By Jean Kruse / Guest Editorial
Many businesses, for the first time in history, have four generations working side-by-side, with perhaps more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees. In addition to the difference in the ages of employees, today’s leaders must contend with vendors, customers and clients of all different age ranges. That makes understanding and managing the differences between the different generations very important for effective leadership.
Our modern generations can be broken into five distinct groups:
- The greatest generation, which was born between 1901-1924, and is now aged from 91 to more than 100.
- The traditionalists (also called veterans or the silent generation), who were born between 1922-1945, and are now ages 70-93.
- Baby boomers, who were born between 1946-1964, and are now 51-69.
- Generation Xers, who born between 1965-1979, and are now 36-50.
- Millennials (also called generation Yers), were born between 1980-2000, and are now 20-35.
Each of the generation groups has different personal and lifestyle characteristics, including their core values and communication preferences. Each of the generation groups also has different workplace characteristics. Of course, it should be noted that many people have the characteristics of more than one generation, especially if they were born in the fringe area near the end or beginning of a generation.
Another thing to consider as a business owner: In what generational groups do your managers fall? If your managers are traditionalists or boomers, it may be difficult for them to understand and engage with employees or customers who are generation Xers or millennials.
Here are some examples of generational differences and how they can affect the management of a workplace:
- Baby boomers typically like more traditional training methods, like PowerPoint presentations and handbooks, while younger workers may prefer more interactive, technology-based forms of learning.
- Millennials generally like to be given special assignments that are not within their job description, so consider putting them on a task force to solve a problem or have them prepare daily blogs for your website.
- Millennials and gen Xers typically do not like regular formal meetings; limit meetings to “must make a decision” type of meetings and keep them short. boomers expect to have meetings any time, any place.
- Millennials want frequent feedback – annual reviews are not sufficient. For generation Xers, a simple gesture like an email congratulating them on a project can boost their productivity. Boomers are generally into status, so they might prefer an office-wide memo that announces they met or exceeded their goals.
- Traditionalists prefer a formal written memo when it comes to communication, while baby boomers typically prefer an in-person discussion. Generation X prefers direct and immediate communication of any kind, while millennials prefer emails, voicemails or texts over in-person meetings.
- Traditionalists and boomers expect to work long hours, and can be workaholics. Boomers are also fine with being called day or night about work; generation Xers generally do not want to be called at home ever.
- Millennials are the most tech-savvy of the generations, and are excellent at looking for online solutions to problems. Members of this generation also generally enjoy working as part of a team.
With all of these differences, and many more not listed here, it should come as no surprise that difficulties can arise at your business if you do not take generational differences into consideration when making decisions. Your business will be more productive if you understand these differences and learn how to use them effectively in dealing with individual employees and customers, whether that involves formalized generational training or simply recognizing that those differences exist.
Of course, if dealing with all of these generational preferences is so difficult, why not hire only workers who are near the same age as you, you may ask? If you want to close your business, this tactic may be logical, but if you have any plans to grow your business or sell it when you decide to retire, you’ll want to rethink that mindset. Wishing that all of your employees were just like you is not a winning strategy.
According to Lee Caraher, author of “Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work,” the people and companies that figure out to get all of the different generations working together “will have a significant strategic advantage over those that drag their feet.” She adds that, “If we can bridge the gap between the generations in the office, and bring our distinct strengths to the table, we will be able to co-create positive, future-proof businesses in which boomers, gen Xers and millennials can prosper together.”
While it may be initially painful for Boomers to learn to work with Millennials, the businesses that survive will do so because they are not afraid to try new methods of leadership and management.
If you need a mentor with whom you can discuss management topics, business ideas or just help sort out your thoughts, sign up for a face-to-face meeting with a SCORE mentor at www.scorecr.org. You can meet with your mentor as often as you like and the discussions are free and confidential.
Jean Kruse is a SCORE counselor and a SCORE Iowa district president. She operated her own CPA firm for 13 years and in 1988, joined RSM McGladrey, a national firm, where she provided accounting and tax services to small businesses.