As those 40 and older become the veterans of the workplace, two generations of young employees are taking their places in the material handling industry. Those in the so-called Generation X are maturing into leadership roles. Those in the Millennial generation (sometimes called Generation Y) are becoming the new craftsmen and professionals in your stores and on your job sites. But each of these groups is bringing with them a distinctly different understanding of work and its role in one’s life. To best understand how these individuals will impact the industry going forward, it’s important to compare and contrast their pervading work beliefs with those who have been in the workplace for more than 20 years.
What Baby Boomers Believe
Let’s begin with the so-called Baby Boomers and their parents.
A Job Is What You Are … Ask Boomers and Matures to reflect on their lives, and most will begin with a current job title. While younger generations work to live, older generations live to work. As older generations have matured, there has been more of a focus on balance. Yet some two-thirds of them will still admit to checking e-mail and voice mail on vacations and holidays. Both of these generations grew up in times when what you did for a living defined your existence. Technological advances, emphasis on convenience and a peacetime economy have supplanted much of this. For the past 30 years, lifestyles have shifted from survival and hard work to a balance of leisure and livelihood. But even now, most Boomers plan to work, in some form, past traditional retirement age.
I Remember When … It is a consequence of life that the more we mature, the more we use the past as reference points for the present. While younger generations sometimes show impatience with the seemingly endless, and sometimes repetitive, stories told by senior employees, they too often discount the insights those stories illustrate. Diplomatically asking an older worker to interpret a story, rather than simply telling it, can serve as an effective means for fostering conversation and goodwill. Stories, as a form of teaching, will outlast us all.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait … In the hierarchy of top-down organizations, patience has served many of those in the older generations. Loyalty to one organization was expected and rewarded with promotions and pay. However, organizations have flattened in their structures, and automation has eliminated many of the positions held by the traditional “organization man.” Many of these more senior employees cling to the hope that longevity will still be rewarded, in spite of layoffs. While those in younger generations display little patience for outdated modes of work, the experience and skills of these older workers still contain a wealth of resources.
If Your Hands Aren’t Moving, You Can’t Possibly Be Working … The advent of automation and computerization has challenged older generations’ idea of how everyday tasks are accomplished. While they intellectually understand the impact of technology, there is still something inside of them that says, “Where’s the physical effort? Why is everyone standing around?” This phenomenon, coupled with the introduction of flex-time, telecommuting and such, has served to violate many of the ingrained notions Boomers and those older have about the nature of work.
We Must Have a System for Everything … Matures and Boomers entered the workforce at a time when manufacturing was the center of the U.S. economy. They carried forth the systems they learned, and this fostered an emphasis on tasks rather than outcomes. When those in younger generations discount, or even ignore, the finely honed procedures that have been in place for years, older generations take that as an affront.
Technology Will Never Overcome the Value of Hard Work … While Boomers certainly understand the value of technology, many still harbor an inherent sense of wonder and uneasiness about its capability. On the other hand, younger generations see computers in the same light as earlier generations viewed typewriters. For those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, relying on the straightforward hard work of earlier times affords comfort, especially when computers don’t perform to expectations.
What Younger Generations Believe
Now let’s examine a few of the pervading work beliefs of younger generations.
A Job Is a Contract, Not a Calling … Generation X, in particular, is the least likely of the generations to identify what they are doing for a job as part of a career. Having experienced and/or observed layoffs, consolidations, acquisitions, mergers, recessions and the like, younger generations are more skeptical in their expectations of an employer. Businesses, for instance, that breach the employment contract by failing to follow through on commitments made, such as training, classes, experiences, promotions and resources, are much more likely to lose good workers to the competition.
Focus on the Outcome Rather than the Task … With the tremendous emphasis on performance and the proliferation of technology in the workplace, younger generations have less patience for what they see as meaningless tasks. They want to be able to take the ball and run with it, as opposed to performing the 10-step process designed 20 years ago. Given a clear definition of desired outcome, the resources necessary and a deadline, most want to enjoy the liberty of working on their own in a style that favors their work ethic.
In the Long Run, Balance Is More Important than Money … Younger generations work to live, rather than live to work. Common assumptions that older generations have had about working long hours are not relevant concepts to them. Having watched their parents do this for years at their expense, younger workers consciously work toward a more balanced life, even at the expense of income and promotion. Employers will find their traditional beliefs about how work is accomplished will be increasingly challenged if younger employees figure out a way that allows for more work/life balance.
Training, Knowledge and Experience Equal Versatility … Versatility ensures job satisfaction and long-term security. Employers who provide opportunities for ongoing ways to enhance one’s résumé will be the organizations that remain successful at retaining talent. While loyalty, per se, is viewed as irrelevant by many of those in younger generations, the chance to work and grow in a challenging and supportive environment will remain one of the most effective ways to keep people.
Management Should Be Partners with Employees … Young workers have learned that a host of organizations are implementing “best practices” that foster highly effective, team-oriented work environments. While the number of these circumstances remains limited, their expectation is their reality. Employers should be prepared to discuss and re-examine those practices that may be resistant to change. Organizations refusing to implement new systems and trying to preserve the status quo may find that the younger, and highly connected, workforce will have them pegged as old fashioned and an employer to avoid.
Life Is Too Short to “Pay Dues” … Society’s increasing emphasis on outcome and speed has engendered a belief in younger generations that there is no time to lose. Witness their comfort with surfing the Net, constantly flipping TV channels, and sending instant messages all at the same time. This phenomenon, coupled with low unemployment and availability of training and information on the Web, will present material handling employers with a mighty challenge over the next decade. How well are you prepared?
|Meet the Author
Robert W. Wendover is director of the Center for Generational Studies, located in Aurora, Colorado, and on the Web at www.gentrends.com.