American Business, say goodbye to the Baby Boomer generation as we begin our march into retirement. Yes, you are lightening your payrolls as higher paid workers leave. But, a lot of hard-to-replace knowledge and expertise also is walking out of your door. The generations that follow will be very different from what you have seen. You will not be replacing like with like. You will be getting people with very different mentalities and perspectives on life and career. So, how do the generations differ in the workplace?
THE BOOMER GENERATION (Born 1946 – 1964)
Boomers are distinctly different from the younger generations. Work is a special activity for this group. Many “live to work” versus other generations who “work to live.” Money and title are affirmations of both their accomplishments and their value to the company. However, the paradox is that while they see title and rank as affirmation of their own value, they don’t necessarily respect the title, but rather evaluate the person behind the title. You must earn the respect of a Boomer. Respect is not ascribed by position.
Because of the importance of work to this group, many are described as workaholics and their work ethic is strong. Being part of a team and being a team player is important. Boomers are involved, focused on quality, and are looking for fulfillment – a lot of which is provided by the job. Boomers are driven to accomplish, but don’t micro-manage these people unless you want a very disgruntled worker. Also, don’t ignore their accomplishments or their need to be valued.
GENERATION “X” (Born 1965 – 1980)
Generation “X” is very different in style and perspective compared to Boomers. Let’s start with a very clear difference. Talk to a Boomer about a project or task and they will interpret this as an order that needs to get executed immediately. However Gen “X” will interpret the same conversation as an observation about something that needs to get done, but not necessarily in an immediate time frame. You see, Gen “X” demand the freedom to determine when, how, and where an assigned task is completed. As a group they are very self-reliant, but are open to direction and they do want some structure in the workplace. Having said that, they very much want to do things their way, forget the rules. Providing this freedom is important if you want to retain these workers.
They are very intolerant of bureaucracy which they see as an impediment that gets in the way of their freedom. This group considers the workplace as just a job versus the Boomers focus on “Live to work.” The other important thing is how they respond and are motivated by rewards. For a Boomer, a reward provided at any point is welcome. Not so for Gen “Xers.” For Gen “X” rewards for a job well done must be immediate. Delayed rewards are confusing and do not work as well. As a group, Gen “X” is much more laid-back in respect to Boomers. Fun and informality is important. Gen “Xers” are looking for new skills and experiences and will change jobs if their employer does not offer these or if the job gets stale.
GENERATION “Y” (Born 1981 – 2000)
This is the newest generation entering the workforce and man, are they different from what you are used to. This generation grew up with everything electronic and they are wired. Preferred communication channels for this generation are e-mails and instant messaging. This group is comprised of multi-taskers with one hand on a keyboard or I-Pad and the other on a Smartphone.
At work, this group is described as very tenacious, goal-oriented and entrepreneurial. However, unlike the Boomers who “live to work,” Gen “Y” believes that work is just a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. They are motivated by meaningful work, but don’t try to give them tasks that are “make work” or trivial, because this will only turn them off. How does this group like to be recognized and rewarded: When they want it and immediately. Delayed rewards do not work. Everything in their world is instant and immediate. They are described as loyal, technologically savvy, socially responsible, and oriented towards work-life balance.
SO, WHO’S BEST
The reality is, if you are an employer, there is no best. There are only differences. But here’s the point: All of the policies and reward structures that have been in place for so long have been directed to the characteristics of the Boomer generation. As Boomers head for the exits, many of these policies will no longer work and you will need to adapt to the new reality if you want to maintain a happy and productive workplace. “Live to work” is leaving the building!