Giselle Kovary, a consultant at n-gen People Performance Inc., specializes in helping companies “get, keep, and grow” four generations of workers simultaneously.
In her well-attended session at the recent SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago, she defined the four generations as:
Traditionalists: Born 1922-1945 (63-86 years old)
Their goal is to build a legacy.
Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (44-62 years old)
Their goal is to put their stamp on things.
Gen Xers: Born 1965-1980 (28-43 years old)
Their goal is to maintain independence.
Gen Ys: Born 1981-2000 (8-27 years old)
Their goal is to find work and create a life that has meaning.
Relationship with the Organization and Authority
Traditionalists, Kovary says, were hard-working, willing to sacrifice, and above all, loyal to the organization.
Boomers came along with big changes they wanted to bring to the workplace, but there were the Traditionalists running things, so Boomers had to be content with changing from within.
But the Boomers saw how the organization let the Traditionalists down. “That’s not going to happen to me,” they say, and so their loyalty tends to be more toward the team.
Gen X’s loyalties are for the boss, because their boss is the gatekeeper for learning new skills. Xers are in the “sweet spot,” says Kovary. They’ve been living under the Traditionalists and Boomers for 20 years. What they want to say is, “Will you please just get out of the way?” They also have up to 20 years’ experience and, as the Traditionalists and Boomers retire, workforce pressures mean Xers can negotiate and demand.
Meanwhile, Gen Y loyalties are to their colleagues. They think of all employees as peers. They may say to their manager, “Why don’t you do it?” They are likely to ignore the corporate food chain, and want to talk directly to the VP.
Gen Ys’ parents wanted them to have a voice in family matters; be part of family decisions; and now those young people bring those expectations to the workplace. Ys want their opinions solicited, listened to, and acted upon. (Boomers often tell her, Kovary says, “Well, yes, that’s how I raised my kids, but that’s not who I want to work with me.”)
Ys also move and travel in packs. And even when not together, they are in constant communication.
Ys expect all their co-worker friends to receive equal treatment. They are used to playing soccer and everyone gets a trophy. And since they cannot fail, Ys expect second chances. “I failed to meet my sales target? I want a do-over.” And if they are top ranked, they will lobby in favor of their lower-ranked teammates.
Here Come the Helicopter Parents
And then, says Kovary, don’t be surprised if Ys’ “helicopter parents” want to be involved in the application/interview process. (A quick show of hands of the hundreds of HR managers in attendance showed that most have gotten calls from parents.)
Ys can do outstanding work, says Kovary, but if they aren’t fulfilled, they’ll just leave. “Time to go; no biggie.” They have many options—or at least they believe they do.
Beware of an important change that is occurring with competency, says Kovary. For older generations, competency was held by the more experienced people, but now, in many fields, competency—especially technical competency—is with the least experienced, the Ys.
Work Styles of the Generations
Traditionalists worked in a linear fashion, following the rules, says Kovary. Boomers went along with the rules and the structure: “These are the 10 steps that we need to take.” Xers challenge the steps. They suggest, “How about steps 3 through 7 and then 9?” Ys say, “Let’s make it faster and better through technology.” They want to upgrade every 3 months to 6 months, just as they do with their personal technology.