Zap The Gap - How to Work with Multiple Generations - By Meagan Johnson

When I ask audiences to describe Generation Y (the 72 million people born after 1980,) I get comments like 'Bad Attitude, Continually Complaining, Gossiping, Lazy, Rude, Apathetic, Wants Reward and Wants to have Fun.' Generation Y is the second largest generation in our country and they are leaving managers scratching their heads over just how to manage, train, and motivate this new generation and still retain their own sanity.

CHART - Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers Whenever a new generation enters the workforce we experience a level of frustration with their lack of experience and their unrealistic expectations of work life. On the other hand, there is not one of us that didn’t hold an entry level job that bored us to tears, or a part-time position we fantasized about walking out of.

“When I was 21,” says Helen, a baby boomer who works as a training specialist for a credit union,” I worked at the front desk of a large hotel. I could not stand going to work. I did not find the work interesting and the customers always seemed determined to be unhappy. The difference is, I went to work. I showed up on time and I would have been ashamed to quit without giving two weeks notice.” “These New Generation people don’t care about their jobs, and they aren’t afraid to show it!”

If it is true that every new generation gets a bad rap when entering the workforce, and every workaholic Baby Boomer (people born between 1946 & 1964) and every Gen Xer (people born between 1964 & 1980) dreamed of blowing off their entry level position and leaving their bosses high & dry, why do Gen Yers seem so different? And, what can you do to work with them without strangling someone in the process?

Each generation brings a different set of assumptions and work related beliefs to the labor force. Our own assumptions and work related beliefs are largely shaped by our Generational Signposts.

A Generational Signpost is an event or cultural phenomenon that is specific to one generation. Signposts shape, influence and drive our expectations, actions and mindsets about the work we do and our careers.

Every generation has its own set of these Generational Signposts. Here are some examples:

The Traditional Generation
The Great Depression

Baby Boomers
Civil Rights

Gen Xers
Divorced parents
Latchkey Kid Syndrome


What are the GEN YER Signposts and what do you do to make working with this generation a more successful effort?

First, this generation never knew a time when they were not wanted.

So what does this mean? Do not expect them to be grateful for a job. Sometimes we perceive their lack of gratitude as a lack of interest. Not true. Your challenge is to make your job offering as interesting as possible. Create an experience for the Gen Yer. What does your company, industry or team offer that is special or unique and capitalize on that with the Gen Yer. Does your company have travel benefits, job sharing, true flex-time, no dress code, bring your pets to work, cool contests, and any opportunity to do something different and unique in their job? Those are the kind of things Gen Yers like. Think about what makes your job special to you and put a Gen Yer spin on it.

For example, UPS holds Super Loading contests. UPS knows that working in the warehouse consists of plodding repetitive jobs in an atmosphere that is far from luxurious. Super Loading Contests allow Gen Yers to have a good time, learn from their mistakes and feel like something more than cogs in the wheel.

The more you can take the job and change it into an opportunity to have an experience like nothing else, not just a place to get a paycheck, the more your workplace is going to resonate with the Gen Yer.

Gen Yers have gown up with tremendous tragedy and violence in its own backyard. Starting with the 1986 Shuttle Blast, there came the incident in Waco Texas in 1993, the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the Olympics Bombing in Atlanta Ga. in 1996, the Columbine Shootings in 1999, the September 11th World Trade Center Attack and Pentagon attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the recent Virginia Tech Shooting in 2007.

These types of Generational Signposts are different from JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations of the Baby Boomer Generation. Whereas those tragedies involved specific celebrity victims, the events affecting Gen Yers involve large numbers of the general population. The message is clear that they can fall victim to a madman’s whim or fanatic’s fancy in an instant, and it can happen in masses.

So What? The Gen Yer expects honesty. As a potential employer you must be honest with them about hours, pay and job conditions. If you are hiring someone part-time and the expected wait time to get a full-time position is 18 months, you must be upfront. Show them the working conditions before you offer the job. Do you expect them to work in small cramped cubicles that do not get their share of air-conditioning? If so you, need to not just tell them but show them. Show them the good, the bad and the ugly. Keep in mind the Gen Yer may not be interviewee savvy so they may not know all the right questions to ask. It is your responsibility to answer the questions they may have not thought to ask. For example, has the potential employee thought about how long it is going to take to commute to work?

Why should you do this? First, it prevents you from hiring the wrong employee that will leave you in six weeks because the job was “not what they expected.” Second, it demonstrates to the Gen Yer you are interested in their success – that it’s not just a stop over.

How long are you waiting to give Gen Yer s information about their performance? Gen Yers have had WWW information at the fingertips, their parents are a cell phone call away, and their favorite five friends can be instant messaged instantly. Yet we expect them to go back in time and be appreciative of a yearly review. You must give Gen Yer s information frequently and fast.

180 Solutions, an online-search marketing company hangs plasma TVs around their offices that give minute-by-minute updates on how the employees are performing. A Gen Yer employee can know at any second how close he is to receiving a bonus. The employees feel in control of their performance and their salary.

“I am not going to be here years from now, when I am old … like you!” You may have heard this from the Gen Yer in their quest to move up and get promoted as fast as possible. GEN YERs want to feel as if they are moving towards something. Sitting at a desk all day is stagnating, not accelerating in the minds of Gen Yers. So what can you do? Provide training. Provide a variety of training in different areas and with different people. Diverse types of training help eliminate boredom and create a positive buzz about your company with the Gen Yer, which makes recruiting easier.

PrintingForLess spends 14% of payroll on training. According to the American Society for Training and Development, that is almost 12% percent more than the average company. PrintingForLess has become a place where Gen Yers want to work.

“Why should I do all this?” you ask. Having a cohesive, multi-generational workforce is vital to survival. The sooner you begin to understand Gen Yer s, the better chances you and your company have of surviving and thriving. The sooner you begin to relate to and enjoy what Gen Yers have to offer, the sooner you will stop saying “why should I” and start saying “I am so happy I did.” Honestly, are taking your dog to work, having creative contests and helping people get what they want from their careers such a bad thing?

Meagan Johnson
Bright, Funny, Delightfully Obnoxious Generational Humorist!

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