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News | Nov. 9, 2016

Associates learn how to manage generational differences in today's workforce

By Michael Molinaro, DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

A noted expert on cultural differences at the office combined rich content with use-tomorrow tools to speak to a gathering in Columbus.

Haydn Shaw spoke to associates at DLA Land and Maritime Oct. 17 about the skills needed to understand the multi-generational workforce.

Shaw is the author of the book “Sticking Points,” where he discusses 12 places where the four generations typically come apart in the workplace. These sticking points revolve around differing attitudes toward managing one’s own time, texting, social media, organizational structure, and of course, clothing preferences. 

He started out the presentation asking everyone “Should you wear flip flops to work?” Before any discussion could be held many in the audience replied yes or no, making Shaw’s point for him. 

“When people answer the same question differently without even thinking, we found a sticking point,” he said. “If when you were born shapes how you answer a question, we have a generational difference. It’s not about where you’re from, or what your cultural background may be, it’s when you were born that leads to this sticking point.”

Shaw discussed how a few years ago, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey asked him for the most important advice Shaw could give him for attracting and retaining Millennials. 

“I gave him two words: emerging adulthood,” Shaw said. “Half of what people say is wrong about millennials is actually about this life stage called emerging adulthood. If you want to understand how to motivate millennials you’ve got to understand emerging adulthood.”

Emerging adulthood which begins at 18 and ends around 27 years of age. It comes after adolescence and before early adulthood. It actually started with the Baby Boomers. They delayed official adulthood with four years of college before they were expected to settle down and shoulder the responsibilities of full-on adulthood. Generation X extended this post-adolescence “transition time” because they married later, a result of both a volatile job market and competitive pressures to attend grad school in many careers.

Input from Denison multi-source feedback leadership assessment and culture surveys led to recruiting Shaw to speak at DSCC. Leaders identified common themes from the surveys and looked for a way to help traditionalists, boomers, GenXrs and millennials work together. 

“We’ve talked here at (DSCC) and across the enterprise about the importance of generational friction in the workplace,” James McClaugherty, Land and Maritime’s deputy commander, said. “Society is beginning to understand that we have to be sensitive to know how to deal with it and the fact that it can be a strength, not a weakness.”