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Team Member Segmentation in the Workplace…or
“If everyone brought potato salad to the picnic – it wouldn’t be much of a picnic!”

By Jim Hartigan
July 2010

The majority of the American workforce is comprised of three generations: Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X’ers (born 1965-1980), and Millenials (born 1981-2000).  We wanted to learn more about the different habits of each generation.  In particular, we were curious to see how they spent their time at work.  To help us gain a little insight, we egregiously violated numerous federal, state, and local laws by hiring a top-rated spy and espionage firm to place hidden cameras, tape recorders, and various other cool spy thingys throughout our office to track the day-to-day routine of our team members.  We selected one team member from each generation upon which to spy.  Here are some of the highlights from the study.

Subject Number 1: Baby Boomer
6:45 am: Subject arrives at office before anyone else.  Unlocks office door, disarms alarm, and heads directly to break room to brew coffee.  While waiting for coffee to brew, subject flips break room TV back and forth between Fox News, The Weather Channel, and Murder, She Wrote.

7:01 am: Subject settles in at desk.  Checks work email.  Checks personal AOL email account.  Writes out to-do list for the day and begins checking off items.

10:37 am: Subject performs a HotBot search for “gout relief”.

6:15 pm: Subject last person to leave office.

A little background information
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were born during a period of unprecedented population growth in the United States, hence the term “boom”.  This generation, who grew up in a period of social unrest (civil rights, Vietnam, sexual revolution) and spent their youth rebelling against authority, now finds itself holding top positions of organizations across the globe.  Characteristics of Baby Boomers include:

  • Tech-enabled
  • Loyal
  • Value individuality, yet Family-focused
  • According to a study by Karen Way Smola Charlotte D. Sutton entitled “Generational Differences: Revisiting Generational Work Values for the New Millennium”, Boomers strengths include “consensus building, mentoring, and effecting change.”

Subject Number 2: Gen X’er

8:00 am: Subject arrives at office.  Heads to break room for coffee and flips the TV back and forth between CNN and a Welcome Back Kotter re-run.  

8:15 am: Subject sits down at desk, checks email, opens iTunes, and cranks Van Halen’s classic 1984.  Subject begins working.

10:04 am: Subject breaks for a quick round of online Sudoku.  Looks over shoulders, puts on headphones, and cues up Air Supply’s Now and Forever.

5:00 pm: Subject shuts down computer and leaves for the day.


A little background information
Generation X’ers (1965-1980) also grew up in a world filled with change; however, the climate might be better described as unstable (Cold War, sharp economic fluctuations, etc).  This generation, frequently referred to as cautious and pessimistic, is described in Smola and Sutton’s study as preferring individualism versus collectivism.  “They use the team to support their individual efforts and relationships, crave mentors, and value a stable family.”  Additional descriptors include:

  • Tech-savvy
  • “The Lost Generation”
  • Comfortable with diversity and change
  • The most diverse generation in US history

Subject Number 3: Millennial

8:37 am: Subject arrives at office.  Has cup of organic, fair trade coffee in one hand and watching a YouTube clip on iPhone with the other hand.
9:00 am: Subject settles in at desk.  Checks Facebook account.  Checks work email.  Checks personal email.  Checks Facebook account.  Checks Twitter.  Checks Facebook account.  Turns on Pandora “Work Jamz” station.
10:17 am: Subject breaks for a short World of Warcraft session.  Looks over shoulder, puts on headphones, and cues up “Slow Jamz” station on Pandora.
4:47 pm: Subject changes Facebook status to indicate he is leaving work for the day, shuts down computer, and leaves for the day.

A little background information
Millennials (1981-2000) grew up in a period of relative stability compared to previous generations.  As such, many millennials are optimistic and confident.  This generation has been referred to as “the most watched” as they spawned “the play date” as young children followed by the plethora of after school activities that so many still participate in today.  Technologically speaking, millennials are the most connected generation of the three.  They are tech-natives, having been raised in an age when most households have at least one computer.  They are comfortable with the changes from version to version of various technologies, most having already owned and programmed multiple cell phones in their lifetimes!  They are accustomed to constantly-streaming feedback, available at the push of a button.  Other Millennial characteristics include:
  • Skilled multi-taskers…however can also be impatient
  • Open to and seek out collaboration with others
  • Crave personalization and customization
So, Now what do I do?
So, what can we learn from this fake, but telling, study?  While there is no “silver bullet,” the point we’re trying to make here is that to successfully lead a diverse workforce, one must consider the generational differences that exist on his or her team.  Each generation brings a different set of work habits and personal values to the table.  By no means are we saying that an individual’s work ethic is characterized strictly by his or her generation.  However, research suggests that age does significantly influence behavior in the workplace.  And failure to account for generational differences can result in miscommunication, confusion, tension, and a generally unhappy team of employees.

You can’t please everyone all the time.  However, in their book Generations at Work, authors Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak present a model that seeks to create an inclusive work environment for each of the aforementioned generations.  The model is entitled “The ACORN Imperatives.”  ACORN stands for the following:

Accommodate employee differences.  Use what you personally know about each individual employee, as well as what you know about the characteristics of his or her generation, to tailor your management style.  Be flexible.
Create workplace choices.  Whenever possible, give employees multiple options for completing tasks.  Again, be flexible.
Operate from a sophisticated management style.  Get to know your employees and tailor your management style according to what yields the best results.  Models such as situational leadership will help you accomplish this.
Respect (and Recognize) competence and initiative.  Rewards and recognition are big motivators for everyone.  Rewards don’t necessarily have to be tied directly to compensation ... they don’t even have to be tangible.  Often times an informal, verbal recognition of a job well done is all it takes to keep a team member motivated to keep up the good work.
Nourish retention.  The whole goal of this blog summed up in two words.  You want to accommodate your team so that you retain talent.  Nourish retention by investing in your team’s professional development.  Provide quality training opportunities and in-services.
In today’s diverse workforce, one must consider the generational differences and that each generation – and person - brings a different set of work habits and personal values to the table.  Embrace the diversity.  Great summer picnics offer plenty to choose from; bar-b-que, sandwiches, cole slaw, chips, veggies, desserts – and yes, potato salad.  If all you had was potato salad and nothing else – it would make for a pretty lame picnic.  It’s no silver bullet, but if you follow the ACORN principals, you are likely to grow an engaged and happy workforce in your business!

About the Author:
Jim Hartigan, Chief Business Development Officer and Partner joined OrgWide Services, a Training/e-Learning, Communications, Surveys and Consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide.


Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586

Recent Articles:

The Power of Effective Communication in the Workplace (and our Founding Fathers’ unrivaled Tweeting abilities) / Jim Hartigan / July 2010


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