Generations in the Workforce

One of the advantages of running a small business is that you can manage your employees on an individualized basis. A savvy boss identifies each worker’s hot buttons and work style, and manages accordingly. And if you’re super-savvy, you’ll factor in the cultural generation your employees belong to as well.

Like it or not, the era we’re raised in shapes our attitudes and behaviors. While stereotyping is not a good thing, several recent workplace studies indicate that employees of the same generation often share common values and traits, which set them apart from other generations.

This is information you can use to keep your employees motivated and challenged. You can also use it to create a more harmonious, collaborative culture. Because when employees clash or fail to communicate, it may be generational differences at work.

We’ve been discussing this topic in my small business peer advisory groups. After measuring some of the research against our own managerial experiences, these are the profiles we agreed on regarding different workforce generations.

Generation Y (aka Millennial) Workers (born 1978-1997) – Chances are, the youngest members of your workforce are adept with technology and most comfortable when multi-tasking. They’re fluent in social media, but may need guidance setting boundaries. Many Gen Y’ers chaff under rigid management, so if you want to keep them happy, offer a flexible work environment. They enjoy working in teams, but prefer communicating via brief emails and voicemails rather than traditional meetings.

Generation X Workers (born 1965-1977) – Many Gen X workers tend to be independent minded. They may question established work processes and challenge the status quo, which can either be a healthy thing or a source of conflict with colleagues. Gen X’s gravitate toward flexibility and informality (they also tend to look at meetings as a waste of time), but do want feedback and recognition for a job well done.

Baby Boomer Workers (born 1946-1964) – Typically, Baby Boomer employees work hard in the conventional sense, and are proud of it. Boomers tend to measure dedication in terms of putting in long hours (after all, they were the inspiration for the term ‘workaholic’). Boomers often prefer communicating face-to-face or via meetings rather than electronically, and would rather be rewarded with a bonus than comp time.

One generational group isn’t better or harder working than the other; it’s more a matter of style. However, by recognizing what makes different generations tick, you can manage and motivate more effectively and get the best from all of your people.

One key thing to remember: you belong to one of these generations, too, and it undoubtedly impacts your managerial mindset to one degree or another. The more open you can be to work styles unlike your own, the more it can benefit your business.

Employee differences enrich your workforce, and generational diversity is a good thing. It’s your job to ensure that everyone is working toward the same goal, even if they’re getting there by different routes. (Speaking of goals: be a savvy boss and request my free Goal-Setting Worksheet! Email me at Ray@ProPres.com.)

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About Ray Silverstein

RAY SILVERSTEIN is an entrepreneur, author and speaker revered for his high business intellect and ability to communicate meaningful and practical concepts to those wishing to achieve success in business. As the President of Peer Advisory Training and President’s Resource Organization (PRO), he is instrumental in creating breakthrough moments for executives wrestling with an assortment of personal and organizational issues. Ray describes himself in metaphorical terms as both a corporate chiropractor, one who helps straighten out businesses and a corporate farmer, one who provides the corporate fertilizer that helps business grow. He currently presides over seven peer advisory groups in Chicago and Phoenix.