With the huge work force shortage in the construction industry, retaining and attracting the mature worker has become a necessity. Without a doubt, these employees bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to any office or job site, so understanding and meeting their needs can only add to the productivity and performance of everyone in the workplace.
Veterans — those who were born between 1922 and 1945 — make up 10 percent of the work population. Defined by such events as the Great Depression, World War II and the ideal family image of "Father Knows Best," these employees tend to be loyal and hard working. Rules and discipline are important, as is respect for authority and job security.
According to Janice Urbanik, consultant with Global Lead Management Consulting and Construction Process Solutions, "One of the things that really appeals to the veteran's generation is that they are considered still valuable, still relevant and still important. Given their vast knowledge and vast experience, if you want to attract them back to the work force or retain them, those are the values you can appeal to."
Tapping into the veteran's expertise and using them to train younger employees can help ensure that valuable skills and knowledge are passed onto the incoming work force.
For each generation in the workplace, recognition, rewards and benefits should be tailored with their needs in mind.
"Everyone is looking for flexibility, but how that applies to each generation is different," says Greg Pellegrini, vice president of Training and Development at Global Lead Management Consulting. The veteran may want the opportunity to work part-time hours on a varied schedule that allows time for travel and outside pursuits. They may want a job location that is close to family and grandchildren.
Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 —make up 48 percent of the U.S. work force. Defined by Vietnam, the Cold War and the women's liberation movement, the Baby Boomer generation has been about changing the world for the better. This characteristic is key to attracting and retaining this generation to the work force.
"The Baby Boomer generation was all about changing the world. Show (Baby Boomers) how their contributions can truly make a difference on a project," says Urbanik.
In addition, give Baby Boomers opportunities to continue to learn and develop. "Baby Boomers want to feel young and vibrant. Help them see how they can continue to grow, how they can continue to innovate and how they can make the project better," adds Urbanik.
For Baby Boomers, who will dominate the workplace until 2015, health care benefits and retirement plans are also key hiring factors.
Facilitating communication and fostering a sense of cooperation among the various generations are important in the workplace.
According to Janice Urbanik, "It's important to understand the preferred modes of communication of both veterans and Baby Boomers." Veterans, who tend not to be as technically savvy, usually prefer face-to-face interaction or written communication over the "call me anytime" or e-mail methods of Gen Xers and Gen Yers.
Reverse mentoring can also help with communication.
"When you think of mentoring you think of someone who has a lot of experience, who is going to pass on this wealth of information and knowledge to someone newer in the organization who would not have this knowledge base," says Greg Pellegrini. "But for it to work best it really needs to be reciprocal. Both sides need to be gaining from that relationship.
"When it comes to younger workers, they have knowledge to bring to the workplace and they don't want to feel like they have nothing to offer. However, they recognize that they haven't been in the workplace as long. On the reverse side you have older workers who could really benefit from knowledge that the younger worker does have. It might be technical skills or technology in general. So with reverse mentoring, the younger associate feels really good that they can help someone who is already in the organization, and the person who is already in the workforce can gain some expertise from that young worker."
While categorizing employees makes it easier to generalize about their workplace preferences and habits, it is important to remember that each person is an individual who not only brings distinct skills and talents to the workplace, but who also values a different set of rewards and benefits. Understanding these differences and learning how to bridge the generation gaps will make the multi-generational workplace stronger and more successful.