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Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

March 2012

Unleash the Potential in Workers

In today’s workplace, the demographics are carved out by four generations. Your parents or grandparents are “The World War II Generation,” also known as “The Silent Generation.” You may be a “Baby Boomer” or perhaps your parents are “Boomers.” And then there are the technology-based segments, “Generation X” followed by “Generation Y,” also referred to as “The Millennial Generation,” who are the youngest to join the workforce.

It’s entirely possible for a 20-something college graduate to sit next to a co-worker who’s 40-50 years older. This fascinating mix of generations is due to the advancing age of retirees and workforce shortages in many industries. I95 BUSINESS spoke with three expert professionals from Susquehanna Workforce Network, Harford Mutual Insurance and Sephora USA about the need for communication and understanding across the generations.

Bruce England is the executive director of the Susquehanna Workforce Network, Inc. (SWN) in Havre de Grace. SWN is a private, non-profit corporation that oversees and plans workforce development programs and services in Cecil and Harford counties and develops solutions that maximize regional economic success and worker potential.

Steve Linkous is the president and CEO of Harford Mutual Insurance, a property casualty insurance company providing services to commercial insurers and small business, with a focus on restaurants, contractors and habitational business. Last year, Harford Mutual had $112 million in revenue and employs 130 at its headquarters in Bel Air.

Ted Wasielewski is the director of human resources and community relations for Sephora USA Logistics in Belcamp. Owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy) Sephora is the world’s leader in luxury goods with 60 prestigious brands and stock trading in Paris.

Benefits of a Multigenerational Workforce
More than ever, businesses realize that it’s important to value the multigenerational workforce. Understanding is key to building and maintaining a unique workforce. Since the way generations approach work varies, understanding bridges the perceived gap between generations of workers who learn differently, respect authority uniquely and perform their job responsibilities with or without assistance.

Linkous feels that understanding the uniqueness of individuals is key. “While each generation has a general set of characteristics, there are varied differences: a younger generation might typically bring energy, spirit and drive, a more mature generation can typically balance that with experience, patience and a broader view,” he explains.

With each generation comes distinguishing perspectives on the experiences and challenges faced. “Each generation brings their own style to bring about effective results,” England says. Wasielewski feels that both challenges and benefits exist with a multigenerational workforce. He notes, “From a human resource standpoint, you have to find out what factors will engage the generations out there in order to elicit the best performance from each.”

Valuing Diverse Demographics
Diverse demographics bring additional viewpoints and creative ideas that contribute to innovation. England finds valuable contributions by each generation and emphasizes how to benefit from diversity. “Taking time to understand their perspectives, talents, strengths and preferences will enhance recruitment, reduce turnover, retain talent and maximize potential business success,” England remarks.

Linkous finds that the real benefit of of diversity is utilizing unique and powerful differences in order to make better decisions and operate at a higher level. “Maintaining a homogeneous workforce will stymie innovation and creativity, leading to ‘in-the-box’ thinking,” he says. “[Harford Mutual] values diversity, even though it comes with challenges in uniting generations.”

Wasielewski states that Sephora values “dedication and drive to work by Baby Boomers and competence of Generation X and Y.” He notes that Generation Y workers are the most challenging and mentions that Sephora tries to tap into what makes the generation tick.

Work Styles
The impact of generational work styles can be noticeable for employers. Flexibility is always key to a successful work environment. England reveals that work styles contribute to efficiency as “businesses benefit from recognizing these contributions and using development opportunities to maximize this potential.”

Linkous remarks that generational work styles are impacted in areas of flexibility and understanding and also in dealing with challenges or obstacle. He says, “This temperament or ability to adapt and be flexible is not only intrinsic to each group, but also to each individual.” England also feels that the variety of work styles adds to the mix. “Traditionalists (65 and older) have as much concern for how things get done as what gets done. Boomers (48-64) have that get it done, whatever it takes mentality. Gen X’ers tend to look for the fastest route to results without much consideration for protocol. Millennials work to deadlines, not necessarily schedules,” he states.

Wasielewski says the issue of work styles pertains to how much direction workers like. “Older workers like policies and procedures in place,” he shares. “Younger workers want to be told what the outcome should be and will figure out how to get to that point.”

Engaging a Workforce

Finding a connection within generations is highly regarded in workforce engagement. At Harford Mutual Insurance, Linkous remarks that valuing what each generation “brings to the table” involves flexibility, while offering support and opportunity to everyone. He says, “Clear strategies and objectives are very important as the guideposts to the management and teams that supervise the activity of the organization.”

Susquehanna Workforce Network’s England states, “Business must effectively understand the strengths, preferences and contributions that each generation brings to the workplace and ensure organization wide development and human resource practices and plans strategically address not only the traditional technical and personal self-development needs but also organizational needs that ultimately will build effective work teams.”

Wasielewski mentions that MetLife, one of Sephora’s vendors, conducted a study on engagement of a multigenerational workforce. He realizes it’s key to tap into the needs and desires of generations and finds it interesting how people look at work. “Older workers are interested in securing status and feeling of well-being with work. Younger workers have the ability to be flexible. They don’t mind starting over again,” he mentions.

Top Talent Recruiting and the Age Spectrum
Recruiters are tailoring messages that encourage talent from the age spectrum to apply. From the employee standpoint, Linkous believes that people look for organizations that value input, no matter the tenure of the employee. “There is great talent within every current generation, and organizations need to realize and benefit from this in their hiring. The last thing [Harford Mutual] would want to see is talented people not even thinking of applying because they are too young or too old, or in an underappreciated generation in their minds for our organization,” he says.

England feels that top talent recruiting requires organizations to promote messages to each generation with “language and feature workplace benefits and attributes that will attract workers and skills across the generations,” he says.
Wasielewski remarks, “When I’m looking for management or younger people who can contribute, I’m looking for leadership ability, a high level of integrity and computer and technical skills.” He feels that people are still looking for good paying jobs with solid benefits, with the older workers expecting less than the younger workers.

Generational Stereotypes: Myths vs. Realties
It’s impossible to pigeonhole generations as individuals break stereotypes across the board. Businesses look at workers based on experiences, with younger generations seeking big salaries before performances merit the pay. Linkous says, “Other myths involve the Baby Boomers as hard workers dedicated to their jobs and only wanting recognition and awards after they’ve earned it.” He emphasizes the key in having a successful multigenerational workforce, regardless of myths, by “making sure you have good, solid and talented individuals to start with.”

England points out that real differences exist among generations and include work style, preferred communication, recognition/reward, loyalties, work/life balances, technology and more. He says, “I think the myth is that differences are not easily compatible in the workplace.” He explains that managing and planning for a multigenerational work place is a necessary component of competitiveness. “After all, our customers are multigenerational as well,” England says.

Wasielewski feels that [business] can’t generalize on any generation because people should be regarded as individuals. “I’m still going to look through the lens about what is motivating [people]. I’m very interested to know if someone will be a good team member within the culture of [Sephora]. We have some older workers with more passion and desire for flexibility than some of the other workers,” he reveals.

Side-by-Side Generations
Generations are working together as the workplace and economy dictates this trend. With the average age of employees increasing, far fewer workers choose early retirement. Job security and stability into retirement age and beyond are major reasons people work longer. Healthcare costs and cost-of-living are also cited as explanations for the advancing retiree age. Whatever forces the decision for working longer prior to retirement, multigenerational workforces are the prevailing outcome as workers continue to strengthen their retirement nest eggs. I95