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Speaker tackles generation gaps in workplace

Former corporate manager delivers keynote address at chamber Economic Summit -


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Keynote speaker Mike Hourigan.Mike Hourigan, a professional speaker and author on workplace sociology, knows what it's like to be the new young guy on the job.

His inaugural experience at a work-related conference near Austin, Texas, lingers in his mind decades after the event took place. At 23, the self-described "Baby Boomer" and member of the "hippie generation" felt clearly out of his element among the older, more experienced golf-oriented contingent from his office.

"Everybody called me 'Kid,' he confessed to the crowd at the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce's Economic Summit on Wednesday morning. "This is a miserable three days for me. Finally, on the last night, they were giving out golf awards. I'm sitting there thinking, 'Thank God this thing is over.' Then the announcer says, 'We want to give the award to that kid — the one who made the most swings.' He handed me a Monopoly set and said, 'Here is a better way for you to spend three hours.'"

After years working with companies such as General Electric, Harley Davidson and Mariott, a considerably more savvy and secure Hourigan translates his years of corporate workplace experience into writing books and regular public speaking gigs. He applied his witty, down-to-earth approach to the chamber's annual Economic Summit held Thursday morning at East Hill Church in downtown Gresham.

The cross-generational audience of about 200 ate up "Millennials, Management, and Me," Hourigan's lengthy, but entertaining analysis of how different age groups, influences and life and work philosophies are meshing — or sometimes just colliding — in the modern workplace.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Keynote speaker Mike Hourigan gestures to the audience Wednesday at the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce's Economic Summit held at East Hill Church in downtown Gresham. Getting the job done

While mapping out the common characteristics of the four commonly labeled generations since World War II — "Silent," "Baby Boomer, "Gen-X" and "Millennial" — Hourigan prefaced his presentation with a solid disclaimer.

"We are shoving people in a bucket, aren't we?" he said. "You might fall into that age group, but you are all individuals. (But) you've got to communicate with me (as a boss) with whatever makes sense to me."

There is no universally accepted definition of generational boundaries, but Millennials are generally considered those now in their teens to late 20s or early 30s. Comprising 72.5 million of the population, they are rapidly assimilating into a workplace generally dominated by Baby Boomers, who came of age in the late 1960s dichotomy of Nixon and Woodstock, and Gen-Xers, who grew up — often as "latch-key kids" whose parents were off at work — with the Persian Gulf War, Nirvana and the 1990s grunge music and fashion scene.

"X-ers are now in middle management," Hourigan noted. "How well they've been groomed on how to manage Millennials is especially important. "They're the generation that really doesn't like Millennials" (saying) 'You guys who show up and think we're gonna just give it to you? Get out!'" he joked.

Hourigan, 62, remained largely fair and impartial in his characterizations of the mixed generations, noting that the Millennials' puzzling quirks tend to mask more positive qualities and intentions.

"They're very impatient," Hourigan said. "They want to get the job done and get the job done now. I like that, but sometimes our communications with them can be frustrating."

When Hourigan gave the audience a chance to chime in on their perceptions of Millennials, the chamber members and guests mentioned characteristics such as: their intense connection to social media; a desire to know the larger relevance of their job; dislike of traditional paths of process and structure; a tendency to define themselves outside of their employment; having great ideas and sense of teamwork; and the increasingly common "strong sense of entitlement" refrain, in which young employees seem to expect certain income and status levels to come sooner, rather than later.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Mike Hourigan discusses how to better engage members of the Millennial generation in the workplace Wednesday at the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce's Economic Summit.Manageable situation

While skewering traits of all generations, Hourigan didn't shy away from the latter perception, noting the tendency of some Boomer and Gen X parents to raise their Millennial children as being "special — you know, everybody gets a trophy."

On the other hand, a Pugh Research poll he presented cited Millennial priorities that emphasized "being a good parent" (52 percent), "having a successful marriage" (30 percent), "helping others in need" (21 percent), "owning a home" (20 percent), but only a mere 1 percent who "want to be famous."

"If that's what somebody wants to get out of life," Hourigan noted, "I can manage them."

Practical tips he offered employers hiring Millennials included:

• clearly explain the "actual facts" of what must be accomplished and maintained

• show them how their role fits in the company's larger mission

• provide regular feedback, but don't micromanage

• encourage teamwork and continued pursuit of their "technology

• make them responsible for something immediately

He described modern mentorship as "kind of a two-way street, where you're taking a boomer and putting them with an X-er or Millennial. There's a real nice transfer (of skills, ideas and experience) there."

And what about Millennials' constant desire to multitask on computers and smartphones, even during meetings?

"It really doesn't matter if they can or can't (do it well)," Hourigan said. "Because if they THINK they can, you're never going to convince them they can't, so just let 'em do it."OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Jarvez Hall, executive director of the East County Economic Alliance, discusses what makes a team player in the workplace Wednesday at the Gresham Area Chambers economic summit.

T.J. Saling Caldwell, who just opened Apple of His Eye, a nonprofit charity organization focused on orphans, in downtown Gresham, said Hourigan's presentation will likely help her relate better to her younger employees and interns.

"It's not just in the workplace. It's in all areas of relationships," she said. "This helps us understand what people think, how they were raised and having that empathy in knowing what other people went through."

Aaron Sorenson, a workforce training coordinator at Mt. Hood Community College, said the presentation reinforced his idea that each generation is unique and has growing pains in assimilating with those who came before them.

"What I see is the stereotypes existed in every generation. (With Millennials) it's the same thing with a different spin on it. Letters, texting Instagram — it's about meeting people where they're at," he said, along with what he calls his "Platinum Rule": Treat others the way they want to be treated."