ILS-565 Library management
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This book review, which discusses the impact of multi-generational age groups in the workplace, was written by Amy Proni (now Amy Ranger) in the form of a ten-minute presentation, for the course ILS-565, Library management, taught by Dr. J. M. Kusack, Southern Connecticut State University, Spring, 2004.

Assignment: Read a good management book. As a tip, a book dealing with personnel issues is always a good bet. And a second tip, any book that uses animals as primary characters is probably not a good bet. Read the book and from it write a speech you would (in theory) give to your staff / the local Rotary Club / the ALA executive / upper management / the local school principals / etc., that espouses the management techniques found in the book. Serious marks deducted for listing chapter headings as the primary substance of your speech. Remember that it is a speech and so has to be lively and informative. The presentation/review must emphasize how the book can be applied. The review must indicate substantial engagement with the content of the book (rather than short-cut scanning of chapter headings). The review should take approximately ten minutes to present or be less than three pages in length.

Book review
When generations collide: who they are, why they clash, how to solve the generational puzzle at work

Good morning. The working environment in the University Libraries has been under stress lately, due to administrative changes and retirements, technological innovations, and the state’s budget crisis. Morale is low, and productivity is down. So today I would like to talk to you about a book that I read recently — it’s called When generations collide: who they are, why they clash, how to solve the generational puzzle at work.

I found this book to be relevant to our situation – we have four distinct generations employed here, and it seems to me that a “one-size-fits-all” strategy is unlikely to help us motivate, manage, and retain high-quality staff.

These four generations consist of Traditionalists, born between 1900 and 1945; Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980; and the Millenials, born between 1981 and 1999. Let me just give you some brief facts about each generational group.

Traditionalists learned to make do or do without: their world was rocked by two world wars and the Great Depression. Federal programs like the New Deal and the G.I. Bill, as well as a very cohesive society, helped them get through tough times. They are extremely loyal. They learned that the military model of top-down management is most efficient for getting things done. Traditionalists live by the chain of command. Rewards for them include the self-satisfaction of a job well done; working hard, then retiring; and the desire to leave a legacy.

Baby boomers were born into a surging post-war economy in which there were jobs and educational opportunities for everyone. Boomers are optimistic; they were raised to believe that they could do anything. This generation is marked by high ideals and competitiveness. A single medium, television, gave them a common language and a front window into deeply divisive issues such as the war in Vietnam, civil rights, and Watergate. From that they developed a willingness to challenge authority. They were derided as the Me generation when they discarded the concept of societal well-being in favor of individual well-being. Status-conscious boomers want visible rewards like a great career, money, titles, recognition, and the corner office.

Generation X is half the size of the Baby boom population. Innovation ruled their childhoods, from cable TV to cell phones, microwaves and personal computers. At the same time, though, nearly every major American institution was called into question and the divorce rate tripled. It’s no wonder that this group of people is comfortable and adept with technology, but is skeptical about the permanence of personal and institutional relationships. Xers are self-reliant, resourceful, and more likely to want ‘self-command’ than any other management model. Job security doesn’t interest Xers as much as career security. They want portable skill sets.

Millenials are just now entering our work force, primarily as student employees. Even though they have been raised by optimistic, idealistic Boomer parents, this generation has been exposed to a steady increase in societal violence, national traumas like the space shuttle disasters, Okalahoma City and September 11th, and numerous school shootings. In a word, they tend to be realistic. Access to a wide world of information, through daycare, travel, the media, and the internet, has led to what the authors call “diversification expectations” – this generation expects their workplace to resemble that same diverse culture. Thanks to their Boomer parents, Millenials are adept at collaboration and multi-tasking, and will be well-suited to parallel careers.

There are three other, smaller generational groups that I’d like to bring to your attention. These are “Cuspers,” people who were born between 1940-45, 1960-65, and 1975-80. They may serve as a bridge between generations, because their experiences have crossed the timelines. Cuspers can be a great help to managers who want to close the generation gaps.

These generational differences really come into play when we talk about using rewards to motivate staff. Traditionalists equate work with duty, Boomers associate it with self-fulfillment, and Xers view it simply as a way to get compensation. Millenials value work that is meaningful to them. With such diverse views on the transactional nature of work, why try to motivate each generation with a one-size-fits-all reward? Tailoring rewards to individuals is one solution, but will work only if the entire staff perceives the rewards as fair and equitable. I suggest that instead of focusing on who gets what, we make why the primary attribute. Base rewards on performance. Rewarding increased productivity lets everyone, including the Libraries, win.

I’d like to touch on the topic of feedback in context with our generational differences. For the stoic Traditionalists, no news is good news. Boomers tend to document everything, and expect an annual formal review. Xers want to know how they are doing all the time, and Millenials will probably expect immediate feedback at the touch of a button. The sensible thing is to offer feedback a la carte.

Ask staff what format they prefer (face to face, via email, or by telephone?); their frequency preference (annually, semi-annually, monthly, or weekly), and style preference (formal or casual?). Also, feedback needs to go in two directions, from the director down, and from the staff up. As it is now, we have no formal mechanism for staff to critique their supervisors and managers, but enabling staff to provide constructive criticism would give the management a multi-generational perspective.

As I’ve mentioned, people work for different reasons. If it is true that an organization’s greatest asset is its employees, then retaining staff must be a priority. It’s not high salaries that will allow us to retain qualified staff – we must offer a mix of benefits which are both real and perceived that will engender a sense of loyalty to the organization. Our retention strategy should be tailored to fit the needs of the different generations. Why not ask staff if option like cross-training, part-time work, flexible schedules, or time off without pay appeal to them?

The bottom line is that generational values and attitudes toward work and life have drastically changed in the past 50 years, but our organization has not. I hope that some of the observations and suggestions that I’ve gathered from the book When generations collide will help the management of the University Libraries rectify that. Thank you.

Lancaster, Lynne C., Stillman, David. (2002). When generations collide: who they are, why they clash, how to solve the generational puzzle at work. New York : HarperCollins.

Last updated 2007-06-10. ALR. Contact me.