Spring 2007 Issue Number 88
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Annual Conference of Fire Service Women, April 25-29, 2007
Oakland, CA. Go to www.wfsi.org
for more information.
Fire Rescue International, August 23-25, 2007 Atlanta, GA. Linda Willing will be teaching several workshops at this conference, including a pre-conference seminar on Leading Diverse Teams. More information will be available here in coming months.
As I travel around the country, I frequently ask about what diversity issues organizations currently find most challenging. Lately I have found that more than race, more than gender, managers and leaders are saying, "Kids these days. They're not like us. They don't respect tradition. They don't want to pay their dues. They don't respect authority and rank the way we used to."
Of course, there is another side to this story. When asked, younger employees often express frustration that their skills and abilities are not valued or used in systems that value longevity above all. Younger people don't understand how someone can be in a position of leadership and be technologically illiterate. Many younger workers were raised to be more independent than other generations, and may not readily accept a role of being a support player. They may see some older workers as "dead wood" who would be better off moving on and making room for newer, younger workers.
Particular problems may arise when younger workers are promoted into positions to supervise their older counterparts. Younger supervisors may have a different management style and set different priorities in the workplace. They may define success differently and want to make more time for their personal lives along with work.
The key to good cross-generational relationships is mutual respect and a clear common mission. The fire service in the past has sometimes been rigid about accomplishing goals and refused to consider alternative methods, whether it be for pulling a hose line or managing interpersonal conflict. Diversity across generations is an organizational asset when everyone is ultimately on the same page with why they are there.
A few ground rules can help to make intergenerational workplaces more functional and harmonious. First, negative stereotypes, name calling and pigeon-holing based on age should be strictly prohibited. Leaders from the top down must set the example in this area. Even well-intentioned jokes can have a bad impact.
Second, all people within the organization should have the opportunity to try every role as long as they are willing to meet the requirements of the position. It is easy to channel people into specific roles based on their inherent characteristics, and this should be avoided for age as it should be avoided for race, gender and ethnicity.
However, skills that may be related to generational difference should be recognized and used. Most younger people grew up with computers, cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras and other technologies. Technological fluency is a valuable ability. Doing a skills and interests inventory among all employees is one way to identify areas of expertise that might not be readily apparent.
Most of all, communication makes the difference in developing cross-generational ties. Younger people may communicate differently from their elders, but they are often saying the same thing. Creating a workplace where everyone feels valued will go a long way toward minimizing conflicts that may arise from difference.
Source: The New York Times, November 26, 2006