Don [00:00:00] There are two key reasons why it’s important to look at employees through a generational lens. The first is just a simple understanding that different generations frame work differently. That is, they have different needs at work, different expectations about what work will mean for them and their families. And, the second reason is because we have these four generations active at work now: boomers, Gen X, millennial and Gen Z. The workplace has become more complex to manage.
Don [00:00:32] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don [00:00:42] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.
Don [00:00:59] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly [00:01:23] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.
Kelly [00:01:32] As always we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem.
Kelly [00:01:36] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Don [00:01:39] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.
Kelly [00:01:41] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is on how to lead a multigenerational workforce. Today, we’re focusing on baby boomers and Gen X.
Kelly [00:01:50] One of the biggest challenges we hear from leaders all the time when we go talk to them in different sessions is the challenges that they face because they’re leading a multigenerational workforce.
Kelly [00:02:00] Each of the generations in employment today have a different flavor, if you will, to how they like to work, how they focus, what connects with them and what engages them in the workplace.
Kelly [00:02:10] So, today we’re going to talk through those issues. We’re going to talk about baby boomers, we’re going to talk about Gen X and the next week we’ll get into the younger generations.
Kelly [00:02:18] So just to give some context around who baby boomers are specifically, these employees were born between 1946 and 1964 so they’re somewhere between 55 and 73, which means that this generation is on the cusp of retirement age.
Kelly [00:02:34] Right around 60, 65 somewhere around there people start to exit the workforce. Right now, baby boomers make up about 25 percent of the workforce and that’s obviously been in steep decline year-over-year as people choose to sail off into the sunset on their boat or retire how they please.
Kelly [00:02:53] Gen Xers, in contrast, are the next generation down. They were born between 1965 and 1980, which puts them somewhere between 39 and 54 years of age at the time of this recording. Thirty-three percent of employees are Gen Xers.
Kelly [00:03:09] If you do any googling on the subject of generations in the workforce you’re going to see thousands and thousands of articles about this. People will talk about the different generations in the workforce all the time.
Kelly [00:03:19] Why is that the case? Why do we look at employees through a generational lens at all?
Don [00:03:22] There are two key reasons why it’s important to look at employees through a generational lens. The first, is just a simple understanding that different generations frame work differently. That is, they have different needs at work, different expectations about what work will mean for them and their families.
Don [00:03:44] And, the second reason is because we have these four generations active at work now: boomers, Gen X, millennial and Gen Z. The workplace has become more complex to manage. That is, these generations have more distinctions between them than the previous generations did before boomers.
Don [00:04:02] Work didn’t change much from the beginning of the industrial revolution almost through the boomers. That is, you showed up, you worked hard, you performed or you were out. So the nature of work was to go and to do it and not get fired.
Don [00:04:16] These generations have such distinct expectations around what work is and means to them, it becomes harder to manage as a leader and so we need to understand those distinctions and be able to lead with them.
Kelly [00:04:29] What are the characteristics of baby boomers and Gen Xers and what do they want in the workplace? What are they looking for?
Don [00:04:36] Well one of the reasons the differences between these generations are so acute today is because their experience growing up has changed so quickly and that’s just the pace of modernity. That is, our society has become and has changed so radically over the period of these generations from when the boomers were born to when the Gen Z’s are born. Society and what people find in life as they grow up have just changed so quickly.
Don [00:04:59] For boomers, these are people that were born right around the end of the second World War, so they grew up in an environment where the economy was a bit struggling, parents were probably struggling. It was the reintegration of these soldiers as they came back to America. It was a time of belt-tightening. There was still some global fears around what might be happening on the global stage but work was primarily seen as a survival issue.
Don [00:05:27] You went to work to have a job in order to provide for your family. It was about job security and having a roof over your head and steady meals. Again, work was not around personal fulfillment. It was not around having fun. It was just to get a job and we did our fun on the weekends. There was a song when I grew up from a group called The O’Jays and it was, “Liven For The Weekend.” And, that’s what we did. We worked Monday through Friday to earn money to do what we really enjoyed on the weekends and that’s what work was it was all work.
Kelly [00:05:59] What about Gen Xers? How are they distinct from baby boomers in that sense?
Don [00:06:02] Gen Xers still have a significant frame, at least the older Gen Xers still have a frame around work represents work and survival and meeting needs to pay for an expanded economy and getting more rewards from that economy and things for your family and your children.
Don [00:06:19] But, they started to view things and see things differently. They grew up in a different environment. It was less about survival and more about a higher order needs. Once we were fairly certain that we can provide for the basics of life, food and shelter and we’re providing well for our family, we start to think about higher order things. Being happy, fulfillment, meaning and purpose.
Don [00:06:41] And the Gen Xers started to have a little bit more of that but they were still kind of caught up in the job, as a you know, you go to a place to work and you want to have a long career there. You didn’t hop around like folks do now but it was materially different.
Kelly [00:06:58] While Gen Xers in contrast to some of the younger generations tended to get married a bit younger, take on a mortgage a bit younger, so they had more responsibilities that helped them operate in more of the traditional, I think work mindset than say the younger generations.
Don [00:07:14] Yes and you know they wanted to climb the corporate ladder as well. They saw themselves in an organization and being there for a longer period of time and they wanted to ascend and grow as quickly as they could. So they were still in that kind of corporate, loyal to your employer mindset, but with more modern needs around the edges and when wanting to provide a lot for their children as well.
Don [00:07:38] There were lots of things that were different for Gen Xers. This was, by the way, the first generation that got the term, “latchkey children.” This is the first generation that often went home and it was there by themselves. So as a result, we know that Gen X is, they’re more independent thinkers. They’re used to doing things on their own. They’re used to making their own decisions. They’re less dependent on the old parental model of having to seek an authority figure or parent to do things.
Don [00:08:03] They also were geeks. That is, the whole introduction of technology and the Internet. These were the people that founded Amazon. These are the people that founded YouTube and Google. They were all Gen Xers. This also represented something that was fundamentally different in the U.S. economy.
Don [00:08:22] When you think of boomers and when they went to work, there just were fewer options. That is, it was the industry, the U.S. economy was relatively narrow, that is, in the kind of companies that existed. But for Gen X all of a sudden now we have a digital marketplace, we have technology and the growth of technology. There options on where to work increased. The job market became more complex and also, as a result, it offered more opportunity.
Don [00:08:50] So, this is where we see for example and most people I don’t think realize this. We think of the low tenure of millennials but the average job tenure for a boomer was just over 10 years. But for Gen X, in this new, more complex, more robust economic marketplace it dropped to below three years.
Don [00:09:08] This drop in tenure occurred with Gen X. There are just more options, more choices for them and they acted on those. The last thing I would say about Gen X is that they’re a more artistic generation. That is, there was more focus on art and I don’t just mean the traditional arts but music and other art forms. They were able to focus more on these aspects of our culture than the boomers did.
Don [00:09:34] In large part the big end goal for you as a boomer was a pension. And, that is you would stay in this organization because you wanted to get that pension and when you got the pension then you could quit and retire and do things that were actually fun.
Don [00:09:48] Gen X was this first generation, they weren’t driven by the pension. They were driven by personal fulfillment and just exploring this new whole of technology and what it meant and what it could do for the human race. It was just a completely different scene, a radical shift, if you will, in both the economy and the job market.
Kelly [00:10:08] Boomers tend to be more loyal in terms of how long they’re sticking around. First, because they didn’t have the same exposure to options potentially as younger generations do today but also because the reward on the back end with the pension and other rewards like it are are so compelling to them especially in terms of that the mental stability that they see work can provide.
Kelly [00:10:31] Today we don’t see a lot of pension in the workplace and a 30-year pen doesn’t have the same compelling reward for younger generations. As we think about the fact that we have all four generations in the workplace today, we’ve got our boomers, our Gen X, our millennials and our Gen Z; what is the best way to engage boomers with the mindset that we know that they come into work with and Gen X with the mindset we know they come into work with as well?
Don [00:10:56] Well one of the things that leaders should understand is that for boomers the workplace is starting to feel increasingly threatening. That is, they are of an older generation. They didn’t grow up with all this technology. They don’t feel as facile and comfortable typically with modern technology that even the Gen Xers do.
Don [00:11:16] The other thing that feels threatening to them is how fast these younger generations are rushing up the corporate ladder. A title it may have taken them six or seven years to get in the organization, they’re now seeing younger generations including Gen X but especially millennials (we’ll talk about it in a subsequent broadcast) get these positions in two and three years. So they feel a little threatening. Are they dinosaurs or are they still useful and valuable to the organization?
Don [00:11:43] Fortunately for them because they’ve been in these organizations a long time, they’re typically in leadership positions so they’re relatively safe. And now something different this year or last two or three years that’s been different for the previous decade because of this tight labor market we’re in, they’re much less likely to be let to be fired or to be released because there just aren’t enough people in the labor force to fill these positions. So their longevity is actually looking pretty good right now.
Kelly [00:12:12] But as a leader how do you make them feel engaged in the workplace?
Kelly [00:12:15] We measure, as our listeners know, we measure engagement in organizations across all employees and we have some really interesting data on what it looks like to be engaged as a baby boomer and as a Gen Xers. And, in the first year that we measure baby boomers are always across the generational cohorts, always the lowest engaged generation that we see. So they rate in their first year at 2.95 out of a 4.0. That falls into the disengaged category.
Kelly [00:12:45] But, what’s great about the boomers is that across the board when we measure year-over-year, they see the biggest jump, the biggest percentage change in engagement over time. So, by the fifth year, we’re measuring engagement that 2.95 raises up to 3.23, that’s fully in the engaged category.
Don [00:13:02] And, that’s a faster increase than any of the other age cohorts.
Kelly [00:13:06] So what’s driving that?
Don [00:13:06] Well I think in part it’s because they’re in leadership positions and when the organization typically the CEO and the senior leadership team make a commitment to engagement, which is something we see all the time, the CEO realizes they need to do this. It’s a different world. Employees need to be engaged. It relates to all the key performance indicators in the organization. And so when they see this happen, most of them are in leadership positions, they know they need to get on board and they do.
Kelly [00:13:33] When we look at Gen Xers, we see that the highest score they typically get is in our focus category. That’s, do they know what they need to be doing and can they do it well. And, the lowest that we see is in the mindset category. How do they feel when they come to work? What is the emotional environment, the relational environment? Why is focused so high? And, this is actually true for boomers as well. Focus scores highest for both boomers and Gen Xers and mindset scores lowest for both of these groups.
Don [00:14:00] We asked 28 questions in our survey and 15 of them we bundle up to give us the score on mindset. It has a lot to do with the attitude and the levels of trust and relationships in the organization.
Don [00:14:10] The older the generation the less likely they are to view work as a place of where it’s supposed to be this robust place with lots of relationships. Work was about work. It wasn’t about the quality of relationships. It wasn’t about creating what we referred to as emotional velcro between an employee and an organization. There’s less expectancy about that being what work is about.
Don [00:14:32] I want to tell you though, that regardless of your age, the benefits of that neurochemistry is the same regardless of how old you are. That is, to have strong and healthy relationships is as beneficial to a boomer as it is to a Gen Z.
Kelly [00:14:49] Our data is actually proving that exact point. When you look at mindset in the first year for a boomer, they score at 2.93. This category is the biggest jump that you see in percentage change for any generation. By the time we measure them in the fifth year, they grow 10 percent in terms of what they score their first year versus their fifth year around mindset.
Kelly [00:15:11] Because once these boomers who haven’t been exposed to a healthy level of relationship or emotional velcro in the workplace are exposed to it see the value of it, understand the science behind it. They’re quick to adopt it and their mindset shift changes and grows into an engaged category over time.
Don [00:15:28] Yeah, there are some holdouts though. I was at a conference on Monday out West and I was talking about this need of the future of work. And one of the boomers in the room said, “Is there any chance that I’ll retire before I have to do all of this?”
Don [00:15:42] They wanted to know, how far away is this future of work because I’m not sure I could do well here and they want to know if they still had time. It does feel different. You know, a top-down hierarchical authoritative workplace, in a way, is a simpler workplace to lead, in the sense of you that you don’t have to have a lot of relational skills and you can still be viewed as successful.
Don [00:16:04] So it is more complex to be a successful leader and manager today than it ever has been in the history of work. And these for generations now active in the workplace is one of the reasons why it is so complex.
Kelly [00:16:18] So, what are three leadership styles managers should keep in mind when they have a baby boomer and a Gen Xer are on their team that they want to engage?
Don [00:16:26] Well, one, is just the power of relationships. We’re all hardwired to have safe and secure relationships with everybody else, with other people and we perform at our best when we can do so with others.
Don [00:16:37] I would focus on, how can I create a team that has healthy relationships? We get together. We don’t just do work. We talk about what happened on the weekend. We talk about what’s going on for their children. One of the things I love to see and I’ve said this before in our survey is, I love to see it when an employee says it feels like family when I’m at work. So create that environment.
Don [00:16:57] Two, just understand that they frame work differently. A boomer on your team is focused on retiring, job security and doing the right things so they don’t get fired. A younger generation is, they’re looking for something different. They’re looking for more meaning and purpose in their life. They’re looking for innovation. Am I in an organization that entertains change? Do I work for an organization that’s helping the planet, helping the communities? So there’s more values based across the board.
Don [00:17:25] Another thing to understand about Gen X is because of their age, where they are in the organization, they should be in leadership positions by now. They’re evolving into those positions. If they’re not in a leadership position, there might be some questioning about what is my future here? Where am I going with this organization?
Don [00:17:40] And we want to be careful that that doesn’t create a sense of, hey, I need to jump ship and try to go somewhere else?
Kelly [00:17:45] Which clearly it already is in many ways if their tenure is as low as millennials.
Don [00:17:51] Yes and we’re seeing this happen although this data is not broken down by generation, at least I haven’t seen it.
Don [00:17:57] The number of people quitting in February hit a new all-time record. It’s over four million people quit in one year and they’re looking for what’s this next step. They think there’s a better place for me. I’m going to go find it. And in this job market, they probably can.
Don [00:18:09] But you know Gen Xers are either, again, in leadership positions are on the cusp. Are we creating opportunities for them inside the workplace where they’re leading something? Maybe it’s not necessarily a title around a manager and having direct reports underneath them but what else can they be in charge of?
Don [00:18:26] And what we do see in some of our client companies is a lot of them now are project managers so they’re managing projects. It’s not necessarily, this you know straight up the corporate ladder, but it’s rather being a manager of a project and so you’re integrating teams and they’re better at integrating than the boomers were.
Don [00:18:44] And I guess the third thing I would say leaders should look at for Gen X is they’re in a wonderful position to be mentoring the millennials and the Gen Z. They’re not just looking for their exit, yet, like boomers are. They’re all exit planning right now. Gen X because they’re more facile with technology and in the current complexity of the workplace are great mentors for the new generations. They still have a very serious anchored sense about work and what it means and a sense of loyalty but they also can help bring these millennials and Gen Z into the workplace and enabling them to be successful.
Don [00:19:21] So when we look at this issue in total Kelly I think we need to understand that managers need to see the workplace through a generational lens. What are the different needs of these generations? We’ll talk more about Millennials in Gen Z in our next podcast but understand that these age cohorts have different needs at work and leaders that understand those different needs and can respond to them are going to be more successful.
Kelly [00:19:45] That’s it for today. I’m your host Kelly Burns and thank you for listening. Tune into next week’s episode as we continue this conversation by talking about the other generations in the workforce, millennials and Gen Z.
Kelly [00:19:59] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out e3solutions.com right now.
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Kelly [00:20:23] Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty-free from melodyloops.com.
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