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Corrections – Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 03/02/2015

Bridginggap Many have been paying attention to the warfare that surrounds them. There is nothing new about conflict in the workplace but this cultural battle is about relinquishing control of leadership and key positions in the administrative hierarchy which have been shifting for quite some time now. The war is not about which generation can do the best job but rather which generation has the abilities to do the best job of formulating harmony and unity within the workplace to get the job done.

Most workplaces rely on the world of technology and savvy people who can run it. Corrections is no different but their emphasis on technology is in specialized fields which are computer generated and filled with complex and hard to understand software demands many baby boomer generation leaders have difficulties understanding. Their main business is still the management of people.

This technology drives generational wars and causes tension in the workplace many aren’t addressing in the proper manner. Instead of dealing with it they are ignoring it causing tempers, frustrations and lower morale with the ultimate price of an increase in employee turnover and impair the agency’s ability to produce positive benchmarks for the mission.

We have to work on setting new rules so that those playing in the sandbox can get along without in-fighting or at the very least, play better with each other. There has to be a pervasive trend to discuss and solve these problems in order for the agency to meet its public sector responsibilities and expectations. There is no doubt that relationships between generations are at an all-time low as we speak and something needs to be done to reverse this drift.

The perceptions are flawed as one generation called the other a “bunch of whiners” or “instant gratification” groupies that feel they are better than the other and show their arrogance and entitlement in the open unlike the baby boomers who are more discreet about their own flaws. The perception of baby boomers being self-absorbed workaholics carries with it a stigma that offends the other generations causing deep rifts in productivity and commitment to get the job done as a team.

Having said all that the focus appears to be on better communications and minimizing the traditional trash-talking events that occur on the job. Working with different age groups in itself is problematic but having conflicts stimulated by generational tension impacts the use of technology and work ethics. Thus finding a bridge for this generational gap is of the utmost importance.

Baby boomers came up with the phrase “working hard or hardly working?” Research is showing that this generation believes or feels that younger generation people do not have the same work ethics as them and causes them to have to put forth more effort to get the job done. This is one of the main causes for the friction between them.

The younger generations rebuke this ideology that they don’t work hard and express a frustration they are not given credit for the work they do because they are viewed to be lesser in energy and commitment than the older generations. Thus this conflict or friction is based on perceptions and not facts.

Each generation has a preferred method of communicating. One prefers face to face while the other prefers emails or text materials. Some prefer social media and others would rather use the telephone. This causes a mixed reaction and communication gap that is difficult to revive if there is no consistency or system in place to keep it at an expected level of proficiency and efficiency. Failing to communicate causes abrupt hurt feelings and impacts the relationships in negative ways. It also impacts relationships both personal and professional.

Why are we having critical flashpoints in the workplace today? What makes it so serious that we have to come up with the solutions quickly and not ignore this problem? Retirements of traditional leadership roles need to be filled with new leaders who possess qualities that keeps the agency running at a high efficiency point. The need to scramble and recruit from the inside and outside is now. Corrections has to do its part in finding the proper replacements for top echelon staff such as wardens, deputy wardens, chief of security, program managers and other critical department heads to keep the momentum going.

The time to transition is now. The time to mix these generational leaders has become essential in preparing for the future. The agency has to develop a strategy that prepares staff for higher responsibilities “while addressing issues that may be preventing, discouraging, or undermining their ability to work in a collaborative manner.” Current leader must understand and respect the needs of each generational work to address these future needs.

Best practices should include recruitment from the inside and outside of the agency. There needs to be an instrument in place that evaluates employee’s unique strengths and weaknesses of each generation and identify the friction points between them. Their focus should be on building a technologically skilled pool of young workers who have demonstrated the ability to work in harmony and retain them for employment or promotional opportunities as they develop.

Focus should also be pointed to the biases that exist and create these workplace tensions. Management should find a way to manage the influx of new incoming generational workers with the means to integrate and collaborate with each other in an increasingly pace to see how their relationships build or bond. The fact they are generational should not draw away from the fact they are people or humans. On the other hand, baby boomers need to be aware how their biases can get in the way of progress and need to work on those issues so that they are managed collectively.

The important thing to remember is that age does not define a person but rather age may draw unique skill sets as well as work and life experiences. Age defines demographics and not a person. There are after all is said millions of people, each who contributed their own uniqueness. Rather than focusing on age we must focus on character, personalities, behaviors and attitudes. This mixing should create an alignment of work skills instrumental in the workplace and we should practice who to get along with people rather than focus on the technologies alone.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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