Managing Different Generations in The Workforce

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With five generations in today's workforce, it can be challenging to manage them fairly and effectively. To address their work/life, compensation, and total employee rewards expectations, you must first define their differences and understand their divergent needs.

Traditionalists (aka "The Silent Generation") are the oldest generation in today's workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, this generation was born during the period from 1928 to 1945.

Traditionalists value loyalty, authority, dedication, sacrifice, honor, and discipline. They are motivated by flexibility, work autonomy, and working on preferred projects. They will often stay on board to bridge a knowledge gap.

Traditionalists typically need creative compensation packages. They crave appreciation, recognition, and work schedule flexibility to spend time with grandchildren. They desire traditional benefit packages, defined benefit retirement plans, and conventional vacation/time off. Certain standard health and insurance benefits are less important if they have Medicare. Traditionalists want coaching focused on improving their strengths.

The Baby Boomer generation is comprised of those persons born during the period from 1946 to 1964. Having experienced post-World War II optimism and opportunity, Baby Boomers remain optimistic and engaged. Determined to do better than their parents, they are motivated by money, titles, recognition and respect.

Having invented the 60-hour work week, Baby Boomers go the extra mile. They like status symbols – anything that differentiates them from others, such as a corner office. Internal employee equity is important to them. They desire individual rewards and most respond well to coaching focused on improving their weaknesses.

Generation X, defined by Pew as those individuals born during the period from 1965 to 1980, are the offspring of Traditionalists and/or Baby Boomers. They have a chronic need for stimulation and instant gratification. They believe in doing things their way despite the rules – which can potentially raise ethics issues.

Gen X workers are motivated by incentives tied to individual results. They prefer the best office technology over the corner office. They work hard, play hard, and crave work/life balance that includes a flexible schedule. They seek options in tasks, challenges, and new processes; and they want freedom to use their own resourcefulness to achieve success. Gen Xers desire pay increases tied to individual performance, as well as personal rewards for results. They respond well to coaching focused equally on improving strengths and weaknesses.

Millennials (aka “Generation Y”) already comprise the largest group in the labor force. Born during the period from 1981 to the late 1990s, their representation will continue to expand, comprising as much as 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

Millennials are well-traveled global citizens, and many speak a second language. They desire constant feedback and meaningful work. Surveys show work/life balance is highly valued by as many as 88% of this group.

Millennials like spot awards and non-financial incentives like group outings and travel rewards. They have financial concerns often driven by significant college loan debt. Millennials desire immediate performance feedback; and they want not only to hear how you feel they are doing, but to share how they feel they are doing. Millennials want at least one touch point per week from their direct manager. They respond to coaching focused primarily on their weaknesses. And they will leave an organization devoid of performance improvement or leadership development opportunities.

Overlapping with the final birth years of the Millennials, Generation Z (aka “The iGeneration”) workers are the youngest in today’s workforce. This is the most diverse generation and many Gen Z workers are bilingual/multilingual. Digital natives with short attention spans, they are eager to work, motivated by job security, and want to contribute to meaningful work.

Gen Z members focus on personal development and opportunities for advancement. This is the first generation in decades open to skipping college and going directly into the workforce if it provides education in their field of interest. They respond to teaching-oriented coaching. Honesty, good communication, and a solid vision are the most important leadership qualities to Generation Z employees.

So, how can a company balance the total rewards expectations of these diverse generations?

• Communicate uniquely with each generation as they prefer
• Accommodate employee differences in coaching
• Offer workplace choices in compensation and benefits
• Provide flexible, adaptive leadership
• Respect and reward competence and initiative
• Take necessary steps to enhance employee satisfaction and loyalty
• Build and promote a learning environment to attract and retain diverse individuals

Above all, managers should create uniquely focused experiences that engage and empower diverse individuals to achieve a shared strategic vision and business objectives.

Cassandra Faurote is president of Total Reward Solutions.

  • Perspectives

    • Richardson is a senior manager with Centric Consulting.

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