How To Harness The Power Of Workplace Generations

Anne Daniells
Posted on July 20, 2016

Operator Chris Quinn owns Corporate Transportation Solutions in Sacramento, Calif., and serves as a board member of the National Limousine Association (NLA) and the Greater California Limousine Association (GCLA). He’s also a Battalion Chief with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

Operator Chris Quinn owns Corporate Transportation Solutions in Sacramento, Calif., and serves as a board member of the National Limousine Association (NLA) and the Greater California Limousine Association (GCLA). He’s also a Battalion Chief with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

In the second decade of the 21st Century, America has reached the juncture of five distinct and diverse generations in the workplace. For years, we have talked about “Baby Boomers” and “Millennials,” “Gen Xers,” and “GenY.” Now, with “Generation Z” ready to flood the first rungs of the job market, companies must plan for the shifts in leadership needed to manage layers of age groups and experience.

At the 2016 International LCT Show, operator Christopher Quinn’s session offered practical approaches to getting such diverse age groups to work well together. Quinn owns Corporate Transportation Solutions in Sacramento, Calif., and serves as a board member of the National Limousine Association (NLA) and the Greater California Limousine Association (GCLA).

As an active fire captain training a mix of the younger generations, Quinn uses different ways to get optimum performance from his recruits, and also learned how and when to overlook differences. Quinn presented his insights into leading these young men and women while creating more productive, multi-generational work environments.

Generations Defined

Traditionalists are now the world market’s shareholders. Having lived through or been born during the Great Depression with some serving in World War II or the Korean War (1950-53), this older group values duty, honor, country, hard work and every nickel. Coming of age during the era of the military draft, about half are military veterans, so formal uniforms and dress are considered standard for work.

Baby Boomers are the offspring of returning military servicemen after the war. They enjoyed economic booms that make them idealistic and active spenders and consumers, but competitive and goal oriented. This group brought us women’s liberation and the civil rights movements. But they remain more formal in dress and presentation in a work environment.

Gen-Xers were instrumental in the counterculture movement. Questioning established norms was a part of deciphering economic and political uncertainly in their early years. While not as job-loyal, this group also has absorbed more downsizing and layoffs in a post-boom economic world than their elders. Gen Y/Millennials enjoy economic prosperity and new technology. But they also look for group collaboration and want regular, even weekly, feedback on job performance.

Generation Z is still new to the work world, but this group has been wirelessly connected from birth and is likely to face heavy college debt while looking for fulfilling work.

Where Differences Become Clear

Describing each generation’s unique qualities is one thing, but managing them is another. Significant differences in values, skills, and style can challenge managers.

“All of that can lead to misunderstandings and decreased productivity,” Quinn says. “Worse, it generates less-engaged workers who tend to separate themselves into like-minded groups.” This creates silos of workers, generational bias, and ultimately, causes poor communication. “Some generations even feel singled out as less worthy employees,” Quinn adds.

Hiring the right people is vital for an employer, and operators need caring employees who value their work and want to succeed. “Ostensibly, the mission is the same, but the people have changed,” Quinn says.

From fashion and verbal presentation styles to workplace behavior and technological savvy, the people behind each desk vary widely based on their generational category. Communication is definitely one of the primary differences in style.

If a project goal is shared and understood by a group, for example, it may still be difficult to move forward if communication styles are not considered in the “how” of completing the project. A traditionalist is looking for direct requests and established tasks while Gen Xers prefer to communicate by email and text and are more ready to flex as things change. Baby Boomers may happily have a meeting at any time or take calls at home, while younger generations value greater work/life balance and will bristle at a call outside of work hours. The team may be top-notch, but time must be put into agreeing on the methods for working together.

In another scenario, an older owner or manager offers a bonus for a job well done on a project. The Baby Boomer may be glad to get the money, while a Gen Xer, who looks for instant gratification, wonders why she didn’t get the bonus six months ago when the project was complete. And she might even ask that out loud, stunning an older manager who thinks the employee is looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Recognizing the things that make an employee feel valued and motivated is an important step to creating a well-honed group.

Whatcha Gonna Do About It?

Choosing how to mix the various styles is a leadership responsibility fraught with challenges, but it is workable. If done well, the combination of styles and generations could enhance the quality of the company’s service and products.

“Embrace the challenges,” Quinn suggests. “Understand and cultivate the talent that exists in each generation.” This could be technological know-how or optimism. A Baby Boomer may be excited to learn about a new way to use in-house software and could be paired with a younger person to teach.

Determining expectations and strengths is a matter of good management research. While a Traditionalist or Baby-Boomer reads this as the company’s expectations, a Gen-Yer sees it as it’s intended: To figure out the employee’s expectations; don’t solely force expectations from the top down. Maybe one wants daily feedback, and another prefers to be left alone to work until a weekly meeting. Perhaps some want more flexibility in problem-solving, while others want the methods pre-set to work on. No matter the methods, when all sides know what is expected and preferred, it naturally becomes easier to find ways to drive results from happier, cooperative, and goal-oriented employees.

By clarifying first, managers will make fewer erroneous assumptions. Even better, it is possible to alter long-held beliefs and attitudes. But it takes a little time and patience to let natural abilities contribute in a productive way.

Perspective is part of what makes understanding possible. “Slow the row,” Quinn offers. “As a matter of respect, it is important to pay attention to the other side’s perspective.” Often, the desired result is the same. The Gen Yer may start an explanation with “Dude” as his title of respect, but the idea may be the best one offered at the table. By understanding perspective, different modes of getting there might be worth trying. Instead of seeing a difference or resistance, hearing assorted views can create the appreciation for talents and ideas of another generation.

Good leaders practice such principles anyway. Multi-generational differences just contrast the ways to accomplish excellent work for the organization. Managing these generations may be a challenge, but recognizing what each generation adds in value can be used to benefit the company. More importantly, it will be better for customers as well.

Christopher Quinn can be reached at [email protected]

So Who Are These People?

Quinn notes “each age group of people has different perspectives that affect goals and execution. They are motivated in different but specific ways.” And while the years may overlap a bit based on family structure and personal experience, the generational break down is initially based on birth year:

  • iGen, Gen Z or Centennials: Born 1996 and later
  • Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1980 to 1995
  • Generation X: Born 1965 to 1979
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
  • Traditionalists and Silent Generation: Born 1945 and before

Related Topics: business management, employee management, Generation Z, How To, ILCT, Las Vegas, LCT Magazine, leadership, Management, Millennials, staff management

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