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Four Generations, One Workforce = Strategic Opportunity

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By Jason Ryan Dorsey

For the first time in US history, four distinctly different generations are working side by side. Each of these generations — Gen Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Matures — carries with them their own set of beliefs and values, preferences and priorities. Sometimes these differences work well together (think: Trivial Pursuit teams) and sometimes they simply fail to connect (think: Twittering about your favorite tuna sandwich).

It’s my belief that smart business leaders will embrace our multi-generational workforce as a timely opportunity to create a competitive advantage. By learning each generation’s mindset, which is the focus of my speaking and writing, you can easily takes steps to increase the performance, innovation, and teamwork from your employees of all ages. Moving in this direction starts with understanding each generation and what makes them a little different, besides Boomers being able to write in cursive and Gen Y texting one-handed . . . without vowels . . . while driving.

Gen Y, aka Millennials, was born from approximately 1977 to 1995. In the U.S. there are about 79.8 million members of this generation (and I’m proud to be one of them). Gen Y is currently the fastest growing generation in the US workforce. In 2010, we will be the entire 18 to 32 demographic.

Portrait of smiling young business manAlong with a new definition of “business casual,” Gen Y is the only generation in the workforce that has never expected to work for one company our entire life. We also are guided by super sized career expectations, a need to see ongoing progress, and Boomer parents who continually save us from consequences (which includes inviting us back after college graduation). Older generations often believe that Gen Y is tech savvy. My research shows this is incorrect. Gen Y is not tech savvy; we are tech dependent. We don’t know how technology works; we just know we can’t live without it.

Gen Y can become great employees if you recognize our preferences (such as monthly 30-second check-ins versus an annual review) and give us the space to demonstrate our potential (such as challenging us to use YouTube to increase sales).

Generation X was born from about 1965 to 1976. They came of age during a time of scandals, wars, fallen heroes, and government institutions that failed to deliver on promises made. They have witnessed everything from downsizing and outsourcing to rising divorce rates and lines at the gas pump. Major corporations broke the lifetime employer/employee promise by laying off Generation X’ s parents and older friends, and then offering no apology, only a rusty locked gate. The result is that Generation X is notoriously skeptical and, I think, for good reason. I often joke in my keynotes that Generation X double-checks my data while I’m speaking.

Top view of young men and women with hands raisedWhile Generation X brings a new skepticism to employer/employee loyalty, ironically they are often viewed as the most loyal generation in the workplace. However, they are loyal to people, not organizations. When it comes to leading Generation X, it’s important to keep your commitments and let them know they have options. Without a doubt Generation X can become fantastic employees and business leaders, just be sure to tell them where you found your data.

Baby Boomers were born from approximately 1946 to 1964. They are the true workaholics of the modern workplace. The reason: Boomers entered the workforce at a time when there were more people than there were jobs. They realized the key to job security and career success was to outwork the competition, which they still do to this day. They arrive at work early, stay late, work on weekends and expect others to do the same (except their own teenage kids). Boomers have only one method for measuring hard work and work ethic: hours worked per week. And the hours must be seen to count! As one Boomer manager told me, “Sure, our employees can telecommute, as long as they show up to work in our office 40 hours a week, between 8 and 5.”

As bosses, Boomers believe there are no shortcuts to success; you must pay your dues (and not with a credit card). While Boomers will not retire en masse as once feared (Thank goodness, because they know all kinds of cool things my generation doesn’t, like long division.), they will eventually start to ease up on the long work hours and late nights, and begin to pursue more lifestyle-friendly jobs.

Happy senior businessman holding documents.Matures aka Traditionalists, were born Pre-1946. Sometimes called Traditionalists or the Silent Generation, Matures’ most formative experience is that they have a deeply rooted military connection. The military was a fixture of their coming-of-age experience, both directly (think: rationing) and indirectly (Pearl Harbor). At the same time, Matures endured the Great Depression or its immediate aftermath and became conditioned to survive on as little as possible; they are the true “waste not, want not” generation. Matures take pride in believing that a person should do “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” They also are comfortable with delayed gratification (which you often see when they are driving).

My grandfather is 87 years old and a proud member of the Mature generation. When I ask him to tell me about his experience in World War II, all he will say is, “We left a lot of good people behind.” That’s it. Nothing more. He doesn’t want to show off or draw attention to himself. He is a good listener, extremely patient, and truly one of my heroes. My respect for him is not surprising considering that, according to my research, Matures are the generation that Gen Y most trusts.

Each of these four generations brings a valuable skill set and mindset to your workplace. Recognizing where they are coming from is the first step toward finding a common ground you can build on to give your business a strategic advantage. It’s also a great opportunity to increase the number of friends you have on Facebook.

Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business is an award-winning entrepreneur and an acclaimed keynote speaker often referred to as “The Gen Y Guy”®. He has been featured as a Generation Y expert on 60 Minutes, 20/20, the Today Show, and The View, as well as in Fortune magazine.

For more information about the book, please visit www.JasonDorsey.com

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