Managing — and Maximizing — a Multigenerational Workforce (Episode 41)

August 27, 2018

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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx! Solutions. In today’s podcast, we talk with Joanie B. Connell, Ph.D., president and CEO of Flexible Work Solutions. Dr. Connell is an organizational consultant and leadership coach who specializes in maximizing leadership potential. She works with companies to attract, develop, and retain top talent and with individuals to improve their success and happiness in their careers. Her clients range from Fortune 500 companies, not-for-profit and government agencies, as well as high tech, biotech, healthcare, finance, legal, and other industries. As a professor, she teaches and has taught at the Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego, the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, and in the Master’s in Human Behavior program at National University. She is an author of the book Flying Without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life. Welcome, Joanie, thanks for joining us today.

Joanie Connell Thanks, Darcy. It’s a pleasure to be here.

DG: When I hear the term “flexible work solutions,” I think of flex-time, so breaking out of that 9-to-5 routine, telecommuting, and the like. I would guess those are perks that many millennials and younger members of the workforce have come to expect. But, Joanie, what’s your definition of flexible work solutions? And can you also explain for us the assess/structure/evaluate model?

JC: Yes. Sure, absolutely. The definition of flexible work really centers around two things. It’s either shifting the time — managing the time that people work — or the place. So what you said about telecommuting, that might fit into the place bit, right. So if you’re working from home, or we have distributed teams across the globe. Those would be shifting in place. And shifting in time might mean you maybe you go part time, you share a job with somebody else so you’re only doing half of it, or if you’re doing shift work, something like that, it might be you’re moving the shift to work later or earlier hours. A lot of people are doing that now, especially if they have kids in school, people to take care of at home. And people also do it just to have a better life. I mean I live in San Diego, and I’ll tell you, the number of people who shift their hours to go surfing is remarkable.

DG: Here it’s skiing in the winter.

JC: Yes, that’s the part of the rejuvenation piece we might get to later. But it’s to have a good life. And, you know, some jobs are prone to having this to be successful and some aren’t. And that’s where we get into the model you asked about, the assess/structure/evaluate model. And what we do with work solutions is we first go and look at assess, to decide if the organization can do flexible work, also the job can be flexible, and the person. So there are three levels of this fit for flexible work. And an organization would have to have some flexibility in it perhaps, like can you actually work from home and telecommute and be successful in your organization. I’ve seen some organizations where people are doing that all the time and it’s great. I’ve seen other organizations who are like, no, if you’re not there in person and showing your face, you pretty much get left out of everything and you’re going to be sort of sidetracked off your career path. So the organization has to be there to also have an infrastructure. If you’re going to be telecommuting you need to have the tools, the technology available to be able to do things like that.

The job, you know, certain jobs obviously you know you’re talking a lot about healthcare, and some jobs you have to be there to help somebody, to interact with them, and that cannot be done remotely perhaps. But other jobs — you know, programming, IT — you don’t necessarily have to be on site to do that. And the person. You know, you usually only have people who are working outside of the office, or shifting their hours, they need a certain level of maturity, and also a certain level of experience to be able to work independently. So those are the three levels in the assessment piece. And then we structure it. We base it on what will work for the organization. And evaluating is just true with anything that you put in place, a new program, you want to check because it’s hard to get it just perfect the first time through. We have a lot of that with flexibility, that somebody is telecommuting and then, all of a sudden, they run into challenges that they just didn’t predict. So you want to do an evaluation and revise to make it better and more successful for everyone involved.

DG: Right. So, Joanie, this podcast is a great example of telecommuting, because I am telecommuting today and I have all the tools I need to conduct this interview with you.

JC: Exactly.

DG: So I want to go on to the next question. We hear so much about retention and burnout in long-term care, and in other industries. But what we don’t hear much about is rejuvenation. And I love that concept. Could you tell us, do you use similar or different strategies for workers of varying ages? And could you give us some examples?

JC: Yeah sure, Darcy. Well, let’s see. Rejuvenation and burnout, very tough thing. So burnout, I hope you don’t get to that point. We try to do a lot of prevention there too. But once you’ve hit that point, you know, you need to take some time to really recalibrate. And we find it’s actually happening at different ages than in the past. You’ve got sort of midlife crisis sometimes that people go through, where they’re just wondering if their work is really what they want to be doing, or they might be burning out because they’re just exhausted. But we also have millennials who are going through this quarter-life crisis — I don’t know if you’ve heard of that yet — but that’s you know, you hit 25 and they’re going, ‘Wait a minute, is this what was promised or what I want to be doing?’ So we’ve got some of those factors contributing to the burnout piece, and how do you deal with them differently at different ages.

Well, at Flexible Work Solutions we usually look at individual people because it really depends on what the person is dealing with and what they need. And so we try to go through a process where that person does an inventory on themselves and figures out what their priorities are. And often that centers around what their values are. And those can shift over time. I mean we might value money a great deal at one point in our lives and then later we might value impact or a legacy. We might have a family at one point in our lives where we’re really focusing on them and work isn’t as important. So it’s a time of figuring out what your values are and what’s most important to you, and then making that work for you. And that’s what tends to help people rejuvenate and focus in and prioritize on what is important to them rather than wasting their time on things that aren’t important to them.

DG: Sure. I always think about professionals in education who get sabbaticals, and I think, why don’t other industries have sabbaticals.

JC: Yes, that is a great point. I mean some of them have in the past. I mean, I used to work in Silicon Valley, and you started out having sabbaticals, and then as time shifted and we moved to cubicles and working crazy hours, those kinds of perks disappeared. But you see that in other countries, like in some European countries. And I was just in Australia and they have sabbaticals and, boy, they are people who are just a lot more balanced and rejuvenated.

DG: Sure. So let’s get back to turnover. Development is another way we can combat that. On your website you refer to it as “offering people opportunities to develop themselves.” Again, I think that self-development is really a unique way of looking at professional and/or personal development. So how does this play out in the workplace and among different employee demographics and different job levels?

JC: Well, I definitely am of the persuasion that development is a responsibility of the individual person, of the employee. A lot of people make a mistake of waiting around for their boss or their company to develop them. And some organizations, you’ve got this amazing boss who comes to you and brings you into a meeting and says ‘OK, what can I do for you to help you with your development?’ But more often, they’re waiting for you to say ‘Hey, I want to take the next step, this is what I want to do.’

So at all different levels, we always say it’s very important for somebody to figure out what they want to do. And part of that is the self-awareness piece. And certainly the organization can help with that to make these kinds of tools available to people. Definitely, tools that help people figure out about themselves and their personality, their values as I was just saying earlier, what kind of skills they have at their jobs, what gaps they might have that they want to develop. Or realize they don’t want to, sometimes people are like, ‘I’m perfectly happy going in this direction, I don’t want to learn about operations, you know, I’m really a salesperson,’ or vice versa, ‘I don’t want to learn sales, I want to stick to operations so I’m not gonna learn those skills.’ So that’s fine too. But people need to figure out where their strengths are and also where they have these gaps. And that helps people at all levels be better at what they do, and just have more fulfilling careers as a result.

DG: Right. Joanie, in long-term care as with many industries, there is a wide range of ages and backgrounds among employees. And there is often a wide age gap between staff and residents in particular. You offer courses targeted to millennials and their managers. So first, I’d like to ask you, without stereotyping, are there any distinctive work traits that you’ve seen that can be attributed to millennials, gen-Y, boomers, etc.? And then can you give our listeners some tips on how to manage and maximize a multifaceted workforce? And that was a mouthful!

JC: Yes, it is. You were mentioning the stereotype thing. It’s important to stay away from that. But what I help people understand with generations is that it’s kind of a cultural difference if we look at it. I mean, instead of going to a different geographical location to experience somebody from a different culture, you look at this as a time shift, you know, people who grew up in different times grew up with different cultures. I mean, you look at how the internet has influenced our culture. People who grew up before the internet had a very different upbringing than people who grew up after the internet. So that’s just a real simple example. So you can’t necessarily say that every single person who grew up post-internet is addicted to social media, because that would be wrong. But you can say they’ve grown up in a time where social media was very important, and they might have an interest or skills or things like that, and then it would be important to actually check in with a person and see where they’re at on this. And so let’s see. I think you asked about the different traits that people have?

DG: Yes.

JC: OK, baby boomers, you know, they grew up post-World War II, so you look at that era, very different time frame. And they grew up looking, I guess you would say much more hierarchical viewpoints, hardworking, learning that it was important to work and achieve. That was some of their cultural upbringing during that time frame. And Generation X, well, they grew up in a different time, I think a lot went during the time when people were a lot more freeform, their parents, ’60s-’70s-’80s, off doing their own things, and so these kids grew up a lot more self-reliant. You know, we have the view of the latchkey kid, things like that, a lot more divorces. And so the kids had to grow up much quicker than some of these other generations. So they’re very independent generally, and self-reliant. And they also were sort of the instigators of the work-life balance that the millennials are really taking to the next level now.

Millennials, they grew up — this is another thing, the baby boomer parents and some of the gen-Xers are really wanting to instill confidence and high self-esteem in these young kids because that wasn’t as important when they grew up and they’re saying, ‘OK, we want to do differently for our kids.’ And so the millennials have grown up with that confidence. And also very hopeful and optimistic. And they are really good at being part of decisions, and expect to be as well, to have those kinds of opportunities and work in a team, compared to this hierarchical viewpoint that the baby boomers have. So those are some examples of differences in the traits, and just the expectations that growing up in different time frames have really contributed.

DG: Those are great examples. Joanie, you also offer resources for women leaders. And in senior care, women hold a variety of nursing and other leadership roles. So is there any advice you’d like to share with us today in that regard?

JC: Well, sure, I have a lot to say on that, and I’ll try to keep it short. I was thinking about this, because I do a lot of work with women leaders. I actually — we talk about some podcasts — I have a radio show that I have a series on called “Women Lead Radio.” And I do real-life lessons there. And I interview women who are really high-level leaders and I hear their stories. And it’s interesting to hear some of their advice, and I’ve done a lot of research on this too. And some of the things that come up are being expected to do certain things because they’re a woman. Having this, we call it in academic terms gender congruency, meaning that you’re congruent with or consistent with the expectations of your gender. And that can be really challenging for women because the expectations of a leader often coincide with more masculine traits. And the expectations for women, you know, are these feminine nurturing kind of traits.

So the advice out of this that I give to a woman who is figuring out how to navigate that, how to be a leader yet also be perceived consistent with what one would expect from a woman, like have some warmth, maybe balance some assertiveness with some warmth, things like that. And finding it’s a lot more complicated than just getting out there and doing what’s expected of a leader. There’s a lot more sort of winding around and figuring out what works for you.

DG: That sounds like the advice that political candidates get if they’re women.

JC: Yes. I mean I would also say, another thing that’s so important is women supporting women. And that’s something that has come up time and time again that women aren’t as supportive of women in the workplace, and the more we can support each other the better off we’ll all be. So that’s my second piece of advice, is support other women and let them support you too.

DG: Tell us about your book, Joanie, Flying Without a Helicopter. It focuses on what’s important to help produce healthy, independent, self-reliant employees who will drive on their own. So what is most important?

JC: Well, that’s a great question, Darcy. I tell you, I wrote the book because in the workplace consulting with organizations and hearing lots of complaints about the millennials — sorry for that, but I’m just reporting what I hear, right. This was several years back, and lots of complaints about a lot of them not having the skills that are necessary to be successful at work. And at the same time, several years back, I had a young daughter in school and I was seeing how things were really different for parents and teachers in school and how people were going about this whole parenting thing so much differently. And a spark went off, the lightbulb went off the top of my head and I was like, ‘OK, when we do X when they’re little, Y happens when they’re older,’ right, and so the book is really about what happens when people get old enough and get out there in the workplace and what we need to do for younger people to help them gain those skills that are necessary.

So you ask, Darcy, what is important. Well, I have the real-life model, it is resilient, empowered, authentic, and limber. And resilience is all about being able to deal with challenges. You know, as parents, if we protect our kids too much, then the kids never learn how to deal with those challenges and we see that in the workplace where something will happen and people will just break down or quit right away instead of being able to tough it out and say ‘OK, I made a mistake, I’m gonna keep going.’

Empowered is being able to take initiative and get things done rather than waiting for the boss to tell you what to do. We see that a lot, you know, just waiting for instructions. That happens from being so structured as kids in school and in activities.

Authentic, well, that’s the piece of being true to yourself and, you know, realizing that we’re all imperfect people, right, and not trying to just put on this front of being this amazing superstar all the time. And you know, the expectations are so high now for kids, and they have been for a while, for getting all A’s, for having these fantastic resumes, having these test scores that just are so high that when we get into the workplace and a manager gives somebody feedback which is less than perfect, we find people get really upset about that because they’re not used to it, they haven’t gotten that honest feedback. So being able to be true to yourself and realize that, yeah, we all have little gaps in ourselves.

And the limber is just the flexibility, and we’ve talked about that a little bit here in flexibility. But in our constantly changing workplace you need to be able to deal with changes constantly. And if you haven’t had that upbringing because your parents haven’t given you those opportunities, they’ve done it for you, then you don’t know how to flex when something comes up and changes the path for you. So that’s the real-life model and that’s really about flying without a helicopter is just being able to do this on your own and being independent and successful in work no matter what you choose to do.

DG: It almost sounds like you’re trying to undo what the helicopter parents do.

JC: Yes, I think so. I work with people who are in their 20s who have already — their parents are not as influential in their lives, and I talk with managers about this and organizations, how can we help people later to learn these skills. It’s never too late.

DG: No, it isn’t. Joanie, I see that you’re not stranger to podcasts. You have your Reinventing Nerds podcast. That’s a great title, I’ve got to say. So you were an engineer in a previous life, correct?

JC: Yes.

DG: So was my husband, and now he’s in IT. So I can totally relate to your concept. But how does it apply to those in the long-term care industry?

JC: Well, Reinventing Nerds, you know, people sort of self-describe as nerds, right. And that tends to be people who are technical. They can be scientists, they can be people who are interested in information, like library. It can be engineers. Doctors sometimes can be nerds. Anyone who is interested in some of these technical things. And I think the real part about Reinventing Nerds is that a lot of people who go into technical professions don’t learn the communication skills because they’re never taught that. I mean I know when I was in college and I learned how to be an engineer, it was all about how to design and debug. It wasn’t about how to get along with your teammates, right. So people who just haven’t had that experience or could use more. I mean this is applying more and more to young people too because people growing up on cell phones all the time, communicating with their thumbs on their little miniature telephone keyboards instead of in conversations. So it’s about having those people strategies. And in long-term care, those are so important, those people strategies. If you don’t have those, clearly it’ll be really important not just to get along with your boss and your teammates, but also with your patients and clients and all the people that just are craving for that personal touch, right.

DG: Right. Well, thank you, Joanie, so much, for sharing your insights and your advice with us today. I think they’re applicable to anyone, whether you’re a manager, an employee, whatever generation you’re from. So thanks again. And to all our listeners, thank you for taking the time to tune in. If you’d like to learn more about SmartLinx and our fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, visit us online at

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