The Co-generational Workplace: Book review of Fuse

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Fuse book cover“Organizations need to create a mash-up of the twentieth-century workplace and the twenty-first century workforce,” write Jim Finklestein and Mary Gavin in their book Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace. They believe that this approach will create a more robust, compelling economy.

From the cover you would believe that this is another book like the excellent Generations, Inc., looking at how all the generations can work together harmoniously at work. Instead, Fuse really focuses on what the authors call the ‘bookends’: the Millennial generation born after 1995 and the Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964.

Co-generational Issues for project teams

It is quite likely that your project team includes people from multiple generations, and maybe even some Millennials. Fuse seems written for the Boomer reader and offers some facts about the younger generations.

Younger employees report 600% more job dissatisfaction than older employees, with 80% of Millennials saying that they are unhappy at work. What are you going to do to make them satisfied with the work on your project?

The average Millennial will have 8.6 jobs between the ages of 18 and 32. What are you going to do to encourage them to stay on your project? If you can’t persuade them to stay, or are concerned about them leaving the project for another opportunity, what succession planning are you doing?

Millennials are more productive. The authors say that if the work takes a Boomer 8 hours, Millennials will figure out how to do it in 6. How are you tapping into this? Does your project environment allow for flexi time and is it results-driven rather than handing out rewards for the most hours worked?

“The workplace is not a democracy,” Finklestein and Gavin write. While your older project team members may take this for granted, do the younger team members appreciate the workplace hierarchy? How are you going to involve them, solicit ideas from the entire team, but make decisions appropriately?

There is some advice in Fuse that seems thin. For example, you should open a coffee shop instead of a break room. Get a Wii for the office. Hold a recruiting event with video games and a DJ. Changes like this might be beyond the influence of the project manager, but the concept is to do what project managers have been doing for years: find out how best to relate to and motivate individuals.

Having said that, there isn’t much about relating to and motivating Boomers, although you can read my 5 tips for working with Boomers here.

Workplace policies

The book includes lots of information about pay and benefits which can be summed up by:

  • be flexible
  • tailor compensation to individuals
  • don’t base reward on tenure with the company; base salary on aptitude and contribution.

I think the fact that I skim-read this section shows that I am not a Boomer. It surprised me that there are still private companies that set pay based on years of experience, although I know the UK public sector has a different approach to salaries.

The thing I found most difficult about this book is that I’m not sure who it is aimed at. Most of it is aimed at Boomers, but the ‘you’ changes at a couple of points as the authors shift to address another group with very little (or no) signposting. For example, there is a chapter about basic workplace laws and practices which includes things like cover up your tattoos, don’t steal stationery supplies, and turn up to work on time. This seems to be addressed at the Millennial reader, so I’m not sure really why it is included.

Learn to tolerate the youngsters

The premise of not looking at differences but looking at fusions – similarities between the generations – is a good one. Unfortunately, the problem of who Fuse is aimed at made it difficult to read.

While the authors do talk about the benefits and skills that younger people bring to the workplace, there is an undercurrent in a couple of places that I found awkward.

“Boomers can relax for a while!” Finklestein and Gavin say when talking about why Millennials can’t get jobs. Lucky them. Their jobs are secure while a generation of young people are suffering poor job prospects through adverse economic conditions, caused largely by people older than them.

“Organizations – managed largely by Boomers – will have to tolerate and leverage Millennial workers in the upcoming years,” they write. While this is true, it saddened me to think of colleagues tolerating each other instead of working collaboratively together and playing to each other’s strengths.

The authors are genuinely positive about the concept of a co-generational workplace and have some nice things to say about young people. I agree with their outlook for the future: “The keywords of the future workplace are co-generational, connected, creative, collaborative and communities,” Finklestein and Gavin write.

I sincerely hope that there is less tolerating and more collaboration in that office of the future, and that young project managers are not held back from managing older people simply because of age.

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