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Generational Issues Can Bedevil Startups

Sometimes running a startup is like watching a soap opera on TV. Even if your new company has only a few employees, their pesonal melodramas can be amplified by long hours in close quarters. And that can be especially true for younger workers.

This certainly isn’t a new issue. Anyone who watches Mad Men will be reminded that facing personal problems at the office dates back at least 50 years (and probably really back as far as caveman hunting trips). Of course, back in the 1960s, it was perfectly acceptable to deal with them by opening a bottle of Scotch at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

The specifics are a bit different today, but the overall consequences remain the same. In fact, every generation of workers seems to come with its own set of acceptable behaviors and attitudes, and those can affect your work environment in different ways.

In big companies, coping with these kinds of issues is the job of the HR department. But your business is likely too small to have an HR director. These days, many companies don’t consider filling that position until they have quite a few employees. (Gail Goodman, the CEO of Constant Contact, didn’t hire a specific HR director until the company had more than 150 employees!)

Generational Disconnects

For an expert point of view, we talked to Karen Kort, director of HR Practice Management at Microsoft. Kort works with employees of all ages and attests to the disconnects among different generations of workers. She cites a young college grad who didn’t understand she had to tell her (older) boss when she wasn’t coming into the office.

“She and her manager had far different views on this situation,” Kort says. “It took some serious discussion between the two of them to help her realize that she needed to be more aware of her commitments in her role and the expectations of her business if she wanted to be successful.”

Of course, it works both ways. The older manager learned that he needed to provide more flexibility and freedom to the Millennials on his team if he wanted to retain them. If Millennial workers don’t feel supported in pursuing their outside interests or dealing with their personal problems, they may leave for companies that will support them.

Social Media Makes it Worse

The proliferation of social media adds a whole new dimension to the problem. It’s all too easy for workplace problems to virally spread across social media platforms. Kort notes that Gen Y employees in particular often feel the need to share everything with their networks. “Companies need to make an intentional effort to educate employees on their policies around blogging, Tweeting, Facebook posts, etc.,” she says.

While you want your employees to help promote your brand via social media, you need to be aware that such activity also holds the risk of your employees accidentally breaching confidentiality; complaining about you, your company or clients on social media; or otherwise airing personal issues that may damage your business’s reputation. So, you need to clearly set guidelines for what is and is not acceptable, and make sure you codify your expectations.

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