The theme of the 2009 Valve Industry Leadership Forum was “The Changing Workplace and the Workers Within,” and in keeping with that theme was a presentation by Marilyn Moats Kennedy, founder and managing partner of management consulting firm Career Strategies (Wilmette, IL). Ms. Kennedy’s presentation, entitled “Managing Change: Understanding the Demographics of the Evolving Workplace,” explored how differences in outlooks and attitudes among the different generations —from “Pre-Boomers” to “Netsters” — can affect the effectiveness of management.
Kennedy identified five distinct age groups in today’s workplace:
- Pre-Boomers, born between 1934 and 1945;
- Boomers, born between 1946 and 1959, constituting 40% of the population and 39% of the full-time workforce;
- Cuspers, born between 1960 and 1968, representing 11% of the population and workforce;
- Busters, aka Gen Xers, born in the so-called “baby bust” years of 1969 to 1978 and constituting 20% of the population and 18% of the workforce;
- Netsters, born between 1979 and 1984; they make up 15% of the population and 5% of the workforce.
The differences between these groups — in workplace characteristics, lifestyle characteristics, social values, motivation and communication style — are significant; they differ on such seemingly-basic things as the role of managers, employer/employee loyalty and what constitutes a good day’s work. Management methods and attempts to communicate that do not take these differences into account lead to frustration: What one person hears is not what the other person meant. For example, when a boomer says to a Boomer, “this needs to be done,” both understand that’s an order but nicely put. However, when a Boomer says to a Buster, “this needs to be done,” the Buster hears an observation, not an order, said Ms. Kennedy.
Older workers like explanation, they like to process ideas and talk about them, and they care about the opinions of others. Younger ones are blunt and abrupt, they do not like to attend meetings or discuss things, and they do not wish to hear others’ opinions. Older workers believe in motivating people and value recognition; younger ones believe that attempting to motivate someone is a waste of time, and do not seek or need recognition.
One thing that separates the two older groups from the three younger ones is the question of retirement. Pre-Boomer and Boomers are most affected by the change from defined benefit plans to 401(k) plans; half of Pre-Boomers saved nothing for retirement, and many of them, as well as Boomers, will remain in the workforce into their 70s, driven by the need for money. At an age when their parents volunteered in hospitals, they will still be working for money. This has profound implications for not-for profit organizations.
Older workers want money; younger workers want time off.
Aging boomers will call the shots for at least next 20 years, but as they move into post-“retirement,” they come to value flexibility in time, and do not want to put in the regular 40-hour week with two weeks vacation that they did when younger. Employers must accommodate them, because later generations have fewer members, hence the term “Baby Busters,” aka Gen Xers. Only 18% of the U.S. population is younger than 18.
The shortage of workers will require many adjustments in recruiting new workers and managing those you have. If someone leaves, and then wants to come back, let ‘em. Anchor the people you’ve got. It’s all about part-time workers, episodic workers and retirees, because the dropping birthrate means fewer and fewer people will be available.
The three younger groups are, in the main, working for themselves, rather than for an organization; when you talk about teamwork and long-term retirement, they go into a coma. They expect to work all of their lives, and will save to achieve their long-term goals, but they tend to see their time working for a company as preparation for later self-employment. A company cannot expect them to remain more than a few years, and they do not aspire to rising within the organization. Pre-Boomer and Boomer managers may question younger workers’ commitment, and these younger workers often wish to limit their working hours, but they do work hard; they just want to do it alone. For many, that means telecommuting.
So how does a manager motivate younger workers? One thing they value highly is mentoring and the chance to keep increasing their skills. The younger group, in turn, can help the Boomers learn to use today’s technology more effectively, since they have been using computers from early childhood.
Pre-Boomers and Boomers prefer their training in a classroom setting, with written materials, and having been trained from childhood to work well in groups, enjoy interacting with others. Busters and Netsters, raised with computers and encouraged by their Boomer parents to be individuals, like to process data and prefer CDs and video presentations, so they can fast-forward through anything they don’t want — or need — to listen to.