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.
Kearns’ advice to managers of Millennials?
“Treat them as a colleague versus a newbie, offer flexible schedules, be crystal clear on goals and deadlines, and then leave them alone. Don’t wait until an annual review to give feedback,” Kearns said. “Deliver praise, recognition and reward as soon as possible. Mention negatives once and then let them go.”
Quality relationships with their managers are critical to Millennials, Kearns said.
For Gen-Xers, ask what will motivate them to stay with the organization, she said. Gen-Xers, because they grew up in mostly dual-earner or divorced families, are resourceful, self-reliant and value control, she said. “To retain them, companies must become known as learning organizations obsessed with training and development,” she said.
Gen-Xers, Kearns said, often will make lateral moves simply to experience something different.
The older set
Don’t tell baby boomers what to do, but coach and challenge them to try new ideas, Kearns said. Veterans, she said, often need to be encouraged to make decisions, versus looking to authority figures as they did in traditional workplaces.
BOK Financial trains Millennials to set goals and how to best connect with older generations, said Charles Sparks, director of talent and organizational development. Simultaneously, the bank trains those who manage Millennials on the importance of giving ongoing performance feedback, managing their career aspirations and creating a collaborative environment.
New trainees are assigned both junior and senior mentors, Sparks said. “The junior mentor typically has a year or two experience in the company, is in the same generation, and is there to help the new trainee navigate the company, learn the hierarchy and offer advice from their recent experiences,” he said.
“With the senior mentor, we hope to facilitate an opportunity for the new trainee to develop a comfortable and confidential relationship with an experienced employee to help guide their career and keep them engaged,” he said.
Seeking common ground
Etiquette expert Carey Sue Vega believes the key is for employees to understand what they have in common.
“Everyone wants to be heard and valued for their contributions, to know how they’re doing, (to have)trustworthy leaders, and to learn,” said Vega, who recently led a training at Citizens Bank of Edmond on etiquette in the GenMix workplace.
“Throw in common insecurities and desire for power and you have disrespect, which is the antithesis of etiquette and professionalism,” Vega said.
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.