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Guest column: Managing a workforce across generations

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By Matt Beaudreau

 

Many businesses today—including the flooring industry—have as many as five generations working together. That’s a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of the U.S. workforce. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge as businesses look for ways to improve communication and work processes across generational lines.

The first thing an owner needs to do is acknowledge there are fundamental differences in the way people learn, work and interact—something we think about in our heads but don’t always verbalize. Every generation has factors, whether it’s social, political, economic, etc., that shape or define who they are. It’s important to remember that generations don’t always fit into a box just because you were born into a certain age bracket. But there are clues and insights into behaviors we can glean from our experience in working with different generations.

Managing a multi-generation workforce begins with a paradigm shift. Owners who come from an older generation often feel their way of doing things is the “right way” and that all others are off base. That’s no longer acceptable. Managers have to understand that people see the world through different lenses. Instead of looking at those perceived differences as being a hinderance, I would suggest that owners shift their thinking to acknowledge all the strengths they have on their team. Once you embrace that mindset, you can begin to have open dialogues within your ranks and among your employees.

Second, business owners need to understand that different people respond differently when it comes to criticism, praise and so forth. Following my presentations to various groups I often get the questions: “What’s the best way for business owners to manage different age groups? Or is a certain amount of friction good for a multi-generational workforce?”

When we use the term friction, we automatically assume it means there’s going to be some problem. Or you can look at these situations as being beneficial, i.e., we’re a collection of individuals working toward the same goal. The key is honoring the individuality of the employee. It’s no longer acceptable to say, “Look, this is how we do it here; you’re essentially all robots, etc.” It’s about managing everyone differently but equally, but at the same time realizing that equal does not mean the same. For example, for some people to have a good work environment they need constant feedback and reassurance, and they need someone to check on them on a daily basis.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have people who basically want to be left alone. This is the group that says, “If you’re checking on me too frequently then I’m doing something wrong.” That’s how the older generation feels. But if you’re part of the younger generation, you feel you’re doing something wrong if the boss is not talking to you frequently.

But there’s also unhealthy conflict. In my business, I tell my people if you can’t get along with others on the staff then you have to go. Harmony in an organization only occurs when people are allowed to be themselves, when they’re working together toward the same goals and are allowed to have open communications about what’s working vs. what’s not working.

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Al's Column: Managing multiple generations in the workplace

June 26: Volume 32, Issue 1
By Matt Beaudreau

(Second of two parts)

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.49.34 PMCurrently, five generations make up our society. Each of those five generations has an active role in the marketplace. Depending on the specific workplace, the workforce includes four to five generations.

Following are the birth years for each generation:

  • Gen Z: born after 1996
  • Millennials (Gen Y): born 1977 to 1995
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1976
  • Baby boomers: born 1946 to 1964
  • Traditionalists: born 1945 and before

Generation birth years vary by geography, and you’ll see varying characteristics in different parts of the world. The big events that affect a generation can be dramatically different across the globe or at least regionalized or national in scope, and trends can hit at different times. For example, the end of the millennial generation and the start of Gen Z in the U.S. are closely tied to Sept. 11, 2001. (That day marks the No. 1 generation-defining moment for millennials. Members of Gen Z cannot process the significance of 9/11. It’s always been a part of history for them.) Also, being a millennial in Athens, Greece, with its current unemployment situation, can lead to different expectations and behaviors than being a millennial in Austin, Texas.

Why are millennials getting so much attention? In the last two years, this group has become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Millennials are also the fastest-growing generation of customers in the marketplace, bringing the greatest lifetime value. Even more important, millennials exhibit different attitudes toward employment, sales and marketing, which are challenging many conventional strategies.

Coming up right behind the millennials are Gen Z. Currently aged 20 and under, this group is poised to change everything. Gen Zers tend to be very entrepreneurial and innovative, and they’re very hard working. They have also paid close attention to what the millennials went through.

But let’s not overlook Gen X. As a manager, you need to understand a couple of things about this group. They are a skeptical generation. They believe you, but they need to see the proof. They are an “action-speaks-louder-than-words” generation. They want to see the data, which is great because it makes them great leaders and managers.

The other thing about Gen Xers is they are the most loyal generation. However, they are loyal to individuals as opposed to organizations. You’re most likely to lose them as an individual to another organization if something they’re tied to in your organization goes somewhere else.

And don’t forget about the traditionalists. They tend to have a very strong military connection. Many of them grew up during the Great Depression, so they are the generation that’s most comfortable with delayed gratification.

Bottom line: Not everybody fits in a box. As a business owner, you need to understand how to put these generational strengths together—rather than looking at them as hindrance—and look at it as an opportunity here to create the best communication you’ve ever had in your entire career. It’s about your willingness to adapt that’s going to make you succeed. We’ve got this new generation of buyers that are coming for us, so it’s important to realize their buying and communication habits are different. Strategies and tactics that worked five years ago can completely fail with younger generations—groups that have an increasingly stronger impact and determinant role in your business or organization.

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.13.18 AMMatt Beaudreau is a certified keynote speaker at The Center for Generational Kinetics, headquartered in Austin, Texas. He is a millennial who has a reputation as a thought leader amongst his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Al's column: Managing multiple generations in the workplace

June 5/12, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 26

By Matt Beaudreau

 

(First of two parts)

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.52.32 AMAcross many businesses today—including the flooring industry—there are as many as five generations working together. That’s a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of the U.S. workforce. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity. I will share some insights about how the flooring industry can work collaboratively across the various generations to improve communication and work processes.

First, it’s important to understand how the different generations think before beginning to understand their views on work. The parents of millennials, for example, are predominantly boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). I often make fun of them in my presentations, but the fact of the matter is they have a lot of the skills we [millennials] don’t have. What everyone needs to understand about the baby boomers is they were taught to measure work ethic in terms of hours per week—and those hours do not count unless they can physically see you. That’s why they get to work so early. Boomers also believe there are not shortcuts to success. They believe you have to put in your dues and have policies, processes and procedures.

As a manager or co-worker, if you’re dealing with the boomer generation, you need to acknowledge the time they’re putting in—not just that week but over the course of their career because there is a lot of wisdom there. Also, they are the only generation that can think in a linear fashion, which is a helpful skill if you have a project where you’re looking to make something more efficient.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.49.34 PMNow let’s talk about millennials. This is not only your greatest group of customers but they are also now your largest group of employees. That being said, it’s important to dispel a common myth about millennials: They are not ‘tech savvy,’ as many people like to believe. Actually, they have no idea how technology works; they just know they can’t live without it. Rather, millennials are ‘tech dependent.’ That’s a critical distinction you have to make. As an employer of millennials, you also need to understand this: A generation that is tech dependent partially defines their relationship with you as a boss and with you as a company based on their technological relationship with you.

Then there’s ‘Gen Z,’ which is coming up right behind the millennials. They’re also tech dependent, but they paid attention to what the millennials went through. For example, they saw millennials get crushed under college debt, so for the most part they are picking less expensive colleges. That’s part of the reason why they are coming out of college with a lowered expectation of the workplace—which is great news for employers. In addition, Gen Zers tend to be very entrepreneurial and innovative, and they’re very hard working.

If you manage or work alongside millennials and Gen Zers, you need to understand the ways they prefer to communicate.

No. 1: Text messaging. Millennials hate detailed voice messages; they’re not going to listen to them. No longer is it considered unprofessional to text your boss or co-workers.
No. 2: Email. The magic for email is the subject line. What’s in there will determine if the employee is going to open the email in the first place. Use quick bullet points to get to the point.
No. 3: Social media. The shift has happened (similar to the move from radio to TV). Communication is all about getting attention.
No. 4: Telephone.
No. 5: Face to face.
Many millennials have degrees in communications, but eye contact freaks them out.

 

Matt Beaudreau is a certified keynote speaker at The Center for Generational Kinetics, headquartered in Austin, Texas. He is a millennial who has a reputation as a thought leader amongst his generation.