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Translating/transcending generation gaps Diverse generations Job history Feedback and rewards

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LAS VEGAS—Nearly half the U.S. workforce by this time next year will consist of Millennials—those aged 18-35—so employers need to understand how to work with and retain this age demographic as employees, according to a speaker at the recent Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas.

Each generation defines success differently, so employers need to change their approach when it comes to coaching, mentoring and managing employees of different generations, said Bill Haas of Haas Performance Consulting L.L.C., during his AAPEX seminar.

“For the first time in our history we have four generations in the workplace. Soon to be five,” he said, noting that the next generation joining the workforce in 2014 will be what he called “Linksters.”

“Each group is shaped by their unique experiences that they've had growing up and they have developed their own ideas about what's important to them at work and in their personal life.

“The differences between those groups are really the basis for how they interact with others and how they judge others' behaviors and performance,” Mr. Haas said.

“Gen Y thinks Gen X is a bunch of whiners. Gen X sees Gen Y as arrogant and entitled,...and everyone thinks the Baby Boomers are self-absorbed workaholics.”

The biggest mistake in business is treating everybody the same, he said.

“We keep trying to pound square pegs in round holes.”

He explained that each generation of employees has different talents and ways of performing assignments, so employers need to find the right personality type for the job. A job that requires doing several tasks at the same time would be better suited for a Millennial or Gen Y employee, for example, because they tend to be more adept at multitasking. Also, if an employer wants to invest in the latest technology, a technologically savvy Gen Y employee would be better suited to supervise the project.

In the past, older workers were the bosses and the younger workers did what they were told. Today, reverse mentoring is common, where the youngest person and newest hire actually mentors veteran employees on the latest technology, he said. While the long-time employees are doing what they have been doing for years, the young new hires have a different perspective and may have just come out of college with knowledge of the latest advances in technology.

“You have to communicate with respect... You have to accept that there are differences. Accept the differences. Different is not wrong, different is just different. So you have to consider ways to accommodate different situations and different styles. What you do for every member of your team may be different. If someone is incentivized by plaques, have plaques. If someone is incentivized by time off, have time off,” he said.

Mr. Haas provided a description of each generation of employees in the workforce:

c Mature—age 66 and older: They are dedicated to their job and have held only one or two jobs during their entire career. They were raised by parents who survived the Great Depression and they lived through WWII and the Korean Conflict.

They respect authority, they're conformers and job security is a high value for them.

“They won't quit,” Mr. Haas said, noting that many are still working beyond the traditional retirement age.

c Baby Boomers—age 47-65: “They live to work,” Mr. Haas said, and hard work to them means long hours. Advancing their careers is important to them and they feel they have to work hard to get ahead.

“They are pursuing the American Dream as promised to them as children,” Mr. Haas said. They lived through the John F. Kennedy assassination, Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. They are optimistic, they're involved and they like to collaborate.

However, 65 percent of Baby Boomers are postponing retirement because all the financial plans they made for retirement were disrupted by the Great Recession, he said.

c Generation X—age 36-47: “They work to live.... They work to be able to have the things they want. If there was anyway they could figure out how to have the things they want without working, they would be doing it. They only reason they go to work is because they want a jet ski, a snowmobile. They want to go to a concert,” Mr. Haas said.

They grew up taking care of themselves as “latchkey kids.” They would come home from school to an empty house because their parents were still at work. They did their homework and they did their chores while home alone, he said.

“What does this tell us about this group? They can work unsupervised. They'll get the job done. Here's what you really need to remember about them: They are very independent,” Mr. Haas said. He noted that a common misperception about Gen X was that they were slackers.

“The reality is they are hard-working, they have jobs, they're making money. They are buying homes. They're having families,” he said, adding, “Sometimes we mistake their independence for a lack of motivation.”

Gen Xers account for about 22 percent of the workforce. They look for flexibility, want to have fun and they value being informal.

c Generation Y—age 18-35, also known as Millennials: “They live and then work,” Mr. Haas said. “It means you should arrange their schedule to accommodate their lifestyle.”

They grew up with technology—cell phones, iPods, social media, etc. With about 79 million Millennials, they will be 47 percent of the workforce by 2014. They're confident, realistic and like extreme fun and technology, he said. They're young and brash, they may wear flipflops to the office and listen to iPods at their desks. They want to work, but they don't want work to be their life.

“This generation hopes to be the next Great Generation to turn around all the wrong in the world today. They hope by the time they're done, that they will lay claim to being the Greatest Generation,” he said, however, he added, “This will be the first generation in our history that financially does not do as well as the previous generations.... Every generation before has outperformed the previous generation financially and that will not happen with this generation.”

Millennials are expected to have held 10 jobs by the time they are 35, Mr. Haas said. To a Baby Boomer employer, 10 jobs would indicate the job applicant is not stable and can't stick with anything.

“Don't think about the fact they had 10 jobs. I want you to think about what the 10 jobs were and why did they have 10 jobs by the time they were 35. Do the jobs they have on that list even exist anymore? Do the companies they were working for even exist anymore? Were they doing things that were a good fit for their talents? Did they go to work for somebody that didn't meet their expectations and this group has some real expectations about what they should be able to do at work,” he said.

“If they had 10 jobs by the time they were 35, they haven't found a home. Is there an opportunity for you to be their home? Can you take advantage of all the experiences that they've had in those 10 jobs and bring value to your business, to your company? Look at the positive side of all the exposure that they've had, the different experiences and how can that benefit your company.”

He said this generation is not changing jobs for the sake of changing jobs, they just haven't found an environment that meets their needs.

Both Gen X and Y value having fun.

“Is your business a fun place to work? If these people are looking for fun, is it fun to go to work?” he asked his audience. “You better figure out a way. This is going to be the key to your success. You better figure out a way to have an environment that they can have a work and life balance,” he said.

“If you like to have rules, have mature people work for you, because they will follow the rules.” Baby Boomers are workaholics but they will question authority, he said.

Gen X wants to eliminate the task. “Assign them something to do and their focus is 'I'm getting it done.' They're self-reliant. They don't believe everything they read or told. They need to hear the same thing from multiple sources and have a resource they can use to check and confirm it before they're going to believe it.”

Gen Y wants to know what's next. They're great at multitasking, he said. When Gen Y technicians are assigned to work on a vehicle, they will want to know what to work on afterwards.

“He or she has the ability, if you let them know what's next, to be planning, thinking and preparing for what's next. Why aren't we using that to our advantage? Why do we disregard that?” he said.

Generational differences even extend to workplace communication, he said. Matures like to receive written memos, while Baby Boomers prefer to talk in person. Gen X wants direct and immediate communication and feedback, so if there is a problem, they want to hear about it immediately, not a week later, he said. Gen Y prefers technology and so would rather communicate by email, voicemail or texts. Since they are environmentally conscious, they distain the waste of paper to send memos.

When it comes to providing job performance recognition, employers need to provide feedback in different ways for different generations.

Matures don't have to be told they did a good job, they know they did a good job, Mr. Haas said. To them, no news is good news. They are motivated by the personal touch, such as a hand-written note. They like recognition of their achievements so employers will win points for offering plaques and awards as incentives to this generation, Mr. Haas said.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, want lots of documentation to support their job performance rating and they would prefer to be rewarded with more money.

“They love money. They're still trying to pay for the American Dream they've been living,” Mr. Haas said, as in paying off credit cards and loans. If an employer can't give more money, Baby Boomers would be just as satisfied with a promotion or title. They like career advancement, perks and public recognition in front of their peers, he said.

Gen X wants to know how they are doing via direct and immediate feedback. They want communication, but if they are supervised closely, they will be driven crazy, he said. They may have a new or different method of attaining the same result. To them the end result is important, not how it was achieved.

“They don't want to hear about the past. They don't care how it was. They focus on how it is and how it could be,” Mr. Haas said.

For Gen X, freedom is the best reward. “If you want to reward Gen X, give them freedom. Come in late, leave early, have a day off when they need it,” Mr. Haas suggested.

Gen Y wants to know what they do contributes to the good of the company. They don't like repetitive, redundant busy work. Gen Y needs communication and feedback and this group wants to be supervised, he said, because growing up they have always had someone, a parent or caretaker, hovering over them. Like Gen X, they are motivated when productivity trumps process.

“They like flexibility in the work style and hours. And this is the big one,” he said. Rewarding employees with flexible hours and vacations may appall older employers who think workers will abuse the privilege.

“What we lose sight of is (Gen Yers) are goal-oriented, so they know they can't achieve their goal without going to work. They know they can't. But if they can say, 'Look, I can get this work done if I come in at 9 o'clock, instead of 7:30, and I'll work til 6 o'clock, instead of 5 o'clock. I'll get the work done.'

“If the policy is to take vacation when you want vacation, they will still get the work done because they are goal-oriented,” Mr. Haas said. “We got to figure this out since they are going to be half the workforce by 2014.”

When it comes to motivation, employers should dispense with the “cookie-cutter model” with one type of reward, such as a $50 spiff.

“So when we create this program to incentivize our people, how come it doesn't have a $50 spiff—or Friday afternoon off? Make it work for everybody. Give the old guy a plaque. We'll all be happy,” Mr. Haas said.

He then suggested a variation on the Golden Rule for employees.

“The new Golden Rule for you: Treat others as they would like to be treated. Now when you look at the different groups in the workforce, when you look at the four different generations in the workforce, and you understand the things that are important to them, you understand the things that motivate them, you understand that they're looking for work and life balance.

“Make sure that you treat them as they would like to be treated,” he said. “Treating them as you would like to be treated doesn't do anything.”



To reach this reporter: kmccarron@crain.com; 330-865-6127.
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