The Multigenerational WorkplacePosted 3/2/2009
By George Zabrecky
A multigenerational workplace can be a harmonious blend of different work styles if managed properly.
Today, people don't just "retire" at age 65 and that's all there is. People are living longer, and many enjoy working to keep active and to surround themselves with people. As a result, it's not at all unusual to find four generations working in one business. And I'm not just talking about family, either, although you can find that too.
One of my favorite places to visit is a historic inn about 55 miles from my house. It is run as a bed and breakfast and a restaurant. When you walk in on a Saturday you are greeted by the hostess, a wonderful woman in her 70s. You would never guess she was anywhere near that age. The owners, a husband-and-wife team, are baby boomers and the staff consists of a traditionalist, boomers and Generations X and Y. They all work in harmony, and you can feel it the minute you set foot in this establishment. I once asked the owner how she makes it all work. She says she can tell right away if a new hire is a bad fit. She will not put up with a "bad fit" and ends it right away.
Making it all work requires an understanding of each generation. Here is a brief description of each:
Traditionalists (born 1925-1945)
They have seen a great deal of change in their lifetime. For the most part, gender and racial discrimination are no longer permitted to be an issue. Performance and contribution are the basis for compensation instead of seniority. They worry more than other generations that a health issue could conflict with their employment. They value logic and discipline, like to be respected for what they know and for their experience, and are loyal and dependable. They are detail oriented and very stable.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
They currently make up the largest segment of the workforce and represent the average age of today's shop owners. They are career oriented, competitive and live to work so they tend to be overachievers and work long hours. They value personal gratification, are optimistic and tend to be self-absorbed. They struggle to understand the "nontraditional" work ethics of Generations X and Y. They are concerned that technology is taking the place of human interaction and feel that texting, e-mails and automated telephone systems are taking the personal touch out of customer service. Their other concern is being sandwiched between parent care and child care as they try to meet the needs of both.
Generation X (born 1965-1980)
They have seen their parents suffer unemployment due to mergers and downsizing, and therefore don't feel the need to have loyalty to an employer because they doubt the employer will have loyalty to them. If something better comes along for them, they will not hesitate to take it. They are concerned with personal growth instead of growth within an organization. They work hard but feel that activities outside the workplace are more important than working long hours and devoting all of their time toward a career. To them a career is portable. They are fearless risk takers, resourceful and self-reliant, outspoken, adaptable, independent and distrustful of institutions. Their concern is being micromanaged and dealing with rigid organizational structures and hierarchies.
Generation Y (born 1981-2002)
They are highly creative and the best-educated generation to date. They don't get a lot of credit for their education in many circles, though, because they are sometimes seen as lacking in grammatical and spelling skills due to their preferred form of communication such as texting. They truly want it all - a meaningful career that comes with a big salary and a big benefits package plus lots of free time. They don't feel loyal to employers as they are more loyal to their careers than a particular company. They like change, diversity and teamwork. They are innovative, socially responsible, globally concerned, over-confident, self-absorbed, risk-taking and need immediate gratification and rewards. They are also task oriented rather than time oriented. They work hard but want to do it on their timetable rather than their employer's timetable. If they get the job done, they don't feel it has to be in the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. rigid schedule. They will no doubt change the current accepted workplace because they find it unacceptable, which will make them the most entrepreneurial generation ever so they can "have it their way." To keep them happy in your employ, give them responsibility that makes them feel they are a valuable contributor, offer mentoring with a more experienced technician and make training programs available to them to keep them up to date with today's constantly changing automotive trends.
How do you blend this generational diversity to make everyone happy and productive?
1. Realize that each generation offers valuable skills.
2. Realize that each generation offers those skills in their unique way.
3. Let your team know what needs to be done and then let them do it.
4. Respect their initiative and creativity.
5. Praise a job well done.
6. Offer a reward for a job well done (such as pizza, Starbucks, movie tickets, a paid day off or a variety of restaurant certificates).
Each generation can help the other. The traditionalist and the boomer bring their experience and productivity goals to the team; the X and Y generations bring their high tech tool skills. They can mentor each other.
One thing to keep in mind when hiring: It is important to consider more than just the candidate's job skills and qualifications. You also have to consider how well they will fit with your current employees.
You will notice that the only generation that basically lives to work is the baby boomer generation. It is interesting to note that now - even though they want to continue to work and contribute - they, too, are looking for the same thing that traditionalists and Generation X'ers and Y'ers are: a work-life balance.
I am just starting to understand this feeling. I, too, am a baby boomer and absolutely love my work, but I've found myself looking forward to the weekends now with growing impatience. It is like they are never long enough and minimum 10-hour work days with constant connection via Blackberry after work hours can make one wonder more about the concept of work-life balance that is so important to our youthful rising stars. Do they have the right idea?
You may feel your company is too small to be bothered by work-life balance, but the size of an organization doesn't really matter. It is something that is coming your way if it hasn't already, so you might as well be prepared and enlightened ahead of time. The traditionalists, boomers, Gen X and Gen Y all are now concerned about this issue. To keep the best of the best in your employ, you need to offer the following:
• Competitive wages/benefits (to keep your competition from luring them away).
• A family-friendly atmosphere (enable them to pick their child up from school or take their elderly parent to the doctor or coach their child's sports team).
• Flex scheduling (work with an employee as much as possible to allow flexibility in their schedule when they need it).
If you set ground rules and have a system of accountability, you will find you will have more productive, happy and loyal employees.
I have allowed my employees to practice work-life balance so they can take children to school, pick children up from school, work from home a couple of days a week or whatever they find necessary as long as it is reasonable and the work gets done. I have found that my employees appreciate this very much and work even harder. Now, working from home for your technicians might prove difficult, but letting them deal with family issues and child care as necessary goes a long way to build goodwill.
I recommend you practice flexibility. I think you will find that you will have a better, more well-rounded and motivated staff.
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