I know what you’re thinking: “Linkster? I hardly even know her! What’s a Linkster?” Linksters, also known as The Facebook Generation, are members of the population who were born after 1995, according to Larry and Meagan Johnson, authors of the new book Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters–Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work. I recently spoke over the phone with the father-daughter workplace expert team and founders of the Johnson Training Group, to discuss how companies can help manage multi-generational workforces.
What gave you the idea to write this book?
Meagan: Back when I graduated from Arizona State in ’93, I got a job with Quaker Oats, and I absolutely hated it. I hated the way boss managed me, I hated what I considered stupid rules, and I thought the reward system and bonus system was archaic. I was complaining to my parents about it when my dad said, “Hey, you should be grateful. When I was your age, I would’ve removed my left arm to have this great job, and a company car and make more money than my peers.” I think that was what planted the original seed of the book. I started speaking about generational differences in the workplace, and, finally, the idea of the book came into fruition: Our own experiences with the generational gap and our own perceptions about what the worklife world should look like.
You talk specifically about this generation you call “Linksters,” which refer to teenagers still living at home, working part-time. Where did the term Linksters come from?
Larry: Meaghan and I were looking at the new generation coming up into the workforce, and the most obvious thing about them, is that they’re digital natives, as opposed to digital immigrants. Most of us who are older have learned to be digital. For instance, I have a Facebook page, but I’m struggling with it. These kids, they were born into it. They think as much about it as I think about using a toaster. They seem to all be “linked up,” so Meaghan and I came up with the term “Linksters.” It seems to fit.
Meagan: Linksters, when they came on board – when they came back from the hospital – Facebook was already set up. Landlines were already obsolete. They are coming on board where technology is already a part of everyday life.
Is this a detriment to them, too, though? Does it hurt them to not know a world without high speed technology?
Larry: It has its pros and its cons. If you spend all of your time texting, you don’t get as much practice in personal interaction and face-to-face communication, so… it’s a scary thought to see them dealing with customers, because they have a tough time carrying a conversation and maintaining eye contact because they don’t have as much practice with it.
Meagan: The danger is that baby boomers have information in their head that’s not written in the books. If baby boomers leave without you creating some sort of mentor/mentee relationship, they’re going to walk out of the door with some very valuable info.
Larry: There’s truth to that movie Space Cowboys, about the old astronauts who had to go do something because no one else knew how to do it. It’s true! And it’s true in most organizations. These people who have implicit knowledge of the way things work – procedures that need to be adjusted as they go, or the quirks of all the big customers – that implicit knowledge you gain over years of experience…The nation, our national security and economy will be at threat by boomers exiting the workforce.
You’ve touched on how Linksters don’t have the same soft workforce skills that their older counterparts have, so what’s the solution to that?
Meagan: We need to look around our environment and say, “Is our environment encouraging the best talent possible? Are we choosing the right generational mix of people?” Making the right choices is still essential. Look around and say, “Is my environment encouraging highly talented young people?” Are there certain rules at your organization that young workers are hitting their head against, but that you’re reinforcing? If so, you need to ask yourself what I call “the three layers of why:” Ask yourself, “Why is this rule important?” And if none of the answers have to do with cost/safety, customer service or quality, I suggest getting rid of the rule because the rule is no longer serving you. Sometimes, these rules have been put into place 10 or so years ago and no longer serve a purpose.
So you’re saying that the workforce has to change to adapt to this generation. Is this a change you’ve found managers are willing to make?
Meagan: What I hear a lot is “Why should I have to do this?” Managers feel that they’re the ones doing all the bending. But it’s not about making the effort – it’s that we do things differently when we gain more information. There was a time we didn’t wear helmets or seatbelts, but then we learned that we were much safer when we did these things. It’s the same thing in the workforce – when we gain more information, we learn that we need to do things differently to be more effective. We have a whole new generation of workers whose brains are wired differently, so now we have to change the way we interact with them, so they can be more productive for us. We operate differently as we gain new information.
I’m looking at some of your tips for managing Linksters, and you talk about calling them the night before their first day to remind them of the dress code and what items to bring, but to me, that seems like a lot of handholding.
Meagan: Rather than seeing it as handholding, it really is creating an environment where they can be successful. Now, I’m not saying you have to look the other way when they don’t do a good job, but why not create an environment where they can be successful?
Larry: It really boils down to playing the hand you’re dealt. If you’re a manager today hiring young people, you’re dealt a different hand than you were in the past, and it’s not only that they think different, but they’ve been raised differently. They’ve been raised by baby boomers who are doing it the second time around and they can be attentive at the least and in some cases, they can be…what do you call them Meagan?
Meagan: “Snowplow parents” because they remove any obstacle that might be in their child’s way.
Larry: Yes, these parents who’ve coddled them. So these young people have lived pretty structured lives and need a lot of direction. So you need to manage them differently.
Meagan: But just because management styles change doesn’t mean you lower your expectations. Just make your expectations clear to make sure they perform.
So when it comes to managing this generation alongside older generations who have an entirely different working style, how can managers work to make both parties productive (and keep them happy)?
Larry: One thing we suggest is using older employees as mentors and then reverse mentor with younger employees. By that, I mean, older employees have a lot to offer in terms of teaching and developing younger people, and so if, say you’ve got a Baby Boomer who finds it irritating to work with some Gen Y-er, one way to overcome that difference is to ask him to teach and develop this person – not just work with him. Make that a formal relationship where both of their success depends on the success of the younger person developing; likewise, you can reverse that [with a reverse mentorship]. A lot of companies are doing that, where young people are teaching the old folks to do their Facebook page and what not.
Any final thoughts?
Larry: I’d just like to add that for the older generations, rather than cry and moan about the younger generation, this is really an opportunity to make a difference for the future of the world – by the way you treat and develop and mentor young people. It’s really a responsibility we all have – to develop them.
Meagan and Larry Johnson are the founders of the Johnson Training Group, which help companies manage multigenerational workplaces. For more information on multi-generational workforce management, check out my follow-up post, in which I list the Johnsons’ 10 tips for managing Linksters.Related
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