Nevada businesses are operating in a unique era. People are living longer, healthier lives, and therefore they’re not leaving the workforce as soon as they once did. As a result, there are currently four generations working together, bringing unique strengths to the workplace, as well as new challenges.
In some ways, people working together are simply people working together and psychographics are as important as demographics. Demographics consider statistical information relating to particular groups within a population. Psychographics classify people according to attitudes and aspirations, so a Gen Z employee might share the same passions and opinions as a Baby Boomer.
But there are some demonstrable differences between the generations currently in the workforce – Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials or Gen Y, and Generation Z, who are just entering the workforce. Some of those differences are what the members of the cohort focus their time, attention and money on. Others are work styles picked up over their working careers. Other differences are logically situational.
“With new employees coming into the workplace, whether they’re Gen Z, X, Y, there’s always a little bit of adjustment to the corporate world,” said Larry Hofer, vice president of people services, Cox Communications, Southwest Region. Individuals have to learn the culture of the company they’re hired by. “We try to select individuals that have certain core values so that when they come into the workplace they already have a foundation to work on,” Hofer added.
There’s a period of adjustment for new employees, no matter what generation they’re from. Whether they’re fresh out of college or veterans in the industry, that period of adjustment is about understanding the company’s culture and how it dictates the rules of engagement, said Hofer. That’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s simply how things are done in the company they’ve gone to work for.
Broadly speaking, there are differences in work styles between generations. “Baby Boomers and Gen X would prefer to pick up the phone or maybe even speak with each other in person, where the younger generations would rather IM, but that’s just different ways of communicating in the workplace,” said Hofer.
“We have people working here ranging from 20 year olds to 55 years old, so pretty much every generation,” said Abbi Whitaker, president and co-founder, The Abbi Agency, a creative marketing and public relations firm. “It’s a smorgasbord of people who work in different ways, so we try to meet everybody somewhere in the middle. A lot of Gen Z’ers and Millennials love to communicate online with programs like Slack and Messenger, so we’ve tried to update the Boomers and Gen X’ers like me who love email. We’re trying to find common ground where we use both types of communications styles so each person feels like they’re working in the way they prefer.”
“Bottom line, the key ingredient, regardless of age, regardless of generation, is there are some key common shared goals,” said Fred Lovingier, district manager, Insperity, a professional employer organization. Those goals may be driven by the company, team or individual, but common goals can transcend generations and bring groups together.
Generations in the Workplace
Because people are remaining in the workforce longer, there’s less opportunity for younger generations to move up.
“When the younger generation comes in they say ‘Well, when am I going to move up because I don’t see the rate of progression or I don’t see the rate of progression being fast enough because I have all these long tenured people who don’t want to leave or retire.’ That has been an area of opportunity for us. How do you continue to engage a younger workforce, how do you retain a younger workforce, how do you keep your turnover lower?” said Hofer.
In addition to keeping turnover low, there’s a need to keep individuals employed. Government agencies, like private companies, need to change to reflect the individuals who use their services. “How do we need to evolve the way we do outreach to leverage some of those differences [between generations],” said Dr. Tiffany Tyler-Garner, director, Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). With regard to job seekers working with JobConnect, a DETR program, she said there’s a need to modernize efforts so those workers who prefer to interact and job search online have access to what they need while there’s still a physical job board onsite and humans take calls during traditional hours. “It’s an example of looking not only at our workforce but our customer population, to say that there may be some nuances to multi-generational established workforces and making sure those things formally inform practice.”
The economic impact of four generations in the workforce is actually concerned with the differences between those populations. The focus of individuals within the generations varies with age and where the members of that demographic are in their work and personal lives.
Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are largely focusing on retirement. Their concerns may be where they live, downsizing their homes, accessibility within those homes, quality healthcare, saving money and, possibly, traveling.
Consider how employees are spending money. “How do you cater to those individuals and ensure you can provide the services they need, which are very different from the younger generations, which are looking at more mobility and not necessarily focused on long-term retirement,” said Hofer.
”Younger generations, Millennials and Gen Zs, are focused on experiences. They want to go places and do things,” said Hofer. “It’s a different economic model from the Baby Boomers who are focused on security, retirement and health.”
From Gold Watches to the Gig Economy
Baby Boomers were the last generation who expected to stay with one or two employers for the majority of their working life.
Loyalty to and longevity with one company wasn’t something Gen X expected. They anticipated multiple employers and possibly more than one career path.
Today many members of the younger generations are attracted to the gig economy, working short-term contracts on shorter jobs. They don’t plan on staying in one company longer than three or four years. That changes the perception of business as usual away from 401K plans, health benefits and long-term service awards. “Being rewarded for tenure is not something that resonates for the younger generations,” said Hofer. So the question is, how do businesses shape their offerings in order to recruit and retain employees?
Cox Communications, for example, embarked on an initiative over the last year looking at 22 different work streams and evaluating how they drive employee engagement and retention. Vacation time is part of that initiative. Rather than a set number of days that increase with every year worked, Cox recognized that a Millennial facing 20 years work to earn 45 vacation days off won’t be impressed because they aren’t going to be there in 20 years.
So Cox changed the policy. Employees take as many vacation days as they need. “That’s it,” Hofer said. “That’s our policy.”
Of course the work still needs to get done, and an employee not doing their work isn’t going to remain an employee. But how, when and where that work gets done is changing.
Looking for Perks
“We’re looking at employees having the ability to work outside the office,” said Hofer. “Why does work have to be done in the office? Why does work have to be Monday through Friday? Why does work have to be eight to five?”
For some companies, it doesn’t. Obviously work has to get done, but people may be able to work at least some of the time outside the office, maybe with four 10-hour days or Tuesday through Saturday or some other option that fits work to their lives rather than bending their lives to fit work.
One of the things younger generations have brought to The Abbi Agency is their love of working remotely, which has resulted in more efficient work days and the ability to take Fridays off during summer and have work-from-home Wednesdays.
“That’s something the Millennial Generation and Gen Z brought us,” said Whitaker. “It’s like, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter where I am as long as I’m getting my work done.’ We have a remote employee in San Diego who is a Millennial, we have a remote employee in New York, we have a remote employee in Nebraska. What that taught us is the best people for the job are all across the United States and it’s just about bringing them together and harnessing technology which they taught us how to do so we can all be effective.”
Younger employees can benefit from mentoring by more seasoned professionals from older generations.
“There’s strong, long-standing discussion around soft skills, stability and consistency, which are the things I’ve seen surface in discussions [about older generations],” said Tyler-Garner. “It’s important that we don’t only see the work through the lens of where we have arrived technologically, not attending to some of the nuances that spurred these innovations. I think the institutional knowledge and practices [older workers] bring to workplaces help us ensure we’re accounting for the whole picture.”
Looking for People
Cox Communications has call centers nationwide. In areas, like the Southwest, that are popular places for call centers to locate, competition for employees is intense. In a job seekers market, employees can be lured away for an extra 50 cents an hour. So perks like setting their own hours can help with retention. An employee considering heading over to American Express for that 50 cent increase might decide seeing their kid off to school and being there when they get home is more important, said Hofer.
Recruiting and retaining people means understanding what the generations are looking for in the workplace. Younger generations want to be listened to and brought in on conversations at a higher level, said Whitaker. They want continuous learning, so they look for opportunities to earn certificates. They don’t want to wear suits, they do want to bring their dogs to work, and they might want to have a beer on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have a Kegerator in the office,” Whitaker said. She hadn’t expected that. “And they look for food. When they work late, if you buy them sushi, they’re happy.”
They’re also happy if they can find jobs with civic-minded businesses, said Tyler-Garner. “There’s ongoing discussions about how to ensure family friendly workplace policies like the ability to bring an infant to work. It’s not necessarily a shift of expectations but awareness that we could re-envision our workplaces.”
They’re also not as afraid of failure as the generations before them. “They’re not afraid of pushing an idea and putting their own time and energy into it even though it might fail,” said Whitaker. “They don’t need to feel like what they’re doing is safe. They’re okay feeling a little uncomfortable. They’re willing to take chances that might result in the most amazing project or idea or campaign that wouldn’t have come if you weren’t willing to put yourself into a somewhat uncomfortable situation.”
It’s not only about retention of younger generation workers, it’s about retaining employees period. Lovingier suggests different offerings for different generations. “The manager may have to structure the way they work to consider all the different generations and consider offering unique perks that benefit certain types of workers such as strong health benefits, flexible schedules, attractive time off allowances, or even tuition reimbursement, and through a strong offering of mixed benefits, be able to speak to all the generations.”
The Cost of Change
With the advent of the gig economy and the expectation that employees won’t remain with a company more than three or four years, let alone a lifetime, what does that do to the costs businesses incur when bringing on a new employee?
It remains the same as it always was if the employer stays with the old model, said Hofer, and that’s not good for return on investment. Basically training an employee only to have them utilize that training somewhere else isn’t optimal.
“So when you have somebody who’s only going to be with you for a very short amount of time, you’re not going to necessarily make that kind of investment up front,” said Hofer. “To use a sports analogy, you can either draft your players and grow into a starting lineup, or hire free agents and expect them to perform in a very short period of time.”
The period of adjustment for new hires is shorter when they’re expected to arrive with certain skill sets, ready to hit the ground running, and that might mean hiring a more seasoned employee for the job.
Whitaker said they’ve been doing just that. “Because they bring that historical knowledge and that real understanding of where we’ve been and some marketing principles I think are really key. Not everything is X’ers, not everything is digital, not everything is happening with AI or augmented reality, and you really need a good idea and a lot of research and data behind that good idea to be able to execute it in a way that’s strategic.”
Millennials are fairly entrepreneurial, many working side hustles in order to meet personal financial goals, said Whitaker. The Abbi Agency doesn’t have a problem with employees side hustling, even using the same skills they use for the agency, provided it doesn’t interfere with their work.
Not all generations are adding side jobs or starting their own businesses. Generation Z, just entering the workforce, seems more practical and more grounded. They’re looking for real world experience before heading out on their own.
“The newest wave of young professionals, they watched the other generations go through the recession and they’re a little more cautious and careful and they put a lot more effort into preparation, especially before they enter the workforce,” said Lovingier. Essentially they’re better equipped to excel in the long run. “So as older generations phase out, the newer generation can ramp up.”
In the end, the generations working together are really just people working together.
“Demographics are one thing, psychographics are another,” said Whitaker. “If you look at demographics you’re saying that if you’re 45 to 55 you’re going to be one way, right, because that’s your demographic, that’s your age. If you look at psychographics you’re saying that someone with a free spirited attitude that is willing to try different things and get their information online from different non-traditional news sources is this sort of person. So I might be just like the 25-year-old in my office in the psychographics way. That doesn’t mean that demographically we’re the same. Especially in the creative world there’s a lot of people with the same mind set, ideals, passions and willingness. We might not be the same age, but we’re motivated by a lot of the same things and I think that’s why it works.”