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Managing Generational Diversity

By Dianne Durkin  |  Posted 2010-08-17 Print this article Print

With four distinct generations of employees in today’s information technology workforce, each with its own habits and priorities, the pressures facing managers are compounded.

Creating and maintaining a high-performing staff is at the core of nearly every business strategy. With the four distinct generations in today’s workforce having different values, needs and motivations, the pressures on employee commitment are compounded, and the stakes are much higher.

Currently, Generation X and Nexters make up about 45 percent of the workforce. Together, these 18-to-41-year- old individuals equal the number of Baby Boomers, while the Veteran generation makes up the final 10 percent. To ensure long-term employee loyalty, enterprises need to learn about each of these generational groups, their needs and motivations.

Veterans (born between 1922–1944)

Their values, shaped by the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II and the Korean War, emphasize civic pride, loyalty, respect for authority, dedication, sacrifice, conformity, honor and discipline.

This generation is driven by duty before pleasure. In the workforce, they are stable, loyal, hard-working and employed with their company for 30 years or more. To them, work is a privilege: They respect the institutions and their leaders, believing that work and sacrifice pay off in the long term. Veterans seek a directive leadership style, with clearly defined goals, directions and measurements designated by the leader.

Baby Boomers (born 1945–1963)

The 74 million-strong Boomers were raised in an era of optimism, opportunity and progress—with values shaped by the moon landing, the Peace Corps, the Vietnam War, Woodstock and the Civil Rights Movement. They are determined to do better than their parents and provide their children with everything their hearts desire.

Many are the first college graduates in their families and go the extra mile on the job. Boomers—who have the distinction of having invented the 60-hour workweek—achieve their identity through the work they perform.

Gen Xers (born 1964–1979)

The Xers came of age during the economic wars of the 1970s and 1980s. Sandwiched between the ubiquitous Baby Boomers and the privileged Nexters, they are the middle children struggling to leave their mark. Their values were shaped by Watergate, the Challenger disaster, terrorism and computers. In many cases, both their parents worked. They are the plugged-in children who surfed the Web, played video games and watched MTV—with a chronic need for stimulation and instant gratification.

In the workplace, Xers hate micromanagement. They want to be told what is expected of them, provided with appropriate feedback and empowered to get the job done. Discouraged and disheartened when they saw their parents being laid off, they want to work on their own terms and aim to have a balance between their personal and professional lives.

Nexters (born 1980–2000)

High-tech shaped the Nexters’ value systems. They are well-traveled, global citizens, and a lot of them speak second languages. Many Nexters are recent graduates who grew up in households with hyper-involved parents and overscheduled lives.

In the workplace, Nexters speak out. They will walk right into the CEO’s office and let their opinions be known. Although viewed by many in the workforce as lacking a strong work ethic and having an unjustified sense of entitlement, they have a positive, can-do attitude about getting the job done well and efficiently. They aim to make things happen, hate indecision and want to move on to do the things they enjoy.

With this broad field of individuals populating the business world, it has become more difficult to recruit and retain a high-performing workforce. Studies show that, across the generations, 85 percent of the workforce wants to be given the means and the motivation to continually improve and grow. Younger employees will leave their jobs quickly if they are not challenged, valued and developed.

To keep employees engaged, organizations must involve staff in identifying and helping to solve major business issues. Ask, listen, engage and empower are the key strategies for creating a high-performing workforce of the future.

To successfully integrate the various generations—and achieve employee loyalty and translate it to customer and brand loyalty—organizations must take the following key steps:

• Build and promote a learning environment conducive to attracting and retaining a cross-section of individuals.
• Establish a strategic vision for motivating, coaching and developing diverse employees.
• Create a variety of learning and development experiences that engage and empower individuals to achieve shared business objectives.

Dianne Durkin is president and founder of Loyalty Factor, a training and management consulting firm based in Portsmouth, N.H. Durkin is the author of
The Loyalty Advantage.

Dianne Durkin is the president and founder of Loyalty Factor, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based training and consulting firm that educates executives, managers and employees in ways to build customer and brand loyalty. She is the author of The Loyalty Advantage and a contributor to Blueprint for Success.
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