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Motivating your work force across generations.

Get Ready! ... Get Set! ... RETIRE! ... Time to spend the rest of your life living in a stress-free, carefree environment.

This is the thought process for many individuals born between 1947 and 1964, otherwise known as the baby boomers. Within the next five to 10 years, more than 80 million baby boomers are scheduled to rctire from the work force, but will they?

Studies show that as many as 60% of all baby boomers have been either unable to save financially for retirement or simply failed to do so, which means that many of these individuals may have to remain in the work force well into their 70s and 80s.


Baby boomers will be bumping up against another group in order to secure employment. Mostly it will be the Generation Y workers. This group is made up of the children of the baby boomers and is defined as those individuals born between 1980 and 1994. Although the number of individuals entering the work force is not as staggering as the boomer group, it is still enough to cause widespread concern as to not only who will employ all of these individuals, but also the preparation of managers today to work with cross-generational work ethics.

Driving this concern is the number of generations already in the work force that actually has several different views on authority. Keep in mind, Generation X workers already in the workplace are trying daily to make significant changes to accommodate their own styles and desires.

Identifying these generations and determining ways to motivate and manage them is slowly becoming a major concern for many businesses. The key to a successful generational integration is the ability to understand what makes them "tick."


Baby boomers

With the baby boomer generation, words such as terrorism, pollution, child abductions and pessimism are not part of their vocabulary. They came of age in the optimistic 1960s and 1970s and believe in growth, change and expansion. The boomers tend to pursue promotions by working long hours, demonstrating loyalty and, for some, relying on a degree of cunning, hard-core business ruthlessness.

Their vast numbers have made boomers competitive in every aspect of their lives, although they tend to mellow as they enter their 50s and 60s. They believe anything is possible and want the corner office, fancy title and big salary; many do not plan to retire in full but will continue working in some capacity beyond retirement age. While respecting authority, boomers prefer to be viewed and treated as equals.

Generation X

Many sociologists refer to the small Generation X as the "baby bust" group because so few children were born between 1964 and 1979. The older boomers may well have entered their prime childbearing years during this decade, but the birth control pill and women delaying childbearing until their 30s caused a dramatic drop in the birth rate throughout the Western world. This small generation finds itself wedged between two huge demographic bulges and feels somewhat overlooked, but its low numbers have worked in its favor in many aspects.

These are the children of workaholic parents, the child-care generation who grew up to be self-reliant, individualistic and determined to maintain a work-life balance. They have seen their parents work long hours and devote themselves to one company only to be downsized.

As a result, Generation Xs are mistrustful of corporations and are not loyal to any one company. If their job is not taking them where they want to go, they move on. On the plus side, they embrace change, particularly with respect to technology. They are the stars of both the volatile companies and the more stable Silicon Valley startups. Generation X likes to live on the edge and is outcome-focused, expecting specific, constructive feedback on performance.

Generation Y

Generation Y, or the "echo generation," is composed of the children of the boomers and "echo" their impact on society. The years between 1980 and 1994 are when the great majority of baby boomers finally settled down and turned their attention to creating their own mini-boom. Generation Y's world has always included computers, the Internet, CDs, DVDs, cellular phones and digital cameras. Thinking digitally is second nature to this group. They are more numerous, more affluent, more technologically savvy, better educated and more ethnically diverse than any generation before them. Rather than process or outcome focused, these individuals focus on what can be accessed along the way.

Accommodating Multiple Generations

While Generation Y will wield a great deal of power, in part due to its sheer size, organizations must still be careful to retain and motivate their older employees. Despite the approximately 5.6 million Generation Ys about to flood the employment market, there still are not enough of them to fill the void left by those boomers wanting and trying to leave the work force. To manage all three groups effectively, changes are needed in corporate offerings, corporate cultures and management styles.

Unfortunately, one size does not fit all, and that includes benefits packages. Baby boomers are interested in retirement options, salaries and bonuses, stock options, investments and medical coverage. A survey by Transamerica Life Companies in 2000 found that 79% of boomers plan to retire before the age of 65 if they can manage it financially.

Generations X and Y are more interested in child and elder care, as well as career development, volunteer opportunities, and any chance to learn new technologies.

Attaining work/life balance is what drives these two generations and, when the time comes, they will spend more time with their children--especially the fathers.

Like any other group, health issues will become more of a concern as Generation X and Generation Y age, as will stress management. Generation Y holds the dubious distinction of being the first generation in history to be less healthy than their parents.

Younger generations have spent a majority of their young lives having been taken care of by electronic means. To make matters worse, Generation Y is the first generation of young people to have experienced terrorism close to home. Unlike their under-supervised Generation X cousins, the Ys have been micro-managed by their parents, enrolled in time-intensive, before- and after-school activities, and bound to the technological apron strings of pagers and cellular phones.

Unique Generational Styles Bring Challenges

So what does it take to motivate these generations into a productive work environment? It has been observed in many workplace settings that conflict avoidance is a common strategy to manage such a diverse workgroup. Managers and supervisors do not know or understand how they can obtain the desired outcome without creating a potentially hostile situation. Turning a blind eye easily becomes the norm.

But what if managers took a few minutes to identify factors that relate specifically to not only a personality, but to a whole generation? This recognition could open the lines of communication and acknowledge that different people need different incentives.

The old adage that success will come through long hours and corporate loyalty is what drives most boomers. Although Generation X and Generation Y think they understand the concept of hard work, it may not be what they consider conducive for a good lifestyle.

Working styles that differ with each generation cause frustration on all sides as older workers may view their young counterparts as incompetent, while younger workers may see boomers as overachievers. Managers who pressure younger workers to work long hours could see absentee rates soar and retention rates plummet.

Older managers, who are used to competing for every job, will not understand when Generation X and Y employees turn down management positions in favor of a more balanced lifestyle. The smart manager will understand and respect these different ways of working and accommodate them.


Understanding, Respect are Keys to Success for Managers

Finding a balance between providing a work environment that accesses the genius of Generation X and Y, yet does not alienate current staff who enjoy the existing work environment, will remain a test for managers. Tomorrow's workers will desire a move from function-based work to project-centered work.

Project-centered work, however, is suited to all three working styles in that it is collaborative, focuses on each individual's particular talents and allows for flexible working styles. It is non-hierarchal, which suits the younger worker and encourages communication, and meets corporate goals of unifying the work force.

It is the manager's responsibility to motivate an individual--to challenge and awaken the genius in any employee. Each individual is hired for his talents, abilities, education, experience, personality and what he can potentially contribute to a company. Give employees their responsibilities, provide them with the task criteria and let them get on with it. More and more businesses are evaluating performance on achieving mutually established business objectives. How those objectives are met should be up to the employee, as long as he periodically updates the manager. That now can be done through conference calls, e-mail, cellular phones or text messaging.

A word of caution: managers should not try to become experts and attempt to assimilate into another generation's world. This may be viewed as an outsider trying to "become one of them." In doing so, the manager may have enhanced an alienation process with these individuals and caused them to begin seeking employment at a company where their generation is totally understood and respected.

Employers are trying continuously to develop new ways of attracting, retaining and supporting the multigenerational corporate citizens. Employers should take the time to learn and understand most aspects governing a person's behavior based on their peer culture groups. Thus, the goal of any supervisor is to focus on which part of the generation society an individual belongs.


Nicholas Dayan can be reached at
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Author:Dayan, Nicholas
Publication:Rural Telecommunications
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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