Friday, March 1, 2013

Bridging the Generation Gap, Part II

Will you cross this bridge? Will you look down, hold your breath, feel the urge to go to the bathroom, take forever to cross or stop halfway because your feet do not seem to move  further? If you will pass up on the opportunity to cross any of the bridges shown throughout this post, do not be disconcerted. You probably have a fear of crossing bridges.  It is called gephyrophobia. We are going to look at gephyrophobia in ATC, fear of crossing the bridges that link the generation gaps in the workplace. 

In the first part of this post, we recognized that there is a generation gap in ATC due to the wide diversity of ages. A person's outlook on life, her style of communication and interaction is shaped not only by the environment in which she lives and her culture, but also the era in which she was born. Click here to read Part I of this post. It will help you to understand the logic developed in Part II.
How many of these bridges of intergenerational conflict exist in ATC? At least 3, and at most 10 if we do a quick mathematical permutation on our fingers of one hand. Thus saying one thing will have several different meanings to 4, or 5 different generations working side by side . But this is not the only cause of the conflict. The generations have critical views of each other. 

The younger generations think that the older generations are resistant to change, lacking in recognizing the efforts of others and are micromanagers, according to a survey done by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in February 2011 (Gale, 2012). Because of the difference of viewpoints, we find that controllers tend to form cliques because they are very selective in who they work and associate with. How then can we overcome our gephyrophobia in ATC as managers and as members of a work group? 

Managers need to be conscientious in getting to understand the communicative styles of the workforce. It is called transactional style leadershipThis includes allowing controllers to express their wishes without fear of reprisal. It also means balancing the work groups with controllers from different generations, taking into consideration the personality of each controller.  It is not easy but not impossible also. In what other ways can managers display transactional style leadership? 

Assist new controllers to develop a sense of loyalty. Make them feel as part of the entire workforce. Are they familiar with Enroute operations, the Enroute specialists, or do they only know their instructors, trainers, and the other new ATCOs? Get to know their issues, concerns and suggestions; help them acclimatise and adjust to the demands of ATC. 

Arbitrarily introducing new rules for new controllers alienate them and will increase  workplace gephyrophobia. We want them to stick around, cross bridges and enjoy ATC with ATCOs of other generations, not leave after a few years. It is also helpful to hire across age groups. Realising too late that the new batch of ATCOs are 90% Linksters will be a potential factor that worsens the situation. The less cliques there are, the smaller the fears of crossing the bridges of intergenerational conflict.

We cannot recognize the efforts of any controller if we do not know the skill of each ATCO. That is what strategic diversification of skill means. It is also called sustainable development of ATC. Get the ATCOs involved in different stages of a project that matches their skill. Do not refuse an ATCO who takes the initiative and offers to help in a project. You want to lessen the gephyrophobia, not increase it. Send a Generation Yer and an Xer along with a Baby Boomer who are all capable of understanding the proceedings of a conference or workshop and who can also easily share their knowledge with all, upon their return. Think of it as marginal returns to the development (MRD) of ATC. If for instance, an ATCO shows that she has great potential in understanding the technical problems of ATC equipment, take the initiative and encourage her, even helping her to specialise in that area. It is all part of making organizational progress.

These and other creative measures to close the gaps or cross the bridges of intergenerational conflict not only increase social interactions or interactive communication but they also build trust between the generations. The good examples of managers who try to reduce their gephyrophobia will also have positive cyclical effects upon the rest of the staff, who will in turn make the effort to overcome their fears of crossing the bridges of intergenerational conflict. We can all learn from each other. 

You may think that this is too idealistic but the stark reality is that there is a wide age diversity in the workplace - 5 generations with differing outlook. The reality is that qualified Generation Yers could become managers of Baby Boomers. In the absence of proper training on the part of the Generation Yer, the gephyrophobia is even worse. So we have to come up with creative ways to overcome the conflict and be conscientious about those methods. 

 There are many other practical solutions, all with the same aim - to cross those bridges that span the generation gaps. This is not an easy task. But all of these bridges can be crossed, once we make the effort to confront our gephyrophobia in the workplace, we will certainly overcome our fear of crossing the bridges of intergenerational conflict.

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  1. Here is a comment from Frenchez Pietersz, Lecturer in Aviation Logistics, Aviation Engineering, MRO& Airport Development, Amsterdam:
    "The generation gape is a general problem of multiple industries and certainly within the aviation industry. As aviation is somewhat slow in adopting new techniques, for instance the pace of adoption for the industry as a whole would be 5-10 years, the older (not grown up with fast moving technology) generations adoption speed is about 2-5 years, the younger (fast moving) generation adoption speed would be less than a week.

    I would compare it to driving, when decelerating from say 80 MPH to city limit 25 MPH, your brain realises that everything is going slow, you have enough time to look around and do more while driving, this is probably the same issue that the younger generation has when starting at a company where the age is relatively high. This will result in workplace issues as the old want to maintain certain behaviours (because they are doing this for years) and the young are wondering 'why are you doing this in this manner?'

    Certainly some will agree and others will disagree, but in the end the issue remains."