Generational differences are not going away. In fact, as the generations age, they won’t become more alike, but rather their generational personalities will likely grow stronger throughout their lives. Indeed, when hard times hit, each generation is likely to entrench themselves into old habits and ingrained attitudes and behaviors. Now might be a good time to examine each generation individually to study the events and conditions during those formative years and to visualize the point of view through which each generation sees the world. The objective here isn’t to create people strategies based on well-defined age brackets or to demand that employees conform to their peers based on a common age. The goal is to boost company productivity and minimize time-wasting generational conflicts by better understanding your workforce, their generational personalities, and the messages that motivate each group.
Traditionalists, also known as Veterans, were born between 1933 and 1945 and are now in their sixties and seventies. Traditionalists value privacy, trust, and hard work. They believe in paying their dues and are irritated when others don’t do the same. Their word is their bond. They respect authority and social order. Their career is who they are. Traditionalists are conformists and history-oriented. They make decisions based on what worked or didn’t work in the past. They like details and are uncomfortable with ambiguity. Traditionalist need to feel that their experience is appreciated. Traditionalists came of age during the Great Depression and World War II. This generation had plenty of hard times. Material goods were scarce, and they were typically the millionaire’s next door. The need to save for a rainy day was tangible, and “waste not, want not” was closer to a commandment than a slogan. The personality of a true Traditionalist can best be described as loyal. They are respectful to the law, true to family and friends, unswerving in allegiance. This generation learned at an early age that by putting aside the needs and wants of the individual and working together toward common goals they could accomplish amazing feats.
Strategies to get the most from your Traditionalist workforce might include setting clear ground rules explaining your credentials, especially if you are an Xer or Boomer manager remembering that every generation has a story to tell and looking for common ground. On being a young boss and managing Traditionalists, you might try the following: respect experience and demonstrate this respect in the way you communicate with Traditionalists and in the projects you assign them. Don’t worry about being talked down to. It’s going to happen, and it has nothing to do with you personally. Involve Traditionalists in the plan, be it a process change, new marketing strategy, or a routine work schedule adjustment. Keep them informed. Let them know why decisions were made, how the plan will unfold, and their role in the process. When all else fails, connect with and manage Traditionalists by doing what Traditionalists do: be loyal, have patience, be a team player, and make your boss and your subordinates look good.
Boomers, 76 million of them, born between 1946 and 1964 and are between ages forty-seven to sixty-five. They comprise the majority of today’s workers and are planning their retirements and taking with them a vast reservoir of company knowledge and expertise. As this group approaches retirement, they realize they have limited time to stand out and earn at peak capacity, and they want to make the most of these remaining career years in the workforce. This generation loves to be challenged. They crave opportunities that will vault them to the next level in terms of opportunity, visibility, or challenge.
Boomers are also questioning their career choices, wondering if they have meaning. Their technical knowledge, job skills, and experience give them the unique ability to visualize the big picture in terms of organizational vision, strategies, and tactics. This buildup of wisdom, passion, and do-it-now attitude makes Boomers ideal employees.
Boomers were the first generation of TV addicts. They were influenced by wholesome shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy, Leave It to Beaver, and The Lone Ranger—All shows unknown to their parents. As Boomers grew up, they believed in their own optimism and really did think that they could change the world. The key word for Boomers is “optimistic.” They entered the workforce believing they could do anything and become anything, and they have.
Communicating with Boomers can be tricky. They favor a personable style of communication that aims to build rapport. Be open. Learn the importance of structuring emotionally meaningful, relevant, and positive messages. Speak clearly and directly. Use face-to-face talks when possible and follow it up with e-mail to ask for feedback. Whatever you do, avoid controlling language that may come off as manipulative or one-sided, and present alternatives to show flexibility in your thinking. Encourage and answer questions in a way that addresses all the concerns, even those not specifically asked. Know in advance that Boomers will press you for details and it’s critical that you have those details handy in the form of notes, handouts, PowerPoint presentations, or any other format that shows you have thoroughly thought through your message or plan.
Xers were born between 1965 and 1976 and range in ages from thirty-five to forty-six. They value portable careers and are loyal to themselves and not organizations. Xers are looking for rock-hard, specific information on job responsibilities and a chance to go global. Xers want to know about money, continual education, and working in the trendy Seattle office versus the dusty satellite office in the Oklahoma panhandle. And they aren’t afraid to ask. In other words, Xers respond when you speak in terms they understand: What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)? Unlike Boomers, Xers don’t climb ladders. They move from job to job or position to position in order to broaden their skills and are looking for a leader and mentor, not necessarily their boss. Xers have an unyielding interest in balancing work life and personal life. Xers crave constant stimulus. They love fun. They hate routine and are consequently viewed as unmotivated, outspoken, self-centered, and job-hoppers. Xers are possibly the most misunderstood generation in the workforce today. This growing influential generation has worked to carve out its own identity separate from the Boomers and Traditionalists. Xers watched company leaders indicted for billions of dollars in improper bookkeeping, accounting fraud, embezzlement, inflating subscriber numbers, evading taxes, recommending questionable stocks, and posting misleading audit reports. Influenced by company executives at Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Rite Aid, Merrill Lynch, and others, this group became skeptics. They grew up watching American institutions called into question. From the presidency to the military to organized religion to corporate America.
To keep Xers on the job, organizations must maintain a running dialogue about career goals—where Xers are going and what skills and accomplishments are going to get them there. If Xers feel they are being coached, trained, and genuinely building a career portfolio, they are much more likely to stay. When it comes to work ethic, it’s important that you trust your Xer workers. Give them options. Let Xers with families telecommute or work outside business hours when necessary and know that this little bit of flexibility will work wonders to build loyalty. Develop work-life balance programs, flexible work schedules, advanced technology, social networking sites, and college tuition reimbursement programs can all be used to motivate Xers to higher job performance.
Millennials (Generation Y)
Millennials, also known as “Generation WHY,” were born between 1977 and 1998 and range in age from thirteen to thirty-four. Mostly children of the Boomers, they are about 76 million strong, nearly as large as their parents’ generation. Millennials are sociable, optimistic, talented, and a hot commodity on the job market. What makes managing Millennials somewhat unique is that they are arriving in the workplace with higher expectations and very little workforce experience than previous generations. They are multitaskers, confident, loyal, optimistic, cautious and team oriented and they value diversity, morality, and sociability. Millennials have combined these traits into an identity uniquely their own. Think Millennials and the key word is “realistic”. Millennials are capable of learning several jobs simultaneously and performing them equally well. This generation is exceptionally talented and has the ability to take on the world, but they are going to ask why first. They will challenge you to rethink the way you have always done things, and if you can open your mind to new processes and procedures, perhaps you will learn something.
Growing up, Millennials were bombarded with consistent and compelling messages. Parenting patterns molded a new generational perspective, an era with its own mood and influences. These messages included things like: be smart, be inclusive and tolerant, stay connected 24/7, decide what you want, go for it, and serve your community. Millennials have also grown up with structure and supervision, with parents who were role models. Millennials are looking for leaders with honesty and integrity, which lead by example. Millennials want social opportunities well beyond the annual Christmas party. To encourage social opportunities, consider a company-sponsored book club that meets at lunch, carpooling, an international cuisine night where spouses and friends gather at a different restaurant every few months, or the old standby—company-sponsored softball, basketball, and tennis. Recognize Millennials’ high level of required social interaction. Use experiential learning and team assignments whenever possible. Give them freedom with regard to how and where they work. Millennials love performance reviews, so make the reviews regular and more frequent than you might otherwise for Xers and Boomers.