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Gen-Mix workplace is a challenge for today's managers

Today’s labor force includes four generations: Millennials (born 1978 and afterward), Gen Xers (1965-1977), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Veterans (1925-1945), whose respective workers each have their own work styles and expectations.
by Paula Burkes Modified: May 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm •  Published: May 25, 2014

If Andra Zwick, co-owner of Oklahoma City-based Zwick & Associates staffing company, wants to encourage her top recruiter, she leaves a Starbucks gift card and note on her desk.

“She’s extremely motivated by praise,” said Zwick, who knows her employee all too well. Zwick’s star producer is also her mom, a baby boomer whose generation is known for its work ethic, need for recognition for their contributions and, oftentimes, coaching to learn to work in teams.

Meanwhile, Zwick, 38, knows she is a classic example of Generation X — today’s roughly 35- to 45-year-old workers who typically want to work at companies where they can advance their skills and career paths, or they’ll move on or start their own businesses.

That’s exactly what Zwick did when she and her sister founded their company three years ago.

“I worked for several staffing firms in Dallas, where I got great training, but knew I’d gone as far as I could go,” she said.

Differences in age, beliefs

Today, Zwick frequently hears from human resources executives about differences, and sometimes tension, across the four generations in today’s workplace, she said.

“Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) or Veterans (1925-1945) may not think that Millennials (born 1978 and afterward) are working hard enough,” Zwick said. “Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen-Xers may think the other groups are too rigid and unwilling to bend on policies that might benefit the group as a whole.”

Managers need to realize there’s no one-size-fits-all, and learn how to motivate employees across all generations, said Gayle Kearns, who recently led a diversity training seminar at Francis Tuttle Tech Center.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re 19 or 69,” she said, “but whether you can do the work, learn the necessary skills, add value to the workplace, and play nice with others.”

Along with supervising mostly Millennials, Kearns, chief academic officer at the University of Central Oklahoma, has been a consultant to area businesses, including Sonic and Mercy.

Managing younger workers

Since 2005, Gen-Xers and Millennials have dominated the workplace, but Kearns said the latter will outnumber their senior counterparts as early as this year. Millennials, she said, generally want mentoring relationships along with flexible schedules, and want to move quickly into positions that may not match their experience.

“They’re not patient and they have no filters; they’ll say anything,” Kearns said. “A lot get fired, at least from their first job, because they lack work ethic,” she said.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Working together

The generation mix in the workplace:

•Millennials (born between 1978 and 1995) — 24.8 percent*

•Gen Xers (1965-1977) — 44.3 percent

•Baby Boomers (1946-1964) — 29 percent

•Veterans (1925-1945) — 0.9 percent

* Based on a 2010 federal labor bureau report. Millennials are expected to have the most workers in the labor force by this year or next, studies show. For every new worker who enters the labor force, two experienced workers leave.


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