Managing Different Generations

Managing Different Generations

If you haven’t read the post from last week, A Guide To Current Generations, I’ve linked it here for you, you’ll want to refer to that for the basic categorizations and generation generalizations before getting started on this post. Full disclosure: I’m a millennial. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people of all ages and walks of life, and hired dozens. I’ve managed employees my age, 27, people younger than me, and those two and a half times my age, and though they are different, they are also very similar. I’ll try to hit on the similarities and the differences for each generation on a grand scale, not so much the obvious differences between them, but more so from a manager’s perspective. The obvious differences are that the younger generation is typically better with technology and have awful people skills (employees and clients), and the older generations are slower at typing and figuring out online systems, but usually better with people. Now this obviously isn’t true of every person in every generation of course, but generally speaking, they reside in these boxes more often than not. I’ll be talking about their preferences on pay, what motivates them, and their general demeanor and outlook on employment.


Generation Z - 2001 to current - AKA, Generation Young AF.

These are the youngins’ that are still in school that are looking for part time or weekend work. Common attributes would be very technologically advanced, need very specific guidance, and very dependent on positive feedback. They always have their phone on their desk ready for a notification to pop up on their “down time”, probably don’t love whatever job they are doing, and have plans for a different career that has nothing to do with the job they are doing for you. They’re trying to get a resume with some job experience, which isn’t a bad thing, but this job takes up all of their free time outside of school and leaves no time for friends, or anything else. In other words, they would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else. Their more distinct qualities are their greatest strengths and their greatest weakness, these kids haven’t had to figure anything out for themselves, and they do as they are told. If you tell them to do a task, they will complete that task, and then wait for another task. They will not take initiative in finding another task, or fixing something broken, and they may not go looking for busy work. They will do exactly as you have told them, and nothing more, but nothing less either. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the task you needed done, will get done, so it’s not laziness or lack of caring, they simply have never had to go outside of the lines. They won’t leave work a minute before 5pm, they won’t maliciously take advantage of the company or the people there, and they typically won’t talk back to a supervisor. This group, when used effectively, can be very productive for the greater good, you just have to know how to use them. Most effective ways to work with them: 1. Expect them to do exactly what you have asked them to do, nothing more and nothing less. 2. Check in on them throughout the task/day and ask if they have any questions or if they are stuck on something. 3. Give them positive feedback when they do something or complete something, even more so if they try at another task, even if they fail. This generation doesn’t really know what retirement means yet, they want enough to move out on their own and they’ll figure the rest out later.


Generation Y - 1980-2000 - AKA The Greatest Generation The World Has Ever Seen

Ah, the infamous millennials. You love em, or you hate em. This group of young adults have, and will continue to change the world, for better or worse. They get to see the world through the eyes of the older generations (as many were raised by Boomers and older Gen Xers) and improve it in ways that nobody could have anticipated. This is the last generation that remembers the year they got their cell phones, typically junior high or high school, and what it meant to CALL people (usually after 9 PM because that’s when minutes were unlimited), there was no texting, and the internet in your pocket was still a few years away, or way too expensive for a high school kid’s parents to pay for. This is back in the days of counting your text messages you could send per month, so you didn’t get your new phone taken away. This generation is really quite simple to understand: they want more while doing less. This creates some conflicts with the way a company is ran, because they want to be the highest up supervisor within several months of being hired. They want to radically change office rules and regulations. They want a raise, and more time off, and they don’t really want more responsibilities in a day, because they’d like to leave promptly at 5 PM. They get bored easily and impatient with the corporate ladder, and the thought about their grandparents working the same job for 30 years to get a retirement or pension is unfathomable to them. On the plus side, this group is all about short cuts and self starting. If you need something done more efficiently, this is your generation for the job. The turn out won’t be less productive, but the path to get there will be shortened, or at least simplified. The benefit to Gen Y wanting more for less, is that they will find the path of least resistance, and if a path doesn’t exist, they will create their own. They also crave purpose for their job, which could be good or bad. If they’re at a corporate job, odds are that answering phones and sending emails isn’t fulfilling their purpose, but if you are a company looking to solve problems, or invest in taking your business to a more productive, efficient level, these are your men and women. They are kind of split down the middle in terms of retirement, some of them see the value in investing in a 401k, others spend every last dollar they earn on material items, and don’t think twice. The people saving money now are the ones creating real wealth, and the people buying expensive cars or jewelry on a minimal salary are going to be hurting later in life. Gen Y is generally positive in life, and sees the value in real life relationships with friends and family. They also like when a boss goes out of their way to show their appreciation. This could be a simple Starbucks card, or gift basket when they cover someone’s responsibilities or do something very helpful for the team. These whipper snappers will challenge the status quo and the managers at times, but often their suggestions are priceless.


Generation X - 1965-1979 - AKA The Perks Generation

This generation has been working for a couple decades now and have seen the ups and downs of the economy. They are very content as individuals, and they understand the meaning of what true hustle is. They are very realistic at their jobs, and have a larger picture in mind, which includes valuing paid time off more, benefits, retirement, and other perks. They know what they need to make to survive and be comfortable, but they place more value on the other ‘extras’ at their place of employment. How much time will they get with family, how old will they be when they retire, how much will they have when they retire…? These are all very important to Gen Xers because their real goal is more family time and downtime in general. They enjoy working hard when they are at work, but place a tremendous amount of value on the time they’re not glued to their jobs. This generation has already started a family, possibly even already closed the door on childbearing and is now focused on raising their kids, and making sure that they are actually THERE for them. The perk driven generation is very good at what they do, but does not challenge the status quo. They see something that works, they make sufficient wages, they collect their paid time off, give their job all they’ve got, and they’re content. They think “Why change everything just to arrive at the same location?” They can’t see the unmarked paths that some of the younger generations can see, but they are very good at keeping the machine moving. These people if treated correctly will stay with your company long term and will continue providing excellent service for decades to come. They are very reliable, predictable, and respected in the workplace. They still have dreams of moving to the next level in their professional life, but that comes second to family, and they’d never jeopardize losing out on that.


The Baby Boomers - 1946-1964 - AKA The ‘Thinking About Retirement’ Generation

They’ve done the work and they’re ready for the pay out. Boomers are counting the days until they don’t have to work anymore. They know the month, year, and sometimes day they will no longer be working. They have meticulously followed their plans with regards to retirement, whether it’s from the government, personal savings, or company funded accounts. They are content doing the work that needs to be done and can kill time at the water cooler if need be. They are a bit slower at technology, of course, but are not incapable of navigating the online world. The wonderful thing about Boomers is that they aren’t technology inept, slow, but there is no resistance to it, just a learning curve. This era is great for minimal complaining, straight forward answers, and very high job knowledge. They’ve been in the workforce for many years now, and have seen a variety of jobs, capturing knowledge at each one. Although they have vast knowledge about many different areas of work, their jobs, their coworker’s jobs, their boss’ job, etc,  they are content with others reaching for higher goals, while they finish their tasks and head home for the day, not thinking about work until the next day. If kept happy, they should be with you until retirement. This generation is open to learning new things, and though it may try your patience, they can usually pick up the slack once they’re trained. Boomers are friendly, though sometimes judgmental (aren’t we all to an extent?), and they’re willing to give advice to anyone who will listen. Boomers have seen a lot historically, and it’s shaped them to be very aware of what is going on around them, from politics to economics, and beyond. Boomers are not afraid to disagree with you, and they’ll put you in your place if needed. This generation can voice their opinions, though it may be controversial, in an educated, well rounded manner, and in a world of generations trying to reinvent the wheel, the voice of reason often heard at the back of the room is a Boomer saying “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”. Boomers may agree or disagree with coworkers, but they also can be persuaded to change their minds. Historically speaking, Boomers were the first generation to open their minds to women’s equality, homosexuality, and so much more, which makes them a perfect addition to your team if you need someone to assume a structured, authoritative role. They will be stern but fair to all involved, and they will offer a view that no younger generation can fathom.

There you have it. Each working class generation and what they want, what motivates, them, and how to get through to them each. This is obviously a generalization for each generation, as I previously mentioned, but I’ve found this to be true more often than not. Let me know if this is spot on, if I should add anything, or if any of these apply to you!

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