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The Multi-Generation Workplace

Do you know how to manage it?

If you are like most business leaders, you’ve no doubt noticed some trends in the way employees behave in recent years—too much entitlement, not enough loyalty, no work ethic and so forth. I challenge you to consider that perhaps these are not negative trends, just different ones.

To better understand your employees and what drives them to succeed, you have to understand that Generation X (born 1965-1979) and millennials (born after 1980) are operating in this world with a completely different perspective than baby boomers. The key to your organization’s future success is understanding how the different generations view the world and using that knowledge to motivate each.


Cam Marston will kick off Window & Door Dealer Days and GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window and Door Expo with his keynote address on September 12 at 8 a.m. in Atlanta.


Let’s look at some of our youngest generation’s trends in the workforce and discuss why these changes are happening and how you can tailor your workplace to meet the needs of you, your employees and the company.


A different motivation

Millennials are dedicated to completing the task at hand. Many weren’t raised in a way that demands they look around and see what should be done next. Instead, they go about finding the most efficient way to complete that task and consider the work done. This is a key differentiator between this generation and the baby boomer.

For most millennials in a young life stage, employment is a way to earn money to have fun in their free time. Instead of being frustrated that they aren’t interested in climbing your corporate ladder, embrace their true motivation—reliable spending money—and use it to your advantage.

Gen Xers and millennials also tend to view time as a currency. Younger employees are more likely to respond to offers of paid time off that help them balance work with life. While baby boomers tend to see time as an investment, the younger generations view it as a valuable currency not to be wasted.

Further, many millennials have experiences that lead them to believe nothing is guaranteed. From nationwide layoffs to war to soaring divorce rates, many have decided that there’s not a lot to count on. As a result, they aren’t interested in five-year plans.

To reach the employees with this mindset and reduce turnover, tell them you have a plan and be prepared to fulfill your promise. Reward small successes along the way, string these milestones together and you will soon realize longer tenures among your staff.

A different mindset

Loyalty to the individual is the number one reason Xers and millennials stay in the job. Dissatisfaction with the boss is the number one reason they quit. So, to increase retention, managers must take a flipped view on leadership. It is no longer enough to hire the right people and show them the way; employers must be the right person to win their affection.

There is one big caveat to the “be the person they want you to be” approach to leadership, however. Millennials tend to seek tight bonds. They want a boss who is close, caring and aware, and you can be all of that. But it is very easy to cross the line between “boss as advocate” to “boss as friend.” That is a slippery slope, especially in situations where managers and employees are close in age. When activities outside of the office become too regular, too casual or largely social in nature, it is time to examine how this will affect your role as a leader.

Along these social lines, it’s important to realize that the youngest generations in today’s workforce are getting married, having children and just generally facing the “real world” later than previous generations. Boomers tended to coddle their children and use their own good fortune to make sure their children didn’t experience the toll of working long hours and paying dues. Millennials today look at the corporate ladder and think, “there must be another way.”

Take attire for instance—today’s youth wants their individuality to shine. Home Depot has addressed this dilemma at a very basic level. They simply require that all employees wear a standard Home Depot apron. They can be themselves underneath (within reason). Is there a standard that you can adopt to accommodate individual preferences? Something to think about.

Change isn’t bad

My advice is this: don’t waste time wishing the younger workforce was different or comparing them to older generations of workers. Take this new understanding and use it to reposition how you manage, motivate and reward your staff.

The adjustments you make to accommodate the changing attitudes of today’s youth will be returned to you tenfold with decreased turnover, improved morale, and measurable business results. And when the frustration mounts, open your mind to the possibility that there is a reason for the disconnect that leads to a greater vision of success.