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Generational fault lines uncovered by NEW report

Saturday, March 20, 2010  
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Consumer products and retail companies must meet the challenges and leverage the opportunities presented by their multigenerational workforce ‑‑ or find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage, according to "Generations at Work: Maximizing Your Diverse Human Capital,” a new report issued by the Network of Executive Women.

Today's employers are facing a potential brain drain as the nation's oldest workers leave the corporate world and younger employees are uninterested or dissatisfied by the traditional workplace and its culture, career paths and incentives, the report noted.

"Shaped by very different environments, events and trends, mature employees, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Gen Yers have very diverse approaches to work, authority, work/life balance and employee loyalty. These differences can either strengthen or weaken a company's position in the market, depending on how they are addressed, managed and cultivated,” noted Alison Kenney Paul, president of the Network of Executive Women and a principal at Deloitte.

An online survey of 1,023 NEW members and supporters revealed 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed "generational diversity is important or very important to good decision-making.” But only 15 percent said communication among generations in their workplace was "very good.” Most, 51 percent, ranked communication "good” and 30 percent ranked it "average.” More than 3 percent ranked communication among generations as poor or very poor.

Age-related stereotyping -- real or perceived -- is common in the CPG/retail industry and its effects are most strongly felt by younger workers, the Network’s survey found. More than 53 percent of Gen Y workers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Because of my age, I am not always respected.” Only 18 percent of Gen Xers and 16 percent of Baby Boomers agreed or strongly agreed with that sentiment. Ten percent of the Traditionalists felt they were disrespected due to age.

"Clearly, there is room for improvement in the CPG/retail industry as companies strive to attract and retain the best talent of any age,” Paul said. "Many companies are struggling to create a corporate culture where every employee feels valued and engaged. But, as the report shows, others, including some of our member and sponsor organizations, are making significant progress and affecting real change in their corporate cultures.”

Employees of different generations see the workplace --and their own roles there -- differently. In the Network's survey, 92 percent of Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "older and younger workers work together well in my organization.” Only 85 percent of Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1976) and 82 percent of Gen Yers (born 1977 to 1988) agreed or strongly agreed with that sentiment.

Younger team members view themselves and their value to an organization much differently than older workers do,the survey revealed. For example, while 59 percent of Gen Yers responding to the study agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "younger workers are more creative and flexible,” only 28 percent of Gen Xers and 19 percent of Baby Boomers viewed younger workers that way.

Similarly, 81 percent of Gen Yers surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that "younger workers are more technically savvy,” while fewer Gen Xers (74 percent) and Baby Boomers (69 percent) believed this statement.

The Network’s survey also revealed experience on the job is valued less by Gen Yers than their older colleagues. Some 37 percent of Gen Yers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Imagination is more important than experience,” while fewer (25 percent) of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers felt that way.

To read the 10-page "Generations at Work: Maximizing Your Diverse Human Capital” report, as well as five other special reports on D&I subjects, see "Diversity at Work: Best Practices for CPG/Retail Diversity” on the Network's members-only Research section

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