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! Put a fork in it!,” quipped Hobart. “They want compliments. For millennials, there’s no such thing as a work life and family life—there’s just life. They’re choosing to work for you; they’re choosing you to spend a good part of their life with—choosing you as a leader—and they want to be coached. They want help with personal and professional development and want to move ahead in their careers, so coaching and feedback are necessary.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew Roselle recently wrote about this topic in the SPE Industry Exchange, a blog for members of the Society of Plastics Engineers. Roselle is a professional (Sales Manager, Industrial Additives for Peter-Greven US) and offered some advice to traditional managers. “I think that leaders in 2017 and beyond need to learn to trust the younger generation and offer praise, when applicable,” wrote Roselle. “Many young people aren’t drawn to the plastics industry. In my experience, management often lacks trust in ‘less experienced’ talent. They must take the time to develop their new hires by exposing them to as many real-world problems as possible, so that younger employees can gain the practical skills not taught in schools.”
Roselle’s statement supported firsthand what Hobart told attendees of the PLASTICS Leadership Summit. Roselle added that he’s not “trying to attack the older generation,” and he’s grateful to the ones who took the time to mentor him. “The older generation will eventually retire and, in order to protect the legacy of the company, today’s managers must pass on their skills and knowledge so that we can carry the torch,” he said. “Finally, management must be ready to pivot due to changing regulations, plastic perception and more. If a new or less experienced employee makes a fresh or new suggestion, effective leaders should listen rather than dismiss the idea immediately.”
Hobart noted that it’s not that traditional managers don’t want to provide mentoring and feedback, it’s just that the “style of management was never modeled for them.”
Traditional managers/owners need to learn to work with millennials because they will be 75% of the global workforce by 2025, said Hobart. They really want to be shown how the business operates and they want to contribute their new ideas, which sometimes may seem unconventional. They may want flex-time or non-traditional hours, but they’ll work 12 hours a day, if you need them to, to get the job done.