America’s Promise

This week, hundreds of participants descended on Washington, D.C. to take part in the second annual Building a Grad Nation Summit and to welcome the release of Civic Enterprises‘ 2012 Building a Grad Nation Report. Corporate Voices is honored to have taken part in this year’s Civic Marshall Plan by lending its expertise to the 2012 report as it explores the ways in which the business community can participate in ending the high school dropout crisis through the Business Case for Education section.

For more than a decade, Corporate Voices has provided leading best-practice employers a forum to improve the lives of working families while strengthening our nation’s economy. Currently, Corporate Voices is engaging the business community in advancing talent development practices, postsecondary education completion and workforce readiness training through its Learn and Earn initiative. This initiative seeks to identify, promote and encourage innovative partnerships between employers, community colleges and other higher education institutions to help today’s “working learners”-often low-skilled young adults-complete their education while working.

“Forward-looking employers recognize the value of investing today to shape the best possible workforce of tomorrow,” said Corporate Voices’ Executive Director, John Wilcox. “The work of our strategic partners at Civic Enterprises highlights that employers who embrace innovative partnerships with educational institutions can provide a new generation of workers the immeasurable value associated with higher education, a rewarding career and the skills they will need to thrive in the uncertain global economy of the future-all while serving their bottom-line business needs and earning a measurable return on their investment.”

Corporate Voices expanded upon this vision by participating in this year’s Summit alongside the Lumina Foundation and others. Executive Director and COO John Wilcox explored how postsecondary education completion is necessary to prepare all students for a global economy, and Senior Manager for Workforce Readiness, Sara Toland highlighted ways in which organizations can sustain youth initiatives in a tough economic climate.

Barbara S. Hoenig, a consultant on mature workers and workforce development, contributed this post as a Featured Guest Blogger. Barbara has more than twenty-five years’ experience in the fields of aging, intergenerational and workforce development programs and policies. She develops strategic alliances between businesses, the public workforce system, policy makers and national and community-based organizations.

Older people are staking their claim in the workplace. They are continuing to work beyond the “normal” retirement age for two reasons. First, they need the income. Secondly, they are healthy and up to the demands of the job, and they feel that they have something special to offer.

In several focus groups conducted in 2005 with both working and retired senior pharmacists throughout the country, I learned that they were keen  on mentoring young people entering the pharmacy profession. This interest extended to helping secondary school and high school students, particularly minority students, choose pharmacy careers and to supporting and developing opportunities for pharmacy technicians, who were already in the workplace, to move on to becoming full-fledged pharmacists. “Pharmacy is a helping profession” was a repeated refrain. Moreover, the senior pharmacists saw the opportunity for growth and the prospect of receiving continuing education credits as part of the mentoring credentialing.

Many older pharmacists see the value of continuing to work rather than retiring. Aside from salary and benefits, they want flexible hours, a friendly atmosphere, and “ergonomic” adjustments to make the physical environment more comfortable. And above all, they want to be recognized for the interpersonal skills they have perfected over the years.

Yet, older workers need to be able to fit into today’s multigenerational workplace if they want to survive and prosper, recognizing they are near the top of the age demographic that rises through four generations: going from Generation Y (born 1981-2000) and Generation  X (1965-1980) to Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Traditionalists (1945 or before). Each generation is shaped by forces that have produced differing perspectives on work ethic, leadership and authority, communication, problem solving and decision making.

A hallmark of today’s workplace is the interaction between the generations in the workforce. Past barriers are lowered, and the different values and perspectives of the generations come together head on. At times, differences between these generations may lead to tensions in the workplace. But whether intergenerational tensions are the root cause for tension in the complex workplace environment is a matter open for further study.

A recent national survey conducted for Corporate Voices for Working Families (Corporate Voices) by Public Policy Polling, through the generous support of Workplace Options, probes answers from a sample of 642 American workers to five questions that focused on their experience and perceptions about intergenerational attitudes and conflicts at work. The worker sample is distributed across age, gender, ethnic background, industry sector and salary.

Broadly speaking, the responses overall show that less than 20 percent  of the workers polled feel strongly that there is conflict or discord between the generations in the workplace. In fact, only 9 percent of the all those surveyed answered “Yes, always” to whether they are uncomfortable working with different generations or age groups.

However, it is significant that the responses over the entire sample are heavily weighted toward the views of “White” participants and also toward the Baby Boomer generation. The sample of 642 American workers is 68 percent White, versus 14 percent Hispanic, 12 percent African American, and 6 percent other, reflecting the U.S. population.  By generation, it is 60 percent Boomers, versus 10 percent Gen Y, 18 percent Gen X, and 12 percent Traditionalists. The responses vary greatly according to race, age, and employment sector.

A close look at the data by race and ethnic origin reveals that the fraction of Hispanics (21 percent) answering Yes to being always uncomfortable working with other generations is 3 times the fraction of Whites (7 percent ) with that view. By contrast, a conclusive 83 percent of the African-American participants register an emphatically that they are not uncomfortable working with other generations, compared to 66 percent overall.

One prevailing feeling emerging from the survey is that mature workers have more respect for young workers than vice-versa, and the survey indicates that this feeling grows as workers grow older.

Corporate Voices’ survey generally supports the findings of a 2009 Pew Research Center survey of views in the general public , which found that only about a quarter of the respondents (26 percent) saw any big conflicts between young and old in America. The big source of difference between diverse generations, the Pew study found, is in how they use technology.

Indeed, the jury is still out as to whether any inherent generational characteristics might be a significant cause of conflict in the workplace. However, as noted by Pitt-Catsouphes and Matz-Costa of Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work, external factors such as flexibility and the drivers of employee engagement may be important for individual success, more in some age groups than others.

Having a four-generation workforce is not only a matter of necessity because of our aging population, but it can also have benefits of synergy by which the whole is actually greater than the sum of its parts. This calls for creative and perceptive management.

An AARP study offers six principles for managing generations successfully that encourage open discussion of perceived differences, give recognition to the personal needs and preferences of workforce members and build on individual strengths. In this way, contributions from a mixed-generation team may bring unexpectedly positive results, making the business case for promoting better intergenerational dynamics.

Sure, there is friction in the workplace, and sometimes the source may be generational. It goes without saying that conflicts between workers are commonplace for countless reasons. Many of these may turn out coincidentally to be between Gen Ys and Baby Boomers or Gen Xs and Traditionalists, for example. But whether intergenerational tensions are the root cause and in a class by themselves as a distinguishing feature of interaction in the complex workplace environment is a matter open for further study.

At a strictly practical level, SHRM gives some key strategies for successfully retaining talent and avoiding conflict in a multigenerational workforce. They include:

  • Communicating information in multiple ways, both oral and written, along with
  • Training for managers to be sensitive to intergenerational differences, as well as
  • Collaborative activities that promote intergenerational respect and inclusion, and finally
  • Mentoring programs in which workers of different generations work together and share experiences.
In several focus groups conducted in 2005 with both working and retired senior pharmacists throughout the country, I learned that they were keen

Carrie Clark, a public policy analyst with WorldatWork, has contributed this post as Featured Guest Blogger. This is the second post in a Corporate Voices blog series exploring key themes discussed during the “Focus on Workplace Flexibility” national conference, held on November 29-30. This series aims to maintain the dialogue and forward momentum for expanding awareness about the positive business impacts of flexibility, how flexibility improves the lives of working families and what tools and resources exist to help employers implement flexibility policies and practices.

Working in the work-life field, even in a part-time capacity, the one undeniable fact you’re faced with is this: Demographic changes mean everything. The changes that are revolutionizing the way work is done can be traced back to the simple fact that the workforce of today does not look anything like the workforce of decades past. Many of these demographic changes were discussed at length at the “Focus on Workplace Flexibility” conference, but this article will only focus on two of those changes – the rising numbers of older workers and the increasing numbers of working caregivers.

As early as a few years ago, the issue of older workers was causing angst in human resources departments from coast to coast for an entirely different reason than it is today. In the beginning part of the decade conventional wisdom held that the problem caused by the large number of older workers was the looming shortage of institutional wisdom as Baby Boomers retired in droves. But that was before the Great Recession; now, workers are staying in the workforce in astounding numbers.

In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of workers aged 65 and over had increased 101 percent since 1977 and the number of workers aged 75 and over had increased an astounding 172 percent. These numbers are made even more incredible when you realize that they do not include the Baby Boom generation, which will start to reach 65 next year. The labor force participation rate of older workers has been rising steadily since the mid-1990s but the recession has affected them. Data out this week show that an additional 1.6 million people put off retiring due to the financial crisis and concerns about retirement savings.

What about caregivers? What does their picture look like in regards to the workforce? A report published by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving in November 2009  found that a full 29 percent of the U.S. population “provides care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spends an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.” That’s 65 million people caring for people of all ages (7 out of 10 caregivers report caring for a loved one aged 50+). Caregivers also report lower health outcomes for themselves and lower incomes overall.

These caregivers are working while providing care, and most report that it has had an impact on their job performance – 73 percent of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 either work or have worked while providing care, and 66 percent have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely.

So what does this all mean? Employers are still figuring that out, but it’s pretty clear that there are a myriad of positive benefits from offering flexibility programs aimed towards older workers and caregivers. A 2007 WorldatWork study found that workplace flexibility programs preferred by older workers (part-time schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, and phased retirement) had a moderate or high impact on the retention of all workers; some (telecommuting and part time schedules) even had a moderate or high impact on attraction. The same survey found that on-site child care programs and emergency back-up dependent care resources also had a moderate or high impact on retention.

As for the ROI case for these programs, I could give you many numbers, studies, reports, and statistics about the programs I’ve discussed above, but that would be doing a disservice to all the things I’ve learned. It’s imperative for the benefit of all workers to not think about work-life programs in a vacuum– as a solution to just this problem. Work-life programs need to be thought of as an overall portfolio of benefits. A great resource for helping companies start to think about their work-life portfolio is the Alliance for Work-Life Progress’s Categories of Work-Life booklet that describes, in detail and with business case bullets, the entire universe of work-life programs and their impact on your workforce as a whole, including older workers and caregivers.

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