The generational gap in today’s workforce is the widest it’s ever been, and the ability of each side of the spectrum to work together and avoid labeling each other is paramount.
That was the message to school board members from Cara Silletto, who spoke during the lunch session at the KSBA’s Winter Symposium Dec. 4 in Louisville. She is a consultant who focuses on reducing unnecessary employee turnover due to generational gaps.
Silletto cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that forecasts the millennial generation (those born since 1980) will be the majority of the workforce by 2020 and will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, replacing baby boomers as workforce leaders. With new values and ideas held by this younger generation, conflicts are bound to arise, Silletto said.
“The issue is not going to go away, so it’s something that we all need to play a role in bridging the gap from every direction,” she said. “So it’s not one generation’s responsibility to change. Everyone has to adapt in order to work better together as a team.”
Silletto told board members there are five issues to be aware of in bridging the gap: technology, authority, balance, loyalty and entitlement (TABLE).
She noted the newer generation is more apt to embrace rapidly changing technology because they have experienced it their entire lives. Baby boomers, she said, were told to respect their elders, while her generation was encouraged to question authority.
The line between work and personal time for millennials is blurred, as most always have their smartphone nearby. They are as apt to check and respond to work emails before breakfast or late at night as they are to check Facebook during work hours.
“People say they knew there were issues but they never thought about it from the other side before,” she said. “… I knew there were issues but I didn’t know how to overcome it.”
Silletto said different generations can work together by communicating and embracing differences. She added that it’s important for the younger board members to respect the experience of their older colleagues and, conversely, it’s important for the longer-tenured members to respect the fresh eyes of the younger generation “so they can be a voice of change.”
“There is no right or wrong,” Silletto said. “I hope you have all four generations within your district. I hope you have all four voices and all different types of personalities and different generational mindsets.
“Remember that even though we all have very different styles, everyone in this room is balancing lots and lots of things. … (And) we are here with the same goals.”
After the session, Silletto provided more suggestions for multigenerational school boards. “I would say the No. 1 piece of advice is to communicate expectations, because we make so many assumptions that other people think like we do and have experienced things that we have experienced or were raised the way we were raised. If we make assumptions, then we’re going to judge people and we’re going to be angry when they miss our expectations, even though the other person is thinking, ‘I didn’t even know that that was their expectation, and then I let them down because I didn’t know.’
“So I think the key is just making sure that everyone’s on the same page, that they know where everyone is headed and why.”
Board View: Closing a different kind of gap
As the youngest member of the Lawrence County school board, Heath Preston, 39, found that Winter Symposium speaker Cara Silletto’s message about generational differences rang true.
“I’m in a different generation than every other (Lawrence County) board member, and when I first came on there was definitely a generation gap in thinking, and we’ve grown to respect each other. But this gave a new perspective on those issues,” he said.
Preston has been on the board for three years and was elected board chairman this year.
“Being the new guy and with some new ideas and anxious to try to make something happen and all the other board members being on there for an extended period of time … when I came on it was definitely a generational gap, and to a new way of thinking and I hope I brought some of that to the table, which I think I did. But it was a new experience for everybody,” he said.
“Those gaps have closed and the ideas have come to acceptance because they’ve seen some things work and prosper, and our school board is better because of it.”