LEWISTON – It was a simple enough question.

April Clark, the presenter at Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce breakfast, asked the audience what today’s newest member of the labor force expects to be called.

“Late for work,” came the quip from the back of the room.

When the laughter died down, Clark noted that was a classic baby boomer response, born of a workaholic work ethic that defines the generation born between 1946 and 1964. The right answer is “talent,” said Clark, herself a boomer and regional manager for Manpower.

Her topic, dealing with the generational divide at work, elicited lots of laughter at the Ramada as people recognized themselves in the characteristics of four distinct generations: the World War II generation, defined by sacrifice; baby boomers, the workaholics; Gen-Xers, an independent, latchkey generation that doesn’t need anyone telling them what to do; and the millennials, born after 1978 who burst with creativity and entitlement.

“When we leave, I hope we all will be a bit more tolerant of every single generation, old and young; we all need to have that,” said Clark, noting that the most commonly heard comment in today’s workplace is ‘They just don’t get it.’ Both generations say it.”

The chasm is caused by the different cultures and societies in which we are raised. The World War II workers, who recycled tin foil and took jobs as tweens to help the war effort, don’t understand today’s millennials, whose lives have been relatively unaffected by the current war.

Likewise the boomers, who have obsessed about climbing the career ladder, scratch their heads at millennials, who average 16 months in a job.

“The average number of jobs held by today’s 18-to-34-year-olds is nine,” said Clark, who’s been with Manpower for 23 years.

But younger workers will be the replacements for a retiring older generation and recruiting them is key to making a business survive. Prime enticements for younger workers: creative work places, freedom, technology.

“They are used to stimulation,” said Clark, adding that the average 12-year-old today spends six hours a day connected to technology, sometimes simultaneously listening to their iPods, while texting friends and doing homework.

That ability to multi-task is one of the greatest strengths of the newest workers and a stark contrast to older folks who tend to be suspicious of technology and take tasks one at a time.

“I have to shut off the radio to back into a parking space,” said Clark with a laugh, as other boomers nodded in agreement.

Each generation brings its own strengths and the savvy manager will learn how to recognize, respect and meld them together. Clark noted that Google remains the most popular employer in the country, attracting top talent by offering benefits like on-site doctors, car washes, laundry facilities, commuter shuttles with Wi-Fi and take-out food vouchers for employees who’ve just had babies. Oh, and dogs are welcome in the workplace.

“Think about how to become an employer of choice,” Clark said.

She said many companies operate with attitudes and cultures that haven’t changed in decades. A company that always rewards employees with an end-of-the-year bonus would be wise to consider awarding the bonus right after it’s earned, she said, rather than a date dictated by custom or calendar.

Clark said Manpower had a no-sandals rule for decades. A couple of years ago, a manager mentioned that a lot of employees would like the option of wearing sandals during the summer months and the company changed its stance.

“It made people happy,” said Clark, who was sporting a pair of sandals herself. “It didn’t cost any money; we didn’t lose any business.”

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