, or come in early in the morning and leave early in the afternoon. Take an afternoon off every Friday and just offer more flexibility. That means a lot to people to offer flexibility and not being quite as rigid in our policies. The work/life balance concept/cliché is very important to my generation. There is an idea out there that millennials have this sense of entitlement… A piece of research I read says don’t confuse ambition with entitlement. We had a robust intern program last summer for the first time where we brought in 8-9 interns from area schools and we were blown away by what some of these kids could do with technology and auto-cad and other software. Letting them run is not a bad thing.”

Here are a few tips from CMA on how companies today can create a harmonious workplace environment that supports every generation:

Recruitment: Make the process personal, authentic, and straightforward. Y-size your website. Clearly state expectations. Detail specific projects. Offer more than money. Explain career path.

Retention strategies: Create challenges and milestones. Promote collaboration. Value communication and provide feedback often. Schedule talent management reviews. Reward performance. Create transparency and access to leaders.

Mentoring: Consider non-traditional methods such as reverse mentoring, group mentoring, and anonymous mentoring.

Workplace wellness: create innovative wellness initiatives. Establish employee choice and control over work. Create collaborative settings. Design branded spaces. Consider virtual communities.

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