Guest speaker discusses bridging generational differences in the workplace

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgts. John Hughel and Amber Ketchum
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Key events in history, which helped shape and define each generation, were the focus of a recent lecture presented to the Force Support Squadron here during the July unit training assembly at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore.

Dr. Alan Cabelly, a professor in Human Resource Management and Leadership at Portland State University, offered various insights into the unique make-up of each generation and the key factors that define the characteristics of each in today's workplace.

"There are now seven generations in today's workforce and each one of those generations brings different motivations to the job," said Cabelly.

"Each generation has liberals, conservatives, urban, rural, rich, poor, etc.," said Cabelly. "My generation has the hippies, Nixon conservatives and one group nobody can figure out - the Holy Bikers," he said.

Cabelly's discussion drew attention to the differences in how Airmen approach life based upon their age, stage in life and events they have experienced.

Touching on common generational themes, Cabelly pointed out the similarities that each successive generation has about their older peers. "The older generations are stuck in their ways and can't make something workable," he said.

"Those types of generalizations happen again and again and again," he said.

To illustrate the difference between the various generations, Cabelly grouped the Airmen based on their ages in separate sections of the room. Within each group, they shared thoughts on motivating factors that create success in the workplace. The lecture also included teambuilding activities and discussion forums to draw on common experiences.

Cabelly pointed out one age group that has remained consistent throughout the years - the 25 to 35-year-old group. This demographic has traditionally found members working on the same goals of building a family and a career.

"There is significant overlap generation after generation with this age group as the members are striving to build career and family simultaneously," said Cabelly.

'How work gets done' was the overarching theme of the discussion among groups. Questions such as "What is the most effective way to get things done?" and "What are the different ways of accomplishing a task?" were part of the conversation.

Cabelly's interactions with the audience helped engage members into providing feedback to each other. During part of the ongoing dialogue, Tech. Sgt. Jason Cohen, a personnel assistance manager for the 142nd Fighter Wing's Force Support Squadron said, "I loved this kind of communication. This is the kind of discussion needed to help bridge the generations."

The lively debate gave some food for thought when it came to helping the oldest generation of the unit with understanding the newest members of the Guard. Cabelly offered suggestions such as how to make communication both personal and less formal.

"Take them out to lunch and get to know them. Get them excited about the job," he said.

Cabelly introduced other ideas to help unit members embrace their generational differences and to provide individual feedback. One of his suggestions during the session was to understand how to interconnect and how technology has brought a whole new dimension into the workforce.

"Younger workers bring computer skills and other forms of social media to the workplace," said Cabelly. He emphasized that older members of the workplace must learn to trust these new tools and the creative aspect conveyed by all changes that take place over time.

"This level of communication is rarely practiced due to our high ops tempo. We don't often have time to communicate in this way," said Cohen.

The entire one-hour event was a departure from traditional classes that are taught over a drill weekend. Cabelly recognized that traditional part-time Guardsmen benefit from training like this.

"When you go back to your other jobs on Monday, you cannot expect others there to grasp some of the teaching concepts you are getting here today," he said.

The lecture was coordinated by Lt. Col. Donna Prigmore, Force Support Squadron commander, who had worked with Cabelly in the past in similar teaching sessions.

"I reached out to Dr. Cabelly because he had done a wonderful job with the topic of intergenerational differences where I work full-time at the Port of Portland," said Prigmore.

In the end, most members stayed after the discussion to keep ask questions and to continue the dialogue.

"It's exciting to see how many of our members opened up to this presentation," said Prigmore.