Personnel e.bulletin – August 2012

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Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

For the first time in American history, our workplace has four generations working side-by-side:

  • “Traditionalists” – Also known as “Veterans” and the “Silent Generation,” born between 1922 and 1945
  • “Baby Boomers” – Born between 1946 and 1964
  • “Generation X”Also known as “Gen X,” born between 1965 and 1980
  • “Millennials”Also known as “Gen Y,” “Nexters,” and “Echo Boomers,” born between 1981 and 2000

The diverse perspectives, motivations, attitudes, and needs of these four generations have changed the dynamics of the workforce, and have challenged managers to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees.

Many “seasoned” (read Traditionalist and Baby Boomer) managers grew up with the expectation that they would work in one field and at one, or perhaps two, jobs for years, gradually being promoted to more senior positions, and earning a guaranteed retirement package.

By contrast, members of the Gen X and Millennial generations expect to have five or six different careers and many more jobs in their lifetimes, and are seeking employers who can offer better work/life balance with flexible schedules, professional challenges, rapid career advancement, and frequent recognition and feedback.

As background, let’s start with a brief overview of each generation, as highlighted in the following table, keeping in mind that these generational descriptions are generalizations only and will not uniformly apply to all members of each group.


Generation Shared Experiences During Formative Years Generational Characteristics


The Great Depression
World War II
Korean War
Wartime economy
GI Bill
Sense of dedication & shared sacrifice
Strong work ethic
Loyalty & national pride
Value conformity & security
Respect authority
Baby Boomers
(81 million)


JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations
Vietnam War
Civil Rights & Women’s Movements
Space race & manned space flights
Woodstock & the 1960’s counterculture
Decades of prosperity
Birth of suburbia
Optimistic idealists
Distrust authority
Challenge leadership
“Me” generation
Confident & independent
Motivated by position, perks & prestige
Value equality and fairness
Generation X
(51 million)


Challenger explosion
Fall of the Berlin Wall
Persian Gulf War
End to lifelong employment
Rise of single parent families
Latchkey kids
Wall Street boom & corporate scandals
VCR/PC/video games/cell phones/email
Value work/life balance
Distrust/disdain authority
Well educated
Independent, resourceful & self-sufficient
Technologically adept
Adapt well to change
Value freedom & responsibility
Dislike being micromanaged
(75 million)


Global economy
Facebook, Twitter, Skype, IM
24/7 connectivity
School violence
Oklahoma City bombing
“It Takes A Village”
TV talk/reality shows
Iraq & Afghanistan conflicts
Tech savvy
Email & texting preferred communication
Family-centric; desire work/life balance
Want flexible  schedules
Want to be included & involved
Question authority
Want frequent feedback & guidance
Confident & ambitious
Want meaningful work
Value teamwork
Loyal and committed

Generational Perspectives
Different experiences that occur during a generation’s formative years create different perspectives, but differences in generational perspectives and communication styles are certainly nothing new. Each generation clashes with and attempts to distinguish itself from the one before, shaping attitudes and providing a common identity to the generation’s members.  The “rebellious” long hair and rock and roll of Baby Boomers have become the tattoos and piercings of the Millennials. Understanding these different perspectives can help managers bridge generation gaps that occur in the workplace, thereby averting many minor and major confrontations and misunderstandings.

Generational Workplace Characteristics
As each generation’s defining events and common experiences shape its members, so does each generation influence change the workplace. The table below gives an indication of the evolution in approaches to work and the workplace that has occurred as Generation X and the Millennials have joined the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers in the world of work. Such differences in perceptions and approaches that characterize the four current generations can’t help but create challenges for managers.

  Traditionalists Baby Boomers Generation X Millennials
Work Cycle Lifetimers 7 – 10 years 2 – 3 years As long as it’s interesting
Technology Generally absent Use for some work Use as basic work tool for most tasks Less than the best is unacceptable
Desired Feedback “No news is good news” Need only occasional feedback Need constant feedback Expect immediate feedback
Desired Rewards Satisfaction in a job well done and money anytime Prestige
Freedom at work
Personal time that provides for work/life balance
Meaningful work and flexible schedules
Work is… An obligation An exciting adventure A contract A means to an end
Communication Formal (written letters and memos) In person Direct & immediate Email/text/instant messaging
Messages that motivate Your experience is respected You are valued and needed Do it your way and forget the rules You will work with other bright, creative people
Leadership Style Directive; command and control Consensual & collegial Egalitarian
Challenge others
Ask why
To be determined

Leveraging Generational Differences
Each generation brings unique strengths to the workplace and the most effective managers recognize the strategic advantages of leveraging generational differences to most effectively achieve organizational goals.

For example, Traditionalists tend to be experienced and loyal team players who get along well with others in the workplace, but are less technologically savvy than Millennials. Pairing a Traditionalist with a Millennial in a mutual-mentor relationship can result in increased technological knowledge for the older worker while at the same time providing the younger worker with a repository of valuable experiential and institutional knowledge that will allow him or her to move more quickly up the learning curve. On a personal level, members of the two “bookend” generations tend to share many common characteristics, including an appreciation of family life (though they may define the family unit differently) and a high level of patriotism not generally shared by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

Likewise, many Baby Boomers have spent most of their working lives in pursuit of higher salaries, more responsibility, and increased perks, putting in whatever hours were needed to “get the job done,” but often at the expense of family life and leisure activities.  As they begin to wind down their careers and move out of the workplace, they can profit from the perspective and practices of Gen Xers who have placed a high value on work/life balance and flexibility and who are expert at adapting to change.

Managers who become adept at recognizing and highlighting to employees the advantages of such symbiotic relationships will see the results begin to play out both in improvements in day-to-day interactions as well as in organizationally beneficial strategic alignments that result from employees’ greater appreciation of the strengths of their generationally diverse colleagues.

Managing and Motivating Going Forward
As Traditionalists and Baby Boomers continue to transition to retirement, the most effective managers will adapt their styles to maximize their effectiveness with the succeeding generations.  This will mean moving away from an emphasis on “face time,” and instead managing from a perspective of what needs to be accomplished in order to meet and exceed the company’s objectives.

Flexible work schedules and telecommuting options will serve to attract, retain, and motivate key talent, not only because employees personally desire such arrangements, but also because Millennials in particular are concerned about the ethics and social consciousness of the companies for which they work, and telecommuting arguably has a positive impact on the environment.

Gen Xers thrive in a hands-off management environment; micromanaging is anathema to them.  They value freedom and autonomy in achieving desired goals and work best when managers tell them “what” and “when” and then leave them alone to determine “how.” They tend to have a visceral dislike for endless meetings (loved by their Baby Boomer predecessors), feel no need for personal interactions with their supervisors, and are motivated by flexible schedules and challenging assignments.

Millennials are excellent multitaskers and prefer to communicate through various electronic and social media. Employers will need to embrace a culture of flexibility and support text messaging, tablets, and other technology tools that will allow employees to work remotely and remain connected 24/7. Immediate feedback, targeted recognition and rewards, and frequent reassurance motivate this generation and keep them involved.

Unlike previous generations, Generation X and Millennials view themselves as independent entrepreneurs with skills to “sell” to companies. Members of these generations witnessed first hand their parents and grandparents giving their loyalty and dedicating long hours to companies that subsequently laid them off when it became financially expedient to do so. Consequently, Gen Xers and Millennials will give their all to companies that offer them challenges, increasing responsibility, growth potential, and creative opportunities, but they will not hesitate to leave an employer if that ceases to be the case.

Savvy managers will recognize that the generations that are succeeding the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers bring a very different and very vital perspective to their work, their employers, and their world. They are smart, creative, optimistic, achievement-oriented, and technologically astute. They seek creative challenges, personal growth, and meaningful careers and will gravitate to employers and managers who are highly engaged in their professional development.

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 July 2012. 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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