National Association of
Counties * Washington, D.C.
Vol. 32, No. 7
* April 17, 2000
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Think about this for a minute. In the 19th century. The agricultural
economy wrapped generations together in farms. Grandpa and Grandma, sons,
daughters, grand kids were all needed to bring in the harvest.
to the Industrial revolution, and the workplace moves away from the home,
and so, too, do the generations.
Thanks to technology, today, the
workplace can reach us in cars homes, mountaintops
wherever cell phones,
lap tops and pagers work.
Yet, a curious concurrent phenomena is
happening. Like farms in the 19th century. Todays workplaces find three
even four generations at work.
In one county, I know, more than a
dozen employees in their 80s are still working productively. At the same
time there are 17-year-old recent high school graduates at the beginning
of their careers in public service. Then there are summer high school
recreation, library and parks employees who are seasonal workers.
In the middle, are a couple of other generations, who are the
parents of those high schoolers and the children of the middle-age baby
Managing the four-generation workforce requires
sensitivity and understanding, which many managers find frustrating.
The 30-year-old supervisor may find it disconcerting to provide
instructions, evaluate performance, and take corrective action involving a
subordinate in her 60s or older. The result may be that they walk by or
retreat from such constructive engagement.
Readers of the HR
Doctor column know by now, walking by something thats wrong is a form of
administrative malpractice, which will lead to trouble. Ignoring needs
associated with the multi-generation workforce is also a poor
The most senior members of the workforce may well
experience increasing health problems, decreasing ability to adjust to
changes in well-established office technology or procedures and may appear
to be less flexible.
On the other hand, they may well bring to the
office the consistent, positive work habits, sense of ethics, and
knowledge born of decades of experience and wisdom which may be lacking in
the recent hired persons just out of school. The manager who focuses only
on the difficulties cited above without learning from and taking advantage
of the benefits of the older workforce, is making a strategic and a
The HR Doctor encourages supervisors and
managers in the multi-generation workforce to create opportunities for
employees to interact and learn from each other. Ask about the pictures of
the children and grandchildren on the employees desk. Mix work teams to
ensure that older workers interact with younger colleagues.
Provide for mentoring opportunities, not only where younger
employees can learn from their older colleagues but, perhaps, where
younger employees who have grown up in the world of the Internet can make
office technology changes less threatening for others by acting as
In HR there is consistent mention of the value
of diversity at work. While this almost always refers to racial and gender
mixes in the workplace, the HR Doctor is quick to remind readers that
generation diversity provides a rich pool of opportunities for public
A final observation mainly for elected officials and
those other humans those in human or social services to think about.
We have a great national tragedy in the form of hundreds of
thousands of children without role models, latch-key children and
abandoned children. At the same time we have hundreds of thousands of
senior citizens who are often alone, abandoned and cut off from social
interaction. Just ask the county paramedics in a community with many
retired people about the calls they receive, where the medical emergency
turns out to be an emergency of loneliness and depression.
is a strong link that could arise from creating national and local
programs that take the grandparents in waiting and match them with
children in need of the love and support, not to mention the experience
and wisdom, of a senior citizen. What a difference this could mean in our
society and what a difference it could mean for public
The HR Doctor wishes you all the best. Dont forget
to visit at http://www.hrdr.net/.
(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him
Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County,
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