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Zap the Gap!

How to Work with Multiple Generations

by Meagan Johnson, CSP
April 2010
The people we encounter on the job today come in at least four generational flavors. Each generation comes with a unique set of expectations and perceptions and each has a different motivation. These differences can lead to a dynamic union or a combative conflict. You can adapt your approach to the generation or generations with whom you’re working to make the most of these differences and minimize the conflicts when you know what motivates and drives each generation. Companies who adjust approaches based on generational preferences create better working environments.
It’s easy to want to train workers based on one’s own motivations and point of view, but that approach can easily miss the mark. We need to first know the characteristics of each generation and what are their Generational Signposts or the events and cultural phenomenon that are specific to each generation. These signposts shape, influence and drive our expectations, actions and mindsets about the products we buy and the companies with whom we do business. Generational Signposts are the shared values of each generation.
The difficulty comes when different generations bump up against each other. A survey conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison found that 60% of employers report tension among employees. In the study, 70% of older employees were dismissive of younger employees’ talents while 50% of younger employees were dismissive of their older counterparts.  Another survey conducted by Aon Consulting in 2008, reported that 60% of companies said that their business performance was suffering due to a failure to prepare workers for leadership.
We need to find ways to Zap the Gap and adapt our training styles to the different generation with whom we are working. 
Consumer Behavior

When it comes to consumer behavior, the old consumer is passive, did not have much influence and saw the marketplace as rule based. In contrast, the young adult consumer today is proactive, has great influence and sees the marketplace as community based. We are in the process of tearing down old industries and rebuilding the marketplace to meet the needs of the new consumer.
Today’s marketplace is transparent and community based. Young consumers want full disclosure and accountability. Authenticity and substance has replaced over-packaging and “faking it.” Young adults blog about their experiences. Josh Rubins, a mainstream blogger ( which has 100,000 visitors a month.    

Tracking the Generations

The four generational flavors we encounter today on the job are:
Traditional—raised in the Great Depression, listening to Fred Allen.
Baby Boomer—raised during Viet Nam, watching Ozzie and Harriet
Gen X—raised in single parent homes, imitating Beavis & Butthead
New Millennium—raised on the internet, living in Southpark
The traditional generation was born between 1900 and 1945. During their lifetimes, they have seen 9 million people lose their life savings, 86,000 businesses close their doors and more than 2,000 banks fail. More than any generation in the past, the Traditional Generation has come out of retirement and is returning to work. The people of this generation like to feel that they are part of a team. If an employer can show the traditional employee that he or she is making a difference, no matter how small a difference, they will retain a loyal and productive employee. Wal Mart is an example of a company that taps into this wealthy resource of employees.
The Baby Boomers generation born between 1946 and 1964 is reaching an age when retirement may not be tomorrow, but it is drawing near. Many Baby Boomers are looking for a way to make a difference, and “making a difference” to a boomer means more than making a difference in their company’s bottom line, but also a difference in their community. Companies that look for ways their employees can make an impact while at work will be successful with Baby Boomer employees. For example, every year, Xerox selects a handful of employees to take a year off and work with the charity of their choice.
After watching the fallout of the recession of the late 80s and early 90s, Generation X born between 1965 and 1980 is not looking for the lifetime employment that their Baby Boomer parents were told to look for. Companies that give Gen X’ers more than a paycheck will be successful with this age group of employees. Many Gen X’ers are looking for an experience that will help them in their next job endeavor. As a manager, ask yourself: “What does my company offer an employee that our competitor does not?”  
The Newest Generation

The New Millennium generation born between 1981 and 1994 comes out the birthing boom that started in the mid seventies when Baby Boomers who postponed having children began procreating. This is the second largest generation ever produced in America, exceeded in number only by the Baby Boomer Generation. This generation has had the benefit of having experiences like travel and education that are beyond their years.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, 90% of this generation report being very close to their parents. This is in contrast to the Baby Boomers who reported in 1974 that they felt they would be better off without their parents.
This generation trusts parents, teachers and the police but not music celebrities and athletes. Why do we care? Consider that testimonials from “experts” won’t cut it with this group. They don’t have a generation gap with their parents and are not looking for rebellion like the Baby Boomers. This group makes co-purchase decisions with their parents. This is a group of achievers. They don’t celebrate being a slacker like Gen X. They are not an army of one, but feel that “me equals we.”
In the New Millennium generation, one out of three is a minority. And, they are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, growing from 14% to 21% of the workforce in the past 4 years.
They are also financially savvy. Thirty-seven percent expect to save for retirement before they are 25 years old; 46% already contribute to a retirement account and 49% look at retirement benefits as a very important factor when making a job choice, according to PURCHASE, New York-based Diversified Investment Advisors.
This group represents 26% of the population; they spend over $200 billion a year, spend an average of $30 per mall visit and influence another $300-$400 billion in spending, according to the National Retail Federation. Almost all of them own computers and cell phones, three-quarters of them instant message, a third of them use web sites as a primary source of news, 28% of them author a blog, 44% read blogs, 75% have a facebook account and 60% own an IPOD.
This generation often does not have to work. Companies that look for ways to create structured learning that is fun will maintain this generation’s interest. They expect a personalized approach to learning and like to express themselves in a personal way.
How Companies Adapt

Many companies are using new ways to recruit and work with employees. Abbott Laboratories is reaching out to college students, getting out the word about benefits, flex work schedules, telecommuting and full tuition reimbursement. ALFAC Insurance highlights its perks like extra time off as a reward and flex work schedules. And Xerox identifies core colleges and target them with an Express Yourself campaign.
Google is a perfect example of a company that appeals to the New Millenials. The company offers flex hours, casual dress for everyone, bringing dogs to work, on site doctor and dental care, free massage and yoga, stock options, free drinks, snacks and espresso, free meals and free recreation everywhere. And the list goes on and on. Google started as a company at which a younger generation would want to work. 
Other companies are encouraging the use of Twitter, the free social network tool for microblogging, on site. Unlike other tools, Twitter prompts users for a maximum 140-character response to the question “What are you doing right now?” The answer instantly transmits to their network of followers vie their twitter of other web page or mobile device. This tool fuses the ease of texting and the interactive nature of blogging in one location.
Today’s college graduates cite training and development over salary as their most important employee benefit and 98% felt that working with strong mentors is also important, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Think of ways that training can be adapted to appeal to these different generations for the highest effectiveness. When a company adjusts its approach to its employees, based on generational preferences, it raises the odds that these folks will be more productive and happier in their jobs.

About Meagan Johnson

Bright, Funny, Delightfully Obnoxious Generational Humorist!

Since 1997 Meagan Johnson has entertained and educated thousands of audience members from all over the globe. She has written a variety of articles about the multiple generations and has been interviewed for many publications and audio programs. In 2000, she was the only female speaker on the main platform at the Harley Davidson University conference in New Orleans Louisiana. After her ZAP THE GAP presentation, a Harley Dealer told her "You have changed the way I treat and train my younger employees."

Meagan has continued her research into the complexities of the younger workforce.

Meagan is an active member of NSA, National Speakers Association. In 2003, she received her CSP, Certified Speaking Professional designation. Currently, only ten percent of professional speakers hold this designation. As a Gen Xer Meagan was extremely proud to be one of the youngest recipients of the CSP designation.

Meagan lives in Phoenix Arizona with four dogs that have a total of 15 legs. You do the math!


Meagan Johnson


Also See:
Zap the Gap! How to Manage, Train and Maintain Your Sanity With The New Millennium Generation / Meagan Johnson / April 2010


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