Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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You Must Be This Old to Work Here

In Birmingham today, I had three deep conversations about generations in the workplace within 3 hours.

The first happened while meeting with the leadership of Ruth and Naomi, a nonprofit that "brings joy to older adults living in isolation through companionship, unconditional acceptance, and the beauty of music." This small nonprofit does a great job of matching up younger folks (ad people of any age) who want to volunteer their time by visiting people in nursing homes, or those living alone. Some of their most passionate and loyal volunteers are young people.

But how can they get more? What are the tools to enlisting more young folks to help with every aspect of their small, but growing, organization? Do they need a young face on staff? Do they need a trendy Web presence, full of bells and whistles?

We briefly discussed the convergence of different generations in the workplace, and what it means for nonprofits looking to capitalize on young talent and energy that usually naturally comes with someone in their mid-twenties. We also talked about the 'gray ceiling' and the seeming animosity that can be created when people born decades apart don't understand the basic outlook of each other.

Then, while at lunch with the executive director of Lifeline, an adoption services nonprofit, we once again talked about Generations X and Y and what that meant for him as the person in charge of managing a rapidly growing staff. Unfortunately, most of the recent college graduates he interviews simply aren't qualified to fill his staff positions. And this has nothing to do with age - if you haven't been certified to be a social worker, then he simply can't use you to council mothers and families dealing with the emotional aspect of adopting or giving up a child. Sure, he wants passionate and energetic people to help grow and maintain his nonprofit, but he has to search for it in the group of folks who have master's degrees.

And, he considers himself a 'boomer' even though he's not yet 30, mainly because of the way he was raised. Essentially, he believes that you earn what you work for. He sees some Gen X and Y folks as having a sense of entitlement, and this doesn't fly with his values.

Then, while being interviewed for a Birmingham newspaper, the conversation once again went to the realm of generational characteristics. What are Gen Y individuals looking for in a volunteer opportunity? What do they want out of a first job or a city to live in? Do they simply want things to be easy?

And then it hit me. Each conversation centered around one central theme: access.

Gen X and Y don't necessarily seek entitlement. At least not directly. They don't demand ease or run from commitment. They simply expect access - access to their boss, access to a promotion, access to opportunity, access to information, access to others.

While many have come of age with parenting and schools big on self-esteem, they have also come of age with many other tools of convenience. They have not known life without the Internet, microwave ovens, or drive-thru restaurants.

So, they don't think you're out of touch because you're old. They just can't fathom that they can't shoot you an email to get a basic question answered.

They don't not want to work with you because you don't know the latest slang. They just don't get why they can't get all the info they need quickly on your Web site.

And they won't quit your company or organization because you're not promoting them. They leave because they didn't get an opportunity to learn or try something new.

So, if you're looking to create a remarkable work or volunteer experience that appeals to a younger set, allow them access. Let them access their own dreams and hopes for an event. Give them the technological tools and digital information they need in order to tell all their friends on Facebook. Let them see what's available within the next 3 years if they work with you, and work hard.

Getting information quickly is expected today. If someone can't find the basics about you on your Web site in under a minute, they're gone. But if the info is there, they then can at least have access to their own decisions about the next step.