FAQs About The Generations
Over the course of the last few years, we’ve observed a pattern in the types of questions we receive during speaking engagements and workshops. We’d like to share some of those frequently-asked questions in this resource and our response to each.
How do you keep workers in their late 50’s and early 60’s from retiring?
In a word – flexibility. This is a segment of the workforce that is ready to phase into retirement and has less desire to devote long, stressful hours to the workplace. However, if your company can provide options such as telecommuting opportunities, flexible hours, and job sharing, you’ll have a higher likelihood of enticing this group of workers to stay a while longer.
Do Gen Ys have one-second attention spans; how do you get and keep their attention?
Because of the fast-paced, high-tech world in which they grew up, many Ys do require a great deal of mental stimulation and find it challenging to focus. In the workplace, we need to provide stimulating work and the best technology we can afford to maintain this generation’s interest. If we can demonstrate how our organization contributes to society and how much we need them individually to achieve community outreach, our organizations will have a better chance of getting and keeping Gen Y’s interest.
Some of our older workers seem to just be riding out their time until retirement. How do we get them engaged in their jobs?
Put them to the task!!! Both the Radio Babies and Baby Boomers told us that they wanted us to know they are going to be around a long time and their brains are still functioning. They like to share what they do and why the do it. Give them the task to mentor others and put their expertise and experiences to work to help solve a problem or improve the company in a specific area. If that doesn’t work, ASK THEM what lights a fire for them and engage them to make that happen.
Are Baby Boomers and Gen Ys so far apart in terms of work ethic that they can’t ever successfully work together?
Both generations want to work for profitable, successful organizations and receive recognition for a job well done. The only real difference between the two generations is the process of achieving results. Baby Boomers are more likely to believe long hours, office face time, and receptivity to any offer for upward mobility are musts for career success. Gen Ys believe results-orientation, working smarter not harder, and balancing work – personal life are critical to career success. If more Boomers will be open to learning how to use technology and current leadership techniques, they may be able to achieve results in less time (and less time behind their desk in the workplace). If Gen Ys will be open to learning more foundation skills before they move into top positions, they may find that older colleagues are eager to help them succeed.
What if our customers and clients expect our staff to be professionally dressed – in a suit and tie or nice dress? How can we get that across to younger employees?
If your workforce interacts frequently with customers, make this fact known during the interview process. If a potential employee comes to the interview dressed too casually for your workplace, make sure to inform him or her that this is a requirement. Go to the next step, though, and let the candidate know why this is important rather than saying, “Just do it.” Consider giving new hires 3 – 6 months to build their wardrobe before strictly enforcing your dress code.
How do you get a Gen Y to even show up to work?
If getting a Gen Y to show to work is tough for your organization, you may have to do more than just make an offer to them. Remember, this the generation that is compelled to join an organization by money, friendly casual work environment, and growth and development opportunities. Promising this during the interviewing isn’t enough. Depending on the position you may tie a bonus to working a week, a month, and/or a year. Likewise, you may want to continue with the outreach to them after the offer has been extended and accepted by assigning a mentor to follow-up with them before their start date, send them a taste of the office (i.e. a simple card signed by everyone welcoming them, Starbucks gift card, Blockbuster gift card). Anything you can think of that will make them feel welcome, valued, and eager to join the team.
What is the biggest difference you have observed in the management style of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers?
We’ve observed that Boomers tend to hover more and be more hands-on, especially with new and/or younger direct reports. Boomers have a tendency to stay in Hersey’s directive quadrant (Blanchard and Hersey, Situational Leadership) longer than Gen X managers. The Gen X managers we interviewed prefer to be in the background and only be directive at the beginning of projects with regard to results expected. Then, Xer managers are more likely to step away and let direct reports come to them when they require assistance or have a question.
How do we help address the expectations of the younger generations coming into the workforce?
We found the dilemma about students' expectations and behavior to be a real issue, particularly in the last couple of years. We recommend employers consider working with schools to sponsor a class on entering the professional workforce into the high school curriculum. The class could address topics such as expectations in a professional workplace, like use of company telephones and computers, as well as ethical behavior in the workplace. The class could have guest speakers (HR professionals, for example) from industry, so the students don't just think, "this is only the teacher's viewpoint."
Employers should also consider assigning a mentor to each incoming employee (interns and co-ops as well), someone who could "show them the ropes" and reiterate the professional behavior standards. A thorough orientation should be provided to the students addressing expectations regarding use of personal e-mail, phone calls, etc. Department managers for whom the students work should be advised of these expectations and encouraged to (consistently) enforce the expectations.
What is the biggest source of conflict across generations in today’s workplace?
By far the biggest “bone of contention” is philosophy around work ethic. Radio Babies and Boomers are more likely to expect employees (including themselves) to acquiesce to the organization’s existing policies on work hours, benefits, and retirement. Gen X and Gen Y employees will question existing policies in order to understand why they’re in place and why they must rigidly be applied. Boomers and Radio Babies more often identify work ethic as willingness to do things you don’t want to do in order to advance one’s career and Gen Xers and Ys are more likely to characterize work ethic as ability to produce results.