Today’s workforce is a strange new beast. Just ask any business owner what keeps him or her up at night, and many will tell you it’s human resource issues. Attracting, training and retaining a skilled workforce is much more difficult today than it was when there were only a couple of generations in the workforce. Today, for the first time ever, there are four generations in the workforce—soon to be five!
I recently attended the Leadership Summit of the PLASTICS (formerly SPI) Machinery and Mold Makers Division in Phoenix, and the primary focus was workforce issues. John W. “Buddy” Hobart, founder and President of Solutions 21, a global enterprise that provides services in leadership development, strategic planning and employee life cycles, presented the first session, and it was an eye-opener.
Hobart noted that it’s important to understand the critical nature of a four-generation workforce because most decisions, strategies, leadership styles and processes were established by precedence, and there is no precedent for a four-generation workforce. “What’s worked in the past no longer works,” said Hobart.
Traditionalists are at the top of the generational chart. These are people born between 1922 and 1945; they were 44 million strong, and seven million of them are still working. Many of you reading this probably work for a traditionalist. The reason so many are still in the workforce is because people are living longer and the recession of 2008 caused many a business owner to postpone his or her retirement.
Next on the chart are the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. There were 78 million of us (I’m in that group, as are many of my colleagues). We took our cues from the traditionalists when it comes to work. Hobart pointed out that traditionalists have a hard work ethic and respect authority and titles. We boomers took that one step further and became workaholics, but we work efficiently. We are also crusaders and like causes.
Between the years of 1965 and 1979, along came Generation X. There are about 60 million Gen x’ers, and for them work is a different challenge. They want to get the job done and are self-reliant, but they also want structure and direction. Most importantly, stressed Hobart, they want to know how they’re doing on the job, and they want to know now, not every six months or at their annual review. Now! They also want a work/life balance, not at 65 but now! “Freedom is the best reward for Gen-X workers,” Hobart said.
The next generation in the workforce is Generation Y, aka millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. There are about 80 million millennials and they see work very differently than traditionalists and baby boomers, Hobart explained. “They see work as a means to an end,” he said. “They work to live, not live to work, so there are motivational differences.”
Gen-Yers are good multi-taskers and have a lot of tenacity. When done with one task they want to know, what’s next? “They are incredibly goal oriented but they want real-time feedback, which means annual reviews are dead!