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The Perfect Workplace: A Blend of Generations

It used to be, someone over the age of 65 still punching into work each morning was a rarity. These days, as more Americans work well past their retirement age, however, the typical workplace is more likely than ever to have multiple generations from college interns and entry-level twenty-somethings to mid-level managers and well-seasoned veterans prepping for retirement. With that many goals, ambitions and egos all in one place, it begs the question: How do these vastly different generations see one another and how can they work together to get the job done? The trick, say those who work in businesses with several age groups, is recognizing that each generation has its own unique traits. Martin Cooper, 65, works with a variety of ages at his Encino marketing firm, Cooper Beavers, where the average age is 30. He said the current younger generation has vastly different characteristics than that of workers just a generation ago from lacking strong writing skills to balking at extensive overtime. “Twenty-five years ago, young people were willing to work 14 hours a day, whatever it took to get ahead in business and to impress the boss,” he said. “Today, that is much less prevalent. Young people are much more focused on their personal and private lives.” Brad Rosenheim, a principal with the Woodland Hills planning and land use firm Rosenheim & Associates Inc. finds many younger workers also aren’t tied to any one job or even line of work. Instead, younger employees make it clear they want to leave the option open to jump from job to job until something suits them. That’s different from how Rosenheim who is 47 entered the job market two decades ago. “With the baby boom generation, I think there was generally an expectation of sticking to a career and a career path,” said Rosenheim. “Whereas younger people seem to be much more open to dramatic shifts in career and have that expectation.” That wanderlust is encouraged by a healthy employment market, one fueled in part by the massive baby boomer population starting to retire, leaving behind good positions. Those conditions can make young employees see their current job as merely a stepping-stone in a long career path, Rosenheim said. “But it depends on the individual,” Rosenheim cautioned, adding that generational disparities are not nearly extreme as the simple differences between people, regardless of their age. “The reality is that you have people of all generations that look at their jobs and their careers and their work very differently no matter what generation,” he said. But that indecisiveness can also be an asset. Santa Clarita, for example, aggressively recruits young employees through internships and pairs new hires with mentors. As a result, several of the city’s key high-level positions are filled with people younger than 40. “A lot of my staff is pretty young,” said City Manager Ken Pulskamp, including Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin, who is 33. Pulskamp said the city likes younger employees like Striplin because they can be a major benefit when it comes to problem solving. “It helps as we develop policy in the city,” he said. But Pulskamp also added that age is not the only factor. “The attributes that I look for in an employee transcend age,” he said. “I’m looking for someone with passion, work ethic, intelligence, integrity regardless of their age. That’s what I want.” But with a variety of generations under one roof, finding a common ground is increasingly complex, said Edward J. Savage, 63, managing director of Stanton Chase International executive recruiters in Los Angeles. “The challenges are the stereotypes,” he said. “You find that some people, from a cultural point of view, will say this person is too old and put them in a box. But there’s something to be learned from all of these experiences.” Cooper also said more established professionals could learn loads from younger workers, especially about trying to strike a better healthy work-home balance, questioning authority more and even dressing less formal. That give-and-take between generations, if done correctly, can be a major learning experience for businesses, said Steven M. Brown, a principal with the Sherman Oaks insurance agency Hoffman Brown Co. “You get young vibrant thinking and you get more mature, plotting, logical thinkers,” he said. “So if as a leader of a business, you can blend those two constituencies, it makes a better business. It just does.”

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