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Businesses must learn to manage a multigenerational workforce

By on September 11, 2017

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the September 7 print edition of Caribbean Business.

SAN JUAN — In a unique time in history, we now have workplaces with as many as four different generations of employees, ranging in ages from 18 to 80, which requires businesses to learn about the broad preferences and motivators associated with each generation & person to remain successful.

An employer could have a recent college graduate working alongside a 68 year old on the same project. Because each has different work methods or views about the workplace, there could be conflicts or “points of friction.”

There are four distinct generations coexisting in the labor force today. There are the “traditionalists,” who were born between 1901 and 1943; the baby boomers, who were born between 1944 and 1964; Generation X, those born from 1965 to 1981; and the millennials, who were born between 1982 and 2003.

“What worked in the past with three generations no longer works for four,” noted Ivonne Arroyo, director of the Franklin Covey Advance Investigation Center, which conducted a recent study that found 11 points of friction among the different generations.

The points of friction are in the areas of decision-making, respect, work ethic, fun at work, communication, meetings, policies and procedures, dressing, loyalty, capability and feedback. Each generation interprets each point differently. If an employer does not know the interpretation that Gen X gives to communication, there could be friction with millennials or baby boomers.

For a traditionalist, communication means writing a memo, hearing a speech or convening a meeting. A boomer will write a memo with a distribution list, but he/she will also pick up the phone or make an appointment. A Gen X person will simply send an email or text message, perhaps meet virtually and will probably ask, “What is a memo?” A millennial will either send a text message without vowels, watch a speech or get connected through social media.

Why the differences? Franklin Covey says it has to do with generational differences in historic circumstances. A traditionalist comes from a generation that saves money. Baby boomers were born after World War II, when the U.S. economy expanded, and television and Rock & Roll arrived to people’s homes. Schools also became standardized for this generation.

Generation X is a smaller generation than the baby boomers, but experienced high rates of divorce, underwent zero-tolerance policies, lived with global competition and the arrival of home computers. This group is often more interested in discussion than memorization, Arroyo indicated.

The millennials generation is larger than the baby boomers and is highly influenced by media. This generation felt the impact of the 9/11 terrorism attacks in New York City. They expect toys with their meals and their play time was planned by parents because, as children, they frequently attended summer camps. At school, they were taught to work in teams rather than individually, Arroyo said.

Diversity of work styles

So how do their different circumstances impact their behavior in the workplace? Many traditionalists continue to contribute in the workplace even after they have retired by working as advisers. Baby boomers seek higher positions or move upward, but Generation X and millennials seek promotions through lateral growth or to branch out in ways that are not limited to a particular field.

In terms of “respect,” traditionalists and baby boomers often follow directives from bosses. Generation X prefers to yield to decisions by persons with the most expertise, whereas millennials examine different options.

In the area of fun, traditionalists see leisure and work as separate, but baby boomers see work in itself as fun. Generation X sees “work as work” but millennials will do more work if what they are doing is entertaining.

Regarding the work ethic, Franklin Covey says traditionalists are more willing to stay at work after 5 p.m. to finish the job, while baby boomers take their work home. Generation X does the work required of them and is put off by barriers, but millennials, who see the world as operating 24 hours a day, get up in the middle of the night to do work.

When Caribbean Business mentioned there are baby boomers who also work in the middle of the night or at all hours, Arroyo said older workers who stay on the job are often influenced by the behavior of younger generations.

“What is important is to know their differences, to be able to get more out of each generation,” she said, adding that employers need to learn to respect diversity to encourage innovation and productivity.

How does a business cater to the needs of each generation? Arroyo said, for instance, that the younger generations, such as Generation X and millennials, need to see a purpose to the work they do, so employers need to provide things beyond the usual job perks. Baby boomers are used to just doing the work because they are guided by duty and obligation.

The vital message is that if an organization cares about people in the first place, and chooses to show it through their workplace strategies, they can successfully bridge the generation gaps, Arroyo said.

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