HR Coach: Managing and Motivating the Ages
BY AMY COOLEY
It seems like it was just yesterday that we were talking about what to do with “those Millennials” in the workforce. And now those same “kids” are—gasp—in their thirties and some in their early 40s, with careers, families, investments, and even management roles. This VHR Coach article from 2017 describes what a “typical” Millennial, Baby Boomer, and Gen-Xer might look like inside your operation. But just as Millennials, Boomers, and Gen X have learned to work together, we’ve welcomed a new generation to the ranks of working Americans—Gen Z now makes up more than 10 percent of the US workforce. You may also notice that as with every new generational shift, the rough dividing line that defines the two youngest generations has adjusted a bit.
Before we go too much further, it’s important to be clear that general comments about the differences between these generations—how they approach work, what motivates them—are only generalizations, and these ideas may actually be embraced by other generations as well. It is always best to perceive your employee as individuals. Nonetheless, it can be very useful to understand some overall trends within each generation. Remember that each age group was raised at a different point in history: essentially a different social environment with different relationships with work and life.
Let’s look at two factors that affect employee engagement and how you might tailor your management style for team members in each generation: what people want from their work, and how they like to be recognized and rewarded.
Generation Z (Born 1997-2015)
These youngest and most diverse members of our workforce are looking for authenticity, transparency, and flexibility from their employer (in all things, such as personal appearance and company hierarchy). They want their leaders to be “real” and trustworthy and to connect with them as people, and they tend to seek out mentors. They also are more likely to care about the ethics of the company. Gen-Zers see their work life and their personal life as integrated (and also digitally driven), so they want to have genuine relationships with their leaders and colleagues and to be valued as individuals themselves. Personal growth and professional development are closely tied to each other and highly valued by this age group.
Great motivational tools with Gen Z include continuous, real-time feedback, positive reinforcement, and rewards associated with their social values such as donations to charitable causes or time off to volunteer.
Millennials (Born 1981-1996)
As suggested above, we’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning to understand this generation since they began entering the workforce. One of the most noticeable changes that appeared with this group is their focus on professional development and career fit over loyalty. Unlike previous generations, they are far less likely to stick with an employer out of loyalty or even money, and their resumes might show more frequent movement than their predecessors. Millennials like meaningful (and not-boring) work and the chance to contribute with creativity and innovation. Flexibility is very important to them. They tend to be less authority-driven, more willing to question the status quo, and, of course, are tech savvy.
Like Gen Z, Millennials also prefer continuous feedback to static performance reviews. And with their focus on professional/career development, they might favor public recognition (on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, in your widely circulated newsletter, etc.). When it comes to rewards, think about experiences that align with their personal interests and values. Time off to volunteer is a winner, as are tickets or gift cards for events and other experiences.
Generation X (Born 1965-1980)
I’m going to let you in on a secret—the focus on career development over loyalty to a single employer, which the Millennial generation is kind of famous for—is actually a trait that may have started with Gen-Xers. Although they were branded as “slackers,” Gen-Xers (although I admit I’m an exception) are more likely to tolerate risk and take chances—starting a new business or changing their management style. This is also the generation of “work-life balance,” with priorities for caring for both children as well as aging parents (and their Boomer parents are living longer than ever). Gen-Xers would rather have the flexibility to get the job done, rather than a focus on when or how many hours they work.
Gen-Xers tend to respond well to constructive feedback that will enhance their performance or productivity, and they value rewards related to lifestyle and convenience, like meal deliveries or travel opportunities. In contrast to their younger counterparts, they also may be more private about receiving recognition.
Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
Baby Boomers are our traditionalists and tend to be rule-focused. They concentrate more on the prescribed path and earning a certain status by virtue of their years of hard work and long tenure with the company. This generation has a tendency to tie their self-worth to their status occupational prestige: top compensation. As you’ve probably observed, Baby Boomers are more likely to draw stricter boundaries between their work life and their personal life and tend be job-centered and loyal to their employer. While their younger coworkers might crave remote and/or flexible schedules, your Boomer employees might prefer a more structured and regular schedule.
As traditionalists, Baby Boomers may struggle to receive feedback from younger or less experienced managers. It may be better to deliver feedback in a more formal way and connect it directly to standard operating procedures or policies. As far as rewards and recognition, again, think traditional; honor them in person at a company event, and offer awards that reference status—a bonus, a promotion, even a trophy or plaque. They too want to know that their contributions are valuable and meaningful.
As we wrap up, I want to remind you once again that age or generation is just one of many factors that shapes the individuals on your team. Very few people will fit neatly into one box—there is overlap, and there are exceptions (like me!). However, if you know each of your employees and recognize some of these traits in them, regardless of the year they were born, consider applying some of these techniques to adjust your management style and get the most from your team! [CD0522]
Amy Cooley is HR Administrator for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.