Personnel e.bulletin – June 2016

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Balancing the Management of Three Different Generations of Workers

Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

Three generations of workers form most of the modern-day workplace: the Baby Boomer generation, whose members were born 1946-1964 and are 52-70 years old; Generation X, whose members were born 1965-1980 and are 36-51 years old; and the Millennial generation, whose members were born 1981-2000 and are 16-35 years old. Boomers make up approximately 40% of the workforce, Gen Xers 30%, and Millennials 25%.

That distribution will shift as more Boomers leave the workforce and more Millennials enter it. In two years, Gen Xers and Millennials will constitute most of the workforce, and by 2020 it will comprise approximately 50% Millennials, 25% Gen Xers, and 25% Boomers.

As these shifts occur, it’s important to recognize differences between the generations and use that knowledge to shape your management style. You can therefore increase both your business’s success and provide for the future.

Generational Myths

The first step to managing different generations is letting go of any misperceptions about them.  Here are a few common myths that one generation might believe about another.

  • Gen Xers and Millennials aren’t motivated and are unwilling to work hard. Millennials and Gen Xers may not want to work the long hours that are more characteristic of Boomers because they crave work-life balance. But they’re willing to work hard and put in more hours in a flexible schedule to fit in that work. They also want to take on challenges and develop their skills.
  •  Millennials want a trophy for everything. The common refrain is that Millennials are entitled and want a participation trophy for every little success. In reality, Gen Xers are more likely to think that everyone on a successful team should be rewarded. And both generations prioritize a manager they can trust over a manager who recognizes accomplishments (although both should be part of the package).
  • Boomers don’t understand new technology; millennials want everything to be digital. Something all employees share is a desire to learn. Millennials might prefer more informal communications to be digital, but for discussions of career goals and performance and training, they prefer meeting face to face with their manager.

It can be easy to fall into those traps. Question your assumptions when presented with employees of different generations and determine their strengths instead.

Generational Realities

Keep in mind that workers of all generations share a desire for trustworthy leaders, opportunities to learn, respect, and consistent feedback, while disliking change. Some of those values might just manifest differently. More knowledge about the generations can suggest what employees in each can bring to the table and how best to manage them.

Boomers tend to see hard work as the way to advance; have a love-hate relationship with authority; prioritize work over personal life; and be competitive.

Gen Xers tend to see efficiency as the way to advance; be self-directed; be skeptical of rules; have strong technical skills; and crave work-life balance.

Millennials tend to see good ideas as the way to advance; work well in teams; want to help create the rules; crave work-life balance; and be adept with technology.

A reminder: These characteristics shouldn’t be used to make generalizations about the generations, but as tools.

How to Manage the Generations

Embrace those differences as shaping how to best lead your employees. Below are a few areas for application.

Regular educational and training opportunities benefit all employees, but different generations may embrace different delivery styles.

Baby Boomers might prefer more traditional methods like Power Point presentations and handbooks that have characterized the workplace for years. Millennials and Gen Xers might prefer more interactive and technology-based learning methods. Also, Millennials are motivated by special assignments that fall outside their job description.

If possible, cross-generational mentoring can be a boon. You can assess a younger employee’s needs and goals and match the employee with a more experienced worker. Older workers can help younger workers develop their skills in the field, as well as pass on institutional knowledge. Younger workers can offer a fresh perspective and share any new technical skills. Younger workers appreciate collaboration and are more likely to want to learn from those older than they are than their peers, who may represent competition.

Another benefit of this mentorship is that as Boomers retire, the business will retain institutional knowledge and crucial skills.

Benefits and Hours
Often, a higher paycheck isn’t the number one priority for workers. If possible, offering more flexible work schedules can be beneficial for each generation for different reasons. Boomers might stay on longer if they’re able to dial back hours but still work. Millennials and Gen Xers could get more of the work-life balance they crave.

Also if possible, offer Boomers full healthcare benefits even if they work part time. That can serve as a bridge to retirement for them, and you’d be more likely to retain these employees. Gen Xers and Millennials are more skeptical that Social Security will cover their needs at retirement, so they might value a 401(k) plan.

Reward Systems
Boomers might prefer the more traditional monetary reward or public recognition of success. Gen Xers might appreciate simple recognition, whether publicly or through an email, as well as time off. Millennials might also prefer the time off or validation through increased responsibility and training. Millennials appreciate frequent evaluations.

Performance Management
In general, performance evaluations should consider employees individually, taking their strengths and weaknesses into account – some of which may be tied to generation. Having frequent informal and formal discussions with employees can best help you tailor your evaluations and help employees both improve and share their needs. Don’t assume anything about an employee based on generation, but keep in mind what the individual might want.

Facilitate open communication, through strategies such as frequent discussions individually with employees.  Employees will be more likely to share ideas, concerns, and their needs. Older workers will feel more like partners, and younger workers will see this as further collaboration.

Also, don’t apply the same communication style to every employee. Boomers might prefer to communicate by phone or in person. Millennials have grown up in a more communication-heavy environment. More informal communications can take place digitally, but Millennials do tend to prefer to set goals and receive feedback in person. Mixing and matching communication styles can better ensure that you’re on the same page with all your employees.

In the end, all this boils down to considering employees as individuals. Each employee might be at a different stage in life – about to retire, new to parenthood, or just entering the workforce. The myths discussed don’t apply, and some of the characteristics above may not be relevant to every single employee of a generation. Keep potential differences and how they can add to (rather than subtract from) your business in mind, but then get to know your employees. Learning what individual employees might want and need and tailoring your management style accordingly will better ensure that your business runs smoothly into the future.

This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of May 2016. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at
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