I recently wrote a blog about attracting younger workers to the wholesale distribution industry. It’s a challenge that many companies are facing, and a topic that is discussed often among industry peers. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit with leaders from several different companies. I was interested to find out more about their people challenges. One question I asked – after you attract and hire new employees, what’s your next biggest challenge?
As you might expect, a big challenge is keeping them, and keeping them happy. But one of the reasons surprised me. While they mentioned things like work environment and interest level, many of the issues revolved around age – not only the age of the new employees, but also the age of their co-workers.
Does age really matter?
One manager talked about hiring a young person for a branch location where the rest of the employees had worked for decades. The existing employees not only had company experience, but also had the comradery and shared interests that can only be grown over time. The new, younger employee had different interests and was at a different stage in his life. He felt out of place and quickly became discouraged when the rest of the team seemed to exclude him. And, he subsequently quit.
Another story I heard was from a company that hired a large group of millennials for their IT department. They worked closely with this group to gather new ideas, and gave the group lots of company-wide recognition. In this case, the long-service employees on the team felt left out and no longer relevant. They started leaving, and the company lost the experience and history that went with them.
Can’t we all just get along?
These scenarios show that there are concerns beyond employees just “playing nice together.” There are inherent differences in people of different ages and life stages. Even the country you live in can make a difference. A recent article in Harvard Business Review discussed this very topic: A Survey of 19 Countries Shows How Generations X, Y, and Z Are – and Aren’t – Different. One similarity: the survey showed that all generations are concerned about whether their personalities fit the company where they work. Can employers help bridge these divides? Some companies are finding new, creative ways to get the very best from all their employees.
Time for fresh ideas
One idea is to bring experienced employees into the new hire onboarding process. The new hire is introduced to a long-term employee who talks about their work history and why they’ve stayed with the company over the years. These introductions help to give new employees perspective, and to feel more welcome in their new role. And in some cases, the discussions continue and grow over time, providing an internal contact for both employees.
A few weeks ago, I saw a presentation by a company that had a unique approach to their super user program. The company recently rolled out new software and needed to train their users. The typical approach is to pick the “best of the best” and have them lead the training. But they often get push back from both young and old employees who may not welcome change. Instead, this company put together two-person teams to handle training. The team consisted of a seasoned employee who understood a wide range of business processes, and a younger employee who had a good grasp of the new technology. While these teams were an investment for the company, they found that each person brought their own perspective and could relate to other users in different ways. The program resulted in a smooth roll out and happy users.
Many companies have mentoring programs, which are a great way to transfer skills and develop talent. But what’s in it for the mentor? In some cases, mentoring is viewed as an additional task or training someone to do your job. This is another case where pairing employees can be a big benefit for both. When approached as a mutual learning experience, all kinds of good things can happen. Last week, I heard a great example. A millennial was able to solve an issue using a seasoned worker’s internal company network. In turn, he was able to show the seasoned worker how to better use Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with customers.
Companies can start with awareness of employee needs and some creative, new ideas. By bringing together employees of all ages, they can take advantage of employee strengths and help insure a happy and stable workforce.