Four generations on the job offer challenges, advantages
Four generations on the job offers challenges, advantages
“I’m not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation (talkin’ ‘bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation (talkin’ ‘ bout my generation)”
-- The Who, 1965
If you sang along with this theme song of the ‘60s, you now find yourself among the more experienced sector in the workplace with 20 to 30+ years on the job.
Even so, Baby Boomers are not the most experienced workers. Indeed, with people working longer because of better health and/or more financial needs, the group Tom Brokaw calls the “Greatest Generation” is still very much at work in their 60s and sometimes into their 70s.
For the first time in American history, workers from four different generations are working side-by-side – 65- and 70-year-olds sometimes called “The Silent Generation” and Boomers in their 40s and 50s are working with Gen X’ers in their 30s and now the Gen Y “Millennials” in their 20s.
How does this interesting phenomenon affect industry?
David Rowlee, vice president of research at Morehead Associates in Charlotte, N.C., told HealthLeaders Media that each generation shares these beliefs:
- They react to the generation before them in a negative way.
- They are skeptical about generations that follow them.
- They think they are the best generation – the standard by which other generations should be measured.
Although they share those beliefs, each generation is different. Having grown up in different times with different experiences, they have developed different values, financial expectations and communication techniques.
Greg Hamill wrote for the online magazine of Fairleigh Dickenson Unversity Silberman College of Business that those differences can be heard all around the workplace:
“It’s five o’clock -- I’m out of here,” versus “She has no work ethic.”
“Write a memo,” compared to “Text me.”
“Why?” one asks. “Because I said so,” another answers.
Even words are perceived differently. Hamill says when a Boomer says to another Boomer, “We need to get the report done,” the second Boomer interprets that as an order to get the job done now. However, a Gen Xer hears, “This needs to be done,” and takes it as an observation, not a command!
Having four generations in the workplace offers:
- Mobility and high turnover among younger workers. Don Brown, director of human resources at Western Baptist Hospital, the region’s largest employer with 1,740 workers, said research shows that people may change jobs eight to 10 times in their careers.
“Most of those changes come within the first third of their career,” he said. “The rate of job change declines with age and experience. By their 40s, most workers are settled in their career choices and the average tenure with the same employer goes up.”
- Labor vacuum created by the departure of older workers. While older workers offer stability and less turnover in their later years, they also leave a vacuum when they retire. Replacing them with skilled and disciplined workers requires a thorough search.
For example, Chris Black, president of the four-generation family-owned Ray Black & Son construction firm of Paducah, said the need to fill entry-level construction jobs is more challenging with today’s high school graduates, who grew up at a computer instead of doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. “We do find them,” he said, “but we just have to go through a greater number to get to the keeper.”
- Different priorities. Older workers may have been content to stay near their hometown and work long hours, while younger workers are willing to move to their ideal communities and then request “flex” schedules to give them more freedom to enjoy those quality-of-life surroundings.
“Many are making those decisions based more on where they want to live,” Black said, “than what they want to do.”
- Different expectations. Dr. Patrick Withrow, Western Baptist’s vice president/chief medical officer, said physicians from different generations have different expectations in many aspects of their practice, from technology to scheduling.
“There is a real ‘digital divide,’ ” he said. “Young doctors just out of training come in with an expectation of the best tools and resources to help them practice medicine. They also want more of a balance in their lives, so they view their time as the new money.”
- Plenty of role models. The biggest advantage of a multi-generational work force is the wealth of experience from which younger workers can learn. “There’s always a respect for that knowledge,” Black said.
- Diverse skills and ideas. Despite what each generation thinks, one isn’t better than another, and one isn’t worse. Each brings a different strength to the mix – experience, enthusiasm, energy, wisdom and curiosity – that deserves appreciation and respect. “Workers 40 years apart in age can bring the right balance and perspective to your business,” Brown said, “especially when your business caters to customers of all ages.”
All aspects of your business -- recruitment, training, management, marketing, customer service -- can benefit from awareness of those generational differences.
Just don’t tap too loudly to “talking ‘bout my generation.”
Dona Rains is marketing director at Baptist Health Paducah. She previously served as the public relations coordinator at Paducah Public Schools and a writer and editor at The Paducah Sun.