Management Trek: The Next Generation

Jason Cannon

November 17, 2014

For the first time in history, four different generations of employees are working side-by-side in the workplace, and a record-topping fifth generation is on its way. 

Gail Wilkinson, human resources director for Karmak, noted at the company’s annual Leadership & Technology conference in St. Louis last month that we’re at an awesome time in our evolution of work.

Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y are standing elbow to elbow in the workforce now, with GenZ (people 17 and under) only a few years from joining them.

Wilkinson says by the year 2020, Generation Y will make up about 50 percent of workforce. And with the outlook of different ages shaped by vastly different global experiences, managing multi-generational employees can be a challenge.

Understanding each employee’s expectations, Wilkinson says, is vital. If you don’t respect each generation’s world outlook, you can’t understand how to motivate them.

Traditionalists respect authority, are confirmers and value discipline, while Baby Boomers are optimistic and seek personal gratification. Generation X is more skeptical and wants more informality in the workplace and appreciates diversity. Generation Y value extreme fun and are social.

Various generations, too, view education differently.

For Traditionalists, higher education was a dream. Baby Boomers expected it. Generation X saw it as an entry path to a career but Generation Y sees it as an expense.

“It can be difficult to satisfy Generation Y,” Wilkinson says.

GenZ, the children of Generation X, is focused on getting experience more so than education. Wilkinson says this generation has grown up with a commitment to life-long learning as the world around them has evolved almost daily.

“It’s not a training session. It’s not a class. It’s real world experience,” she says.

GenZ is a generation growing up with apps and instant Internet access and seeks constant connectivity. More than half of GenZ says they check their phone within 10 minutes of waking up.

“If it’s not on the Internet, it doesn’t exist,” Wilkinson says of their outlook.

And security is a focus for this group.

“This is a generation that has grown up taking their shoes off going through the airport security line,” she says. “They’re used to passwords. This is the norm for them.”

By birthdate, I am a member of Generation X. But, time-stamped in 1980, I fall in a tweener area where I identify with the tendencies of generations X and Y.

I’ve had more little bottles of shampoo thrown away at the airport than I care to count, and I change my email password somewhat regularly. I can see many of you bristling at the mere mention of changing a password, and I don’t necessarily enjoy it. It’s just something you do. Cyber security is part of life (at least mine), everyday.

Wilkinson offered tips for dealing with multiple generations in the workplace including raising generational awareness, focus on results employees produce, accommodate different learning styles and offer training opportunities.

She also suggests evaluating your benefits programs as the younger generations are likely to value time off higher than previous generations, who were likely more keyed in on insurance benefits.

When I graduated college and started interviewing for jobs, the first question my dad would ask me is about the company’s insurance benefits.

Insurance might have been the last thing I was concerned about. I just wanted a job. More specifically, I just wanted a paycheck.

The generation of employees you’re going to hire in the next several years will greatly value their time off (likely more so than benefits), so don’t undersell any part of what your company has to offer.

“Benefits” means different things to different people, and different generations.

By understanding the different tendencies of the people you’re looking to hire, you can ensure a highly, and appropriately motivated mixture of youthful exuberance and veteran skills.

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