Millennials, Generations Z and X, baby boomers and the traditionalists or silent generation is a diverse list of titles to represent an even more diverse group of people. Today there are five generations in the workforce, each with their own characteristics and commonalities, strengths and weaknesses. The generations differ in work styles, communication styles, what drives their work and what work they choose to be driven by. But, in common they want respect and a voice in the company they work for, and savvy employers can bridge the gaps between generations to create strong, integrated businesses.
Welcome to the generation gap. Five distinct groups of individuals shaped by life experiences so that personalities, values, communication and interaction styles all differ.
“We’ve got everything from the silent generation that came right after World War II and make up about 1 percent of the workforce now, all the way through Generation Z, which are your 18 and 19 year olds entering the workforce who make up about 1 to 2 percent,” said Dr. Vincent Solis, president, Western Nevada College.
“Most companies will have four or more generations represented in their workforce by 2020,” said Dorothy Costa, vice president, People & Transformation, North America, IGT. “At the end of the day, a multi-generational employer has within its workforce a varied set of experiences, world views, and technical skills – that is diversity.”
Diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams, said Costa. “But there must be a concerted effort to create opportunities to engage with each other in productive and meaningful ways.”
Working with such diverse groups is challenging for business leaders, who need to find common ground and develop a culture that gives every worker a voice.
Change is the Only Constant
With five generations in the workforce and technology moving at the speed of the future, both work and workers are changing.
Today’s employers often recruit for soft skills rather than hard, the way Tesla looks for “Tesla DNA” when recruiting. What that means is, when asked what they’re looking for, recruiters often respond, “I’ll know it when I see it,” said Dennis Perea, deputy director, Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
While Tesla recruits for soft skills, it shares its Northern Nevada plant with Panasonic, an old generational company.
“Panasonic will tell you exactly what they want as a skill set, where Tesla is much more loose, so it’s interesting looking at the age of the company and how they do their hiring,” said Perea, adding it’s easier for workforce providers to match Panasonic’s needs than Tesla’s.
The way employers hire and retain employees has been changing over the past few years as the millennial generation becomes the biggest part of the workforce. Millennials are technologically advanced and many view jobs as a means to meet short-term goals, gain experience and move on.
Once decried as a whiny, unmotivated generation, millennials are now the technologically advanced generation employers want to recruit. With current low unemployment numbers, recruitment might mean employers need to offer flexible schedules and invest in enhanced development opportunities.
“It’s important for millennials and Gen Z to invest in enhanced development, not just goals and plan strategically. [They should] invest in coding classes, in HTML courses, in self-directed learning so they can focus on continuously developing their skills. If they’re young and have enhanced skills, they need to upgrade constantly,” said Solis.
And, once they’ve upgraded, they may not stay. For traditionalists, boomers and older Gen X workers, job security was the watchword. They expected to stay with one or two companies for the duration of their career, and wanted the security of the paycheck. Millennials and Gen Z have other values.
“One thing older employees can learn from younger, particularly from Generation Z is the idea of life being worth value,” said Solis. “For silents and boomers, it’s work, work, work, that’s what we do. For younger employees, that’s not necessarily the case. Work is the mechanism by which they get to do other things in life.”
The younger generations want to engage with the companies they work for, want their voices to be heard and their jobs to matter.
“It’s really important that the work they’re doing is meaningful and purposeful,” said Brooke Stream, manager of organization effectiveness, City of Henderson. “It’s important for organizations to connect the work they’re doing with the bigger picture of what the organization is trying to accomplish so they can find the value in what they’re doing.” It’s important enough that recruiters use community service opportunities as incentives.
It’s also important for leaders to recognize wins. The only constant is change and companies change very quickly now. “If you’re going to anchor successful change in the culture of an organization, you need to celebrate those wins,” said Solis. “You’ve got to recognize their efforts.”
“Rewards have changed,” Costa said. Today’s workers are looking for more individual rewards versus collective rewards, and companies need to focus on individuals rather than collective groups.
Every generation is composed of individuals, but commonalities exist between groups. Boomers are social and bring excellent communications and interpersonal skills.
Millennials value communication, want to be informed and part of what’s going on in the company. They want to have a voice, and be valued for their opinions.
Generation Xers like teamwork and collaboration, job security and compensation, like boomers, but they value benefits that emphasize the work/life balance, too, said Jennifer Fennema, director of human resources with the City of Henderson.
Teamwork can bring Generation X and boomers together with Generation Zs as they enter the workforce, creating mentor relationships. Mentor programs can help companies become more inclusive, but shouldn’t be the only role for boomers. “Baby boomers want development opportunities too,” said Costa.
Younger workers can guide older employees through technology minefields, and encourage expectations that work fit in to a healthy balance with personal life.
To remain competitive in today’s global market, business leaders need to maximize human capital and work effectively with their employees. There’s a need to maximize input from employees on company projects, initiatives, goals and objectives. However, one size doesn’t fit all, Solis said. Making a team work means understanding what motivates members, and providing an inclusive culture where they can work together.
“It’s the responsibility of managers and leaders to build a positive workplace environment,” said Solis. “Everybody wants to feel respected. Everybody likes to be listened to, particularly the youngest generation in the workforce right now. I think the most important question a leader can ask of the youngest generation coming into the workforce is: What do you think?”
The youngest generations are used to receiving nearly constant feedback and for them an annual evaluation may not be enough. They enjoy interacting with their supervisors, receiving and giving input. They want to understand not only how to do the job , but why it’s being done – why it matters.
“Another thing younger employees bring to the workforce right now is an appreciation for diversity,” said Solis. “This is the most diverse group of Americans that we’ve had, these five generations working in the workforce at the same time. And they have an appreciation not just of diversity of ages but the ethnic element.” The new generations have the world at their fingertips, so it’s normal for them to jump online and learn coding from someone in India or design from someone in San Francisco.
“They have the ability to connect with people virtually all over the world and they’re going out and finding the information and finding the experts and fields they want to learn in through social media platforms,” said Fennema. That helps foster respect and diversity in the workplace, because the focus is on what others know and how that shows up in their work as opposed to who they are.
“Cross-cultural learning and experiences lead to greater innovation, productivity and engagement,” said Costa. “The world that we live in is increasingly diverse, and the ways that we interact through technology tears down traditional boundaries. That is a good thing for companies who want to harness the diversity that exists within their organizations.”
Moving at the Speed of the Future
Younger generations aren’t worried about longevity when it comes to jobs. “They’ll do gig stuff like the boomers,” said Perea. “But they’re not actually joining a workforce from nine to five.”
Nine to five itself has become less prevalent as the gig economy means workers can choose less traditional, more flexible jobs that fit lifestyle rather than fitting their lifestyle around their job.
When they do enter the workforce, it’s still not at the traditional speed of business. For millennials, who grew up embracing technology that provided thousands of answers to their questions in seconds, traditional career advancement takes too long. To retain them, Solis suggests leaders be creative with titles and recognition systems. “If you’ve got two or three titles in your organization, manager, supervisor, leader, whatever, it’s going to be important to create different levels of titles.”
Younger generations grew up with instant gratification from technology and they’re impatient. Keeping them engaged might mean offering them unusual assignments, varying their work, giving them special projects. “It’s important with that generation to give the opportunities to develop themselves further,” said Stream.
Where boomers look for jobs that provide current paycheck and future retirement, “Millennials are looking for jobs that help them lead the lifestyle they want outside work,” said Fennema. “They want to be challenged and they want to learn as many skills as possible in their current job so they can be portable in getting a better job in the future.”
In the past, employers were rigid about employees walking off with skills they’d learned at that job. Today recruitment and retention often revolves around educational opportunities in the workplace, where employees can update their skills.
It’s entirely possible that employees will take their updated skills with them when they form their own company. Between lighting fast changes in technology and their comfort working in the gig economy, millennials are apt to find something that will take off quickly and run with it.
“Let’s find something that will skyrocket and we’ll be off and running,” said Sam Males, state director, Small Business Development Center, UNR. “There’s a lot of material that shows how these tech companies have been able to skyrocket very quickly, make a lot of money and then get out.”
In an economy comprised of small businesses, the younger generations are forming companies based on short-term technologies that will peak fast and lose consumer engagement.
They’re not worried about it. Something else will come along. “They’re cognizant that technology is changing very quickly, so it’s ‘Let’s maximize what we can get going down this path and be prepared to look at other opportunities,’” said Males.
The companies they’re creating aren’t expected to outlast their own retirements. Business plans might be two pages long and look two years into the future. The “let’s see what happens” outlook is creating a series of small economic booms with no particular bust. They open, offer a short-lived product based on brand new technology and close again.
For traditionalists and boomers, the gold standard was once a white collar job and the four year degree.
Today a university degree and its student loans is considered more burden than benefit. That’s why some companies offer assistance with student loan debt as recruitment incentives.
Today’s fast paced economy has had an effect on education, which in turn impacts the generations getting that education. Many jobs have transitioned from four-year to two-year degrees, or to certificates. In some cases high school students graduate directly into the workforce as the demands of evolving technology require specialized skills best taught in-house or by a workforce-designed community college training program.
The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development has launched LEAP, Learn & Earn Advanced-career Pathways, to integrate education, government and industry so workers have the skills they need short-term and long-term as Nevada’s workforce needs change.
“Many of the skills an employer needs for this new generation really need to take place at 16 and not 26,” said Perea. “So there’s a big push to get these career and technical education programs aligned with career pathway to get folks into the workforce sooner. Quite frankly that’s the only real way we can see of teaching soft skills is getting them in there. It’s really hard to simulate someone getting in your face and telling you to get to work, so work-based learning is probably the best training.”
“It used to be, if you wanted a good paying job you had to go to college,” said Males. “Other than that you might have had construction opportunities or things like that but [the attitude] was, college is good and if you came from a middle-class background, you matriculated to university and found your role, what interested you and what your skill sets were. Today, it’s [more like] Tesla’s hiring all these people, what do I need to get there. Maybe a certificate will do it. You don’t even need a two-year degree, just the training, and once you get in the workforce I don’t know whether there’s a lot of opportunity for growth.” There’s a chance that down the line the younger generations moving directly from high school to workforce will find they’ve limited themselves.
Earlier this year, WalletHub ranked Nevada as the fourth from the last state in its “Best & Worst States for Millennials” study covering education and health, affordability, quality of life and economic health. With millennials soon to make up the largest percentage of the workforce population, and the limited talent pool because of very low unemployment numbers, there’s a need to keep this generation in state and recruit others.
“There’s more competition in the marketplace, especially when we talk about millennials,” said Stream. “They’re interviewing us as much as we’re interviewing them.”
It’s important businesses make certain prospective employees understand the business they’re coming in to. To attract and retain millennials, Nevada needs to continue diversifying the economy and provide career laddering and pathway strategies that energize them.
“They have to be invested in what they’re doing, that it’s important for the greater good of the community that they live in, that organizations are committed to them and their career development,” said Fennema.
Organizations need to create community service opportunities, tiered upward mobility pathways, and market jobs to reflect the flexibility and ability to pursue outside interests through their jobs.
In the end, employers want people who will show up, do the work, and communicate with their coworkers. They may be looking for a certain DNA or set of soft skills, but in the end, it’s about the work.
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