Multi-Generational Workforce Deserves Versatile Management Style

Companies that use a “one size fits all” approach in dealing with their employees are likely to experience an unnecessarily high turnover rate, sub-optimum efficiency, and so-so results, said Jeff Gill, chief talent officer for Sasol, at the Talent Management & HSE Summit for the Energy Industry in Houston earlier this week.

The presentation, called “Who’s Next – Do You Really Think Generation Y Wants to Work at Your Company?” explores some of the significant differences between baby boomers, and workers in Generation X and Y. In many ways, the work habits, priorities, and what the different generations expect from a job and from their employer could not be more different, particularly when a manager from the baby-boom generation is trying to lead workers from Gen Y. Applying the same standards boomers were raised with simply does not work well with Generation X and Y workers, who “don’t sugarcoat anything,” Gill said.

Those in Generation X were born between about 1966 and 1976, while those born from about 1977 to 1994 are part of the Generation Y, Gill said. One of the chief differences between the generations has to do with the priority that each successive generation places on work, and the loyalty given to their place of work. For those in the baby boom generation, one’s job was a large part of one’s identity, and there was a significant amount of loyalty shown toward the company one worked at, and the same was expected in return, Gill said. It was not rare for one in the baby boom generation to retire from a company where they had worked for three decades or more.  

That contrasts sharply with students in Gen Y who have made entrepreneurship the most popular class on college campuses. For those in Generation Y, a job is seen as a means to an end. Changing jobs frequently is seen as the rule, with significantly less priority placed on loyalty – either to or from the company. The reason is that Gen Y is likely to move on in a comparatively short time, and have less of an emotional investment in their company.

Another difference between the generations has to do with the amount of autonomy they expect. Baby boomers seldom experienced the kind of autonomy that those in Generation X and – particularly – those in Generation Y, have grown to take for granted. Boomers expected to work at the same company for many years, so there was less of a priority put on advancing quickly, and taking on new responsibilities early in one’s career. That is significantly different from successive generations, who strive to be on a fast-track shortly after coming aboard.

Having a work-life balance is more critical to the generations that followed the baby boom generation, Gill noted. While baby boomers might at times have given more priority to their work than to their life outside of work, younger generations are much more unlikely to forgo a life outside of work in order to get ahead. In fact, when Gen Y workers are hired, they generally take for granted that they will not be expected to make their job their life.

Gill talked about the four “R’s” that characterize Generation Y workers. They are “real, raw, relevant and relational,” he said.


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