Careers and Workforce / Business Strategies

Power Lunch: How to Manage Generational Differences in Today's Workforce

Learn to differently manage the four generations in today's workforce.

By Billy Hamilton of Motion Industries

Exciting times are just around the corner for the food and beverage industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in the industry is expected to grow 10 percent between 2014 and 2024. This increase in the number of jobs will result in a tremendous influx of new employees into the food and beverage workforce.

The surge of new employees will further complicate a workplace that is more complex than ever due to the number of generations working together at the same time. Advances in medical care leading to longer life spans, delayed retirement plans for many Americans due to the sharp decrease in pension plans and concerns about health care created a perfect storm forcing employers and employees to attempt to navigate the often turbulent waters of coexistence among workers with distinctly different needs and traits.

GenerationsThe four generations currently in the workforce are known as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.

The Silent Generation was born between 1927 and 1945. According to recent demographic studies, this generation makes up 2 percent of the workforce with 3.7 million participants, but had a significant impact on the way companies were run for decades. Most males of this generation were veterans who proudly served in the armed forces. As a result, they were accustomed to a top-down management approach learned during their time in the military. This command and control style of management is still prevalent in many organizations but has been under attack by each succeeding generation. Members of the workforce from this generation will typically follow orders and not challenge the status quo. However, managers should not confuse this silence with indifference, because if asked, these employees will provide their opinion and considerable expertise.The Silent Generation strongly prefers face-to-face communication and training versus electronic methods.

The Baby Boomer generation was born between 1946 and 1964. This generation makes up 29 percent of the workforce with 44.6 million participants. Baby Boomers are known for their “save the world” attitude and being idealistic, which was a sharp departure from their more pragmatic parents. This generation, also known as the rock 'n' roll generation, was the first to grow up watching television and experienced divorce in numbers never before seen. Boomers ushered in the era of women leaving the home and entering the workforce. They are driven to succeed and more open to teamwork and technology than their parents. Boomers resonate with the common good, and managers would do well to present them with organizational goals in order to keep a high level of engagement. Boomers are also in transition from dominating the workforce to planning their retirement and are open to passing along their tribal knowledge. The management ranks of many companies are filled with Baby Boomers who are delaying retirement, much to the dismay of Generation X.

Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980 and currently makes up 34 percent of the workforce with 52.7 million participants. X’ers grew up in an era of two-income families due to the large number of women who opted for careers over the traditional role of housewife. Since no one was home to greet them after school, those who grew up in this manner were referred to as “latchkey kids," because they typically let themselves into their homes with a house key kept on a string around their neck. This generation saw many of their parents laid off by corporate America, which caused them to be cynical of major institutions, becoming self-reliant and showing more interest in becoming entrepreneurs. As a result of their upbringing, X’ers tend to commit to self rather than companies or careers, causing them to be somewhat averse to team projects but willing to take advantage of new opportunities presented to them. Managers should play to the strong independent nature of X’ers when directing them in the workplace. The delayed retirement of many Baby Boomers is frustrating to X’ers, as they feel the large number of Millennials nipping at their heels for senior management positions.

The date range for Millennials is debated much more than the preceding generations, but many societal experts define this generation as those born between 1981 and 2001. In fact, the end date for Millennials is considered by many to be Sept. 11, 2001, as the World Trade Center attack shaped much of their lives. Millennials currently make up 35 percent of the workforce with 53.5 million participants. Their number continues to grow due to the demographics of immigrants entering the U.S. The first digital generation, Millennials do not know what life was like before the internet. This generation grew up in a highly scheduled, structured world designed to keep them nurtured and safe. Parents of Millennials became known as “helicopter parents” due to hovering over most aspects of their children’s lives. Because of the scheduled nature of their youth, most Millennials prefer to work in a team environment and should be managed accordingly. This generation is usually unfairly maligned for their differences and criticized for needing constant praise and reinforcement.

As with any demographic information, it is important to remember that specific traits and trends are most applicable when describing large groups of people. Members of any generation are individuals and may not act in the same manner as the group does as a whole. As a result, a one-size-fits-all approach will not necessarily work for everyone in the group. It is important for managers to understand the traits of each generation and use that information as it applies to the people they lead. And now that you understand your current workforce and know this industry's job growth forecast, buckle up – because Generation Z begins turning 16 in 2018.