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Working Across Generations: Inspiring a Multigenerational Workforce

From baby boomers to millennials, governments are having to change the way they think about engaging their workforce as new generations take over.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Successfully engaging today's multigenerational workforce is a task the California Department of Technology is tackling — and it isn't easy. Each generation has different life experiences, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses and “comfort levels” when it comes to technology.

Part of the reason why the government needs to foster generational interaction is the imminent departure of baby boomers. With some 76 million baby boomers across the U.S. marching toward retirement, one thing is clear: The IT departments of government will need a strategy to create knowledge transfer programs to share the know-how that retirees might otherwise depart with.

There are roughly 65 million Gen X-ers born 1965 to 1984, but they aren’t the only big players in the workforce. The millennials, born 1981 to 1997, offer an additional 75 million people and contribute another nearly 53 million workers.

During the California Public Sector CIO Academy, hosted by Government Technology, state officials talked about this challenge and their experiences with a diverse and multigenerational workforce.

According to Bill Glaholt, chief information officer for the California Horse Racing Board, his experience working with multi-generations has proved to be a strength and not a drawback. As a Gen X-er, he started with the state in 1995 as a COBOL programmer in the California Department of Social Services.

“My boss led me around to meet everyone, and then he introduced me to my partner,” he said. “He was an older man. I thought, ‘Oh man, this is the guy who is going to teach me COBOL?”

After Glaholt got over his surprise, he sat down to talk with his new partner. “We had been given a two-year project to finish.”

During their conversation, his partner addressed his concerns about the partnership and his age. “He said, ‘Yes I am close to retirement, but you have so much to teach me that I would like to learn.’” This was the beginning of a true partnership, Glaholt said. “We taught each other and respected each other.”

Because they had much to learn from each other, he said, the project was finished in six months. During that time Glaholt learned how to converse with his interdepartmental customers and how to cut through government red tape under the tutelage of his older mentor. “We figured out how to teach each other things, and this was key to our getting the work done quickly.”

Pride in public service crosses all generations, said Chris Maio, project director with the California State Payroll System within the California State Controller’s Office. He finds focusing his teams on work that benefits Californians inspires all members, regardless of age.

Maio worked on early data analysis for a program that was a precursor to the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES). Back then, the program was housed with the pharmacy board and wound up sending investigators into the California backwoods to take a look at an outfit that was prescribing large numbers of opioids. The work energized him. 

“I find the core values of public service makes a difference across all generations,” he said. “This is why our work matters. We are here to make things good for Californians.”

In working across generations, Maio said he also found that it was essential to solicit comments from everyone when beginning a project. “We have a brainstorming session, and then I break the group out into teams to solve the problem,” he said. Then he brings the groups back together to share their research. “Then, the group decides how to solve the problem and moves forward.”

Dominick Maio (Chris Maio's father), business analyst in Loan Servicing for the California Housing Finance Agency, is a member of the baby boomer generation. As a former CIO, he works part-time for his department and at age 70, plans to retire permanently in the spring of 2018. He says creating a close-knit team is vital to employee retention. 

He finds that departments that create a work-life balance, give honest and fair evaluations and promote justly do the best with multigenerational workforces. “Do not treat millennials like children,” he warned boomer managers. “They are at the beginning of their careers and are frequently in low-paying jobs.”

Instead, he advises managers to give them the latest equipment and tools. “They should be given work that helps them to compete in their future careers."


Elizabeth Zima is a former staff writer for Government Technology. She has written in depth on topics including health care, clinical science, physician relations and hospital communications.
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