Successful Supervisor 32 – Generational Issues

June 25, 2017

Ever since we stopped obsessing about the Generation X individuals (born 1965-1980), we have seen an uptick of writing and energy having to do with Millennials (born after 1980).

At this point, we have an approximately equal number of Boomers, Gen X, and Millennial workers in the U.S. workforce. As a supervisor, you need to keep the built-in communication and style issues from causing problems within your group.

In my leadership classes, I hear a common lament, especially from supervisors, that it is so much more difficult to reach Millennials and to keep them on board than was experienced with the Gen X workers.

I am sure the phenomenon is true, and have some suggestions in this article that may provide some assistance.

Tips for Supervisors

Beware of stereotypical generalities

We often read that Millennials are lazy or less loyal than previous work groups. There may be some truth to the trend in specific cases, but individual differences make it dangerous to label everyone in a specific group as having specific traits.

It is important to understand each person as an individual and not deal with an entire generation with one technique and biased labels. Each worker is a person first and foremost and a member of a stereotypical age group second.

Understand the Generational Environment

Pay attention to the different environment that each person grew up in as a significant force in shaping the way a person thinks or acts.

Way back in the late 1980s Dr. Morris Massey, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, did a series of programs entitled, “What You Are is Where You Were When (you were value programmed).”

At the time, Dr. Massey was focusing on the differences between Boomers (born between 1945-1964) and Generation X (born between 1965-1980). His conclusion was that significant behavioral patterns could be explained by the environment that an individual grew up in, but we had to leave significant room for individual differences before trying to pigeonhole people.

Undoubtedly the most significant difference between Millennials and prior generations is in the area of communications. Millennials were the first fully digital generation, so their whole approach to interfacing with other people is different.

Curiously, the keyboard layout thumbed by all Millennials to “text” each other was invented by Christopher Sholes in 1867. You would think that their main mode of communication with each other would be voice and video.

While there is plenty of that, the preferred method of “conversation” (even when sitting right next to the other person) is by the juxtaposition of letters, spaces, and “emojis” projected onto a little screen.

Just because most Millennials have over-developed thumb muscles does not make them less capable to think or to be dedicated. It is only the vehicle by which they gain and share information that is different, although older generations are catching up in terms of comfort level with texting. Inside we are all people who have dreams and aspirations, regardless of our age.

Have a Concrete Development Plan

One generality that I believe is true is that on average, Millennials are less patient with a slow pace for their own development. This is a hint for all supervisors who are working with Millennials.

It is much more important for people in this group to have a concrete development plan, which includes milestones and projected advancement. The danger here is that advancement opportunities are not totally predictable and appear to be glacial to younger people. That could lead to frustration.

Cross Train

Once a person has gained the skills for the next level career position, it is tedious to wait in line until the next opportunity to move up appears. Hence, we see Millennials willing to job hop in order to move up if no opportunity is available in their current organization. The antidote here is to cross train the person on additional skills, so he or she becomes more valuable to the organization through the passage of time.

The lesson here is that if you try to keep a millennial static or keep promising movement that does not occur, you often are going to lose the person to another organization. That pattern leads to high turnover, which is a major cost problem for any organization.

If you have such a great culture that each employee, regardless of age, is convinced no other organization is going to be better, then retention takes care of itself.

The Wegmans Grocery Chain was recently awarded one of the best organizations for Millennials. They have been on the list of 100 Best Workplaces for the past 19 years.

The secret of their success is to train and cross train the young people constantly. It adds to bench strength and it allows Wegmans to operate with about 8% turnover in an industry that often runs in excess of 40% turnover. That is a huge financial advantage.

Be Principle Centered

Another way to appeal to Millennials is to have a principle centered business. These young people are highly interested in the social responsibility of the organization for which they work, because they are convinced that it leads to long term success.

The younger generation is less tolerant of hypocrisy and bureaucracy than more seasoned workers, because they see it as a conscious choice, and they want to work at a place that has staying power.

Make sure you let all employees know the purpose of your business and that you always act in ways consistent with that purpose.

Foster Respect in Both Directions

As a supervisor, you need to instill a culture of trust that is not dependent on the age demographics of different work groups. You need to teach younger people that the more established workers have vital process knowledge and a history of experience from which they need to learn.

Conversely, you need to work with the more seasoned workers to help them see the benefits that the younger generation brings to the equation and appreciate them in affirming ways. It is a two-way street, and you are in the middle directing traffic.

One frustration for supervisors is that younger generation employees often have less sensitivity when communicating with others. They share their feelings with unvarnished candor, which often can offend older workers.

Teach them to avoid addressing an older person the same way verbally as they would a peer in a 140-character “Tweet” or a “text.” Stress that to get the result they want, Millennials need to be tactful and respectful when addressing other people, regardless of their age.

In any organization, the culture is set from the top. As a supervisor, you need to foster an atmosphere of respect that is rarely taught in school anymore but that is needed to build an environment of trust between people, regardless of age.

Working with Millennials may seem frustrating, if you are trying to apply the operating philosophies that worked for the Boomers or Generation X. You cannot fight the trends, and they are not going away.

The best approach is to embrace the younger generation into the workforce and impress them with your operational excellence and vision for the future. Make sure your culture is the best one around, and you will have few problems with turnover.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Working With Millennials

September 12, 2016

There are numerous books and articles on the differences in generational work groups and how to manage them successfully. In this brief article I want to share some thoughts of my own on the topic of working with Millennials (defined as people born after 1980).

In no way will this be a complete treatise on the topic, rather I wanted to point out some of the dangers I see in some things I have read.

Beware of stereotypical generalities. We often read that millennials are lazy or less loyal than previous work groups. There may be some truth to the trend in specific cases, but individual differences make it dangerous to label everyone in a specific group as having specific traits.

It is important to understand each person as an individual and not deal with an entire generation with broad brush and biased labels.

I do agree that we need to pay attention to the different environment that each person grew up in as a significant force in shaping the way a person thinks or acts.

Way back in the late1980’s Dr. Morris Massey, who was at the University of Colorado at Boulder, did a series of programs entitled, “What You Are is Where You Were When (you were value programmed).”

At the time, Dr. Massey was focusing on the differences between Boomers (born between 1945-1964) and Generation X (born between 1965-1980). His conclusion was that significant behavioral patterns could be explained by the environment that an individual grew up in, but we had to leave significant room for individual differences before trying to pigeonhole people.

Undoubtedly the most significant difference between millennials and prior generations is in the area of communications. Millennials were the first fully digital generation, so their whole approach to interfacing with other people is different.

It is astonishing to me that millennials prefer to communicate via the juxtaposition of individual letters and spaces (with interspersed “emojis” and their own abbreviations)as has been the custom for centuries.

Curiously, the keyboard layout thumbed by all millennials to “text” each other was invented by Christopher Sholes in 1867.

You would think that their main mode of communication with each other would be voice and video. While there is plenty of that, the preferred method of conversation (even when sitting right next to the other person) is by the juxtaposition of letters and spaces projected onto a little screen.

One generality that I believe is true is that on average, millennials are less patient with a slow pace of their own development. This is a hint for all managers who are working with millennials.

It is much more important for people in this group to have a concrete development plan. This should include milestones and projected advancement. The danger here is that advancement opportunities are not totally predictable, and that could lead to frustration.

Once a person has gained the skills for the next level of career position, it is tedious to wait in line until the next opportunity to move up appears. Hence, we see millennials willing to job hop in order to move up if no opportunity is available in their current organization.

The antidote here is to cross train the person on additional skills so he or she becomes more valuable to the organization through the passage of time.

The lesson here is that if you try to keep a millennial static or keep promising movement that does not occur, you are usually going to lose the person to another organization. That pattern leads to high turnover, which is a major cost problem for any organization.

The Wegmans Grocery Chain was just awarded one of the best organizations for millennials. They have been on the list of 100 Best Workplaces for the past 19 years. The secret of their success is to train and cross train the young people constantly. It adds to bench strength and it allows Wegmans to operate with lower than 10% turnover in an industry that often runs in excess of 40% turnover. That is a huge financial advantage.

Another way to appeal to millennials is to have a principle centered business. These people are more interested in the social responsibility of the organization for which they work, because they are convinced that it leads to long term success.

The younger generation is less tolerant of hypocrisy and bureaucracy than more seasoned workers because they see it as a conscious choice, and they want to work at a place that has staying power.

Working with Millennials may seem frustrating if you are trying to apply the operating philosophies that worked for the Boomers or Generation X. You cannot fight the trends, and they are not going away. The best approach is to embrace the younger generation into the workforce and impress them with your operational excellence and vision for the future.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Getting Millennials To Drink the Kool-Aid

June 5, 2011

It is no secret that there are tensions between the four (soon to be five) different generations in the workplace. It is the topic of hundreds of articles and books. Several consultants make their living helping organizations understand and cope with generational differences. In this article, I want to focus on the Millennials and provide some tips on how Baby Boomers and Generation X groups can be more effective at engaging them. I am using the following age groupings in this article based on the writing date of 2011.

Generation Name    Birth Year    Age 2011 
Traditionalists           1925-1945       66-86
Baby Boomers           1946-1964      47-65
Generation X            1965-1980       31-46
Millennials (Y)          1981-1995       16-30
Generation Z            1996- on          LT -16

In an excellent article in HR Magazine entitled “Mixing it Up,” Adrienne Fox pointed to several research studies that indicate intergenerational stress which leads to habitual problems having different groups get along. For example, she cited a study of 3200 US employers by Leigh Branham that showed a correlation between low employee engagement and highly mixed general populations in organizations.

One huge caveat when discussing any diversity issue is that one must communicate in generalities or stereotypes. There are always specific individuals within any segment who do not conform to the typical pattern. When one says something like “Gen X individuals are typically frustrated and cynical and tend to be aloof in their management style,” that is a sweeping generalization that will not hold true for all individuals.

The area of greatest challenge seems to be how to get the Millennials to respond more positively to the Boomers in charge and especially to the Gen X coworkers or managers. Here are some ideas that may allow more fruitful relationships when the older generations attempt to lead Millennials.

Recognize their comfort with Technology

Rather than discourage Gen Y people from openly using the tools they were brought up with, embrace their knowledge and skill with the hardware and software that let them communicate with each other as effortlessly as the older generations brush their teeth. Tap into their knowledge, and have them teach others how to succeed with the tools of today. I personally know several excellent Gen Y professionals who are seeking to change jobs because they are forbidden to openly use social networking at work. To them the concept is anathema, and it will not be tolerated long term.

Get to know them on a personal level

Everyone has a story to tell about dreams and aspirations. While Gen X individuals might tend to hide true feelings in order to concentrate on the work at hand, Gen Y workers are more willing to open up when asked. Knowledge of a person’s ambitions allows a leader to tap in at a gut level, which greatly improves understanding. With understanding comes empathy and respect in both directions.

Praise quickly and with specific information

Positive reinforcement is welcomed by all generations, but it is more powerful for Millennials than Gen Xers. Reason: The Millennials generally have less experience and are more easily shaped by positive reinforcement if it is sincere, specific, and done well. Gen X workers have heard it all before and would be more likely to think the feedback was disingenuous or manipulative.

Make expectations clear

Millennials like to be told they are on the right path as opposed to Gen X workers, who are more independent and focused on tasks. Since the younger workers tend to think holistically about how work integrates with their life, it helps to think in these terms when giving the rationale for specific procedures or sequencing of tasks. For example, a millennial would respond better to an explanation of the “comp time” policies than a Gen X worker would. Knowing the reason why the policy was set up would help the Millennial put it in the perspective of his or her life view and accept the rule, while a typical Gen X person would comply begrudgingly and try to “play the system” if possible.

Be as flexible as possible

In establishing policies for time off from work, show as much flexibility as possible to keep the younger generation engaged. For example, they find stiff and antiquated rules about how quickly after starting a job they can take vacation to be annoying and insensitive. Sometimes this leads Millennials to be tagged with the name “the lazy generation.” It is not so much that they are anti-work; they just want to be offered the option to fit work more seamlessly into their life and be able to take advantage of interesting opportunities when they arise.

Be patient with reluctance to use e-mail

Millennials would rather text or use social media than communicate to other people via e-mail. I know many young people who say they rarely use e-mail at all. This has a backlash effect at work because Millennials are often less responsive to e-mail requests than Gen Xers. The business world is still e-mail based, since the asynchronous nature of e-mail lends itself well to the meeting-centered professional schedule.

Millennials sit in meetings and keep up to date with events in real time, where the Gen X and Boomers tend to be less distracted in meetings but get their data through an endless stream of e-mail messages outside the meeting environment. When you do observe people in a meeting environment using PDA devices while multitasking, chances are the Boomers and Gen X individuals are reading and answering e-mails while the Millennials will be mostly texting or tweeting. The best advice here is to compromise and allow Millennials to text, but also set the expectation that they will respond to important e-mails promptly.

I read one rather telling statistic the other day. The use of e-mail by seniors increased by 28% between 2009 and 2010. During that same period, e-mail usage decreased by 59% among teens. As these teens move on through school and into the working world, this will cause the difference in communication patterns to become more of a schism. Perhaps some hybrid technology is out there that can bridge the gap to make the younger generations more receptive to e-mail. This would be good, as the more durable historical trail in e-mail is often useful in a business environment. Likely it will be the other way around. The senior workers are going to be encouraged to use more texting and social networking for daily communications, and e-mail will become less dominant.

Generational differences do lead to stress in the workplace, and the habits and life view of Millennials creates a dynamic that is frustrating for older generations. To help vent the pressure, follow the ideas above and continually seek pragmatic ways to integrate younger workers into the fabric of daily organizational life.