When Generations Collide
For the first time in the U.S. history, we have four separate generations working side-by-side. They are the Traditionalists, Baby boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Y. While there is really no magic birth date that makes one a member of a specific generation, one's experience and sharing of history helps shape a 'generational personality' during their formative years.
With four generations in the work system, misunderstandings happen. Additionally, progressive organizations are realizing they need to modify policies, develop new procedures, create new compensation and benefit programs to attract and retain the four diverse groups in the work system. When generational collisions occur, it results in reduced profitability, presents hiring challenges, increased turnover rates, and decreased morale. Understanding the various generational identities will help in building bridges in the work environment.
The book's authors, Lancaster and Stillman, describe for the reader the four generations and provide suggestions regarding rewards/retention/motivatational techniques that appeal to each generation. Briefly, the four generations are defined:
Traditionalists were born between the turn of the last century and the end of World War II (1900-1945) and they number about 50M in population. The Traditionalists were impacted by two World Wars and the Great Depression. They learned to do without and the management style they learned came from the military - a top-down, boot-camp method. They were cautious, obedient. and spoke when spoken to. They would have never called their boss by 'his' first name. For years they had career security of life-long employment opportunities so all the downsizing of the 80s/90s initially took them by shock. They have their own preference regarding rewards and respond to different recruiting messages.
Baby Boomers: (Born from 1946-1964) represents the largest population ever born in the U.S. Their large number of about 80M created a competitive nature among them for jobs/opportunities. For the most part, they grew up in suburbs, had educational opportunities above their parents, saw lots of consumer products hit the marketplace (calculators, appliances). The television had a significant impact on their views of the world regarding equal opportunity and other human rights. They represent a great recruiting target as they 'retool' for new career opportunities for those recruiters who have the knowledge on how to attract them.
Generation X: Many members of the Generation X emerged into the workplace during the 1990s expansion and this is the smallest generation in terms of numbers (46M- due to birth control and working moms). They had a distinct competitive advantage in choice jobs 'they wanted.' The technological revolution exacerbated their successes as they are techno savvy unlike their Boomer competitors. Rather than 'paying their dues for a number of years' as previous generations did, they were able to demand that organizations adapt to their ways of doing things, creating disbelief in Traditionalist/Boomers. (Actually, the Gen Xers have made the work place a better system for all of us by demanding flex hours, telecommuting, etc). Gen Xers grew up a skeptical group due to fractured family systems, violence in the news, AIDS, drugs, child molesters and downsizings. Generation Xers are dash board diners and being latchkey kids taught them independence. They detest micro-management in the work environment and want constant feedback on how they are performing. Recruiters and HR personnel need specifics to attract, motivate and retain Gen Xers.
Gen Y/ Millennial Generation: This 75M techno-savvy, multi-tasking generation has had access to cell phones, personal pagers, and computers most of their life. They have, for the most part, led privileged lives traveling more than previous generations to world wide areas, growing up in 'fun' day care programs/activities, owning the best in technology and being included in family collaborations that involve major issues ranging from where to live, the decorations in their bedroom to vacation trips. Their parents/teachers have coached them to build extensive portfolios (for college), therefore, they will most likely be portfolio conscious and looking for career expansion opportunities. Futurists predict they will change jobs 7-10 times and even change careers 2 or 3 times. They were also taught to question parents/teachers and the status quo. They have served in school peer-court systems having a say in major decisions and this will impact how they will respond and adapt within a workplace system. The authors provide several specific recruiting/retention strategies to attract this generation.
Looking at the workplace as a system, these generational variances present recruiting, rewarding and retention challenges. Employee turnover eats up management hours and dollars spent advertising and conducting searches for, interviewing, hiring and training new recruits. Its takes up remaining employees' time covering open positions. It frustrates customers who often receive substandard or inconsistent service.
This is a must-read book as 'one-size' does not fit each generation's needs in terms of benefits, working hours, places of employment, methods of training/motivation and retention.
Freda Turner teaches at the University of Phoenix and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.