Law Practice Today | September 2013 | The Staffing/HR Issue
September 2013 | The Staffing/HR Issue
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As Easy as X-Y-Z? Managing Generational Issues in the Workplace

By Jonathan T. Hyman

Earlier this year I turned 40, which means that I fall in the middle of Generation X (those born between 1964 and 1979). My youth was defined by Pac Man, Rubik’s Cubes and Mix Tapes, and my college years by Pearl Jam and flannel shirts.

Being labeled an “Xer” also means that others want to pigeonhole me into a stereotype based solely on the year in which I happened to be born. According to generational stereotypes, I value honesty and work/life balance, I am reliable yet question authority, I am technologically knowledgeable, like to email, and multi-task independently. Most of all, I view the workplace as a place to grow, not age.

Other generations also have their stereotypes. Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1963) value equality and personal gratification. They are optimistic, believe in the value of hard work and face-to-face communication, and favor relationships over bureaucracy.

Generation Y (born between 1980 and 2000), believe in self-expression and social responsibility, and that respect is something to be earned, not given. They are loyal to idea and global in their perspective. They seek flexibility in work hours, work environment, and dress code, and prefer to work on a team instead of individually. They are informal in their affairs, and would choose to text or Facebook message instead of picking up a telephone. By 2025, 75 percent of the global workforce will come from this generation.

Each of these generations differs from the others, in personality archetypes and in the values that flow from them. The difficulty today’s employer faces is that its workforce will be composed of a cross-section of all three of these divergent generations. Constructing a set of work rules and policies to account for each generation is a major challenge for employers.

For example, consider the issue of compensation. Cisco recently interviewed 3,600 Gen-Y college students and workers between the ages of 18 and 30. The purpose of the survey was to gauge the influence of social media, mobile devices, and the Internet on that generation’s job choices. The results say a lot about how companies should be managing the divergent expectations of different generations in the workplace.

  • Two out of every three college students will ask a prospective employer about its social media policy during a job interview.
  • If a company bans the access of social media in the workplace, 56 percent either will not accept a job, or will ignore the policy.
  • Forty-five percent would accept lower paying jobs if they had more access to social media, more choice in the devices they could use at work, and more flexibility in working remotely.
  • Approximately 70 percent believe that corporate devices should also be used to access personal social media accounts.

The report reached the following conclusion:

The growing use of the Internet and mobile devices in the workplace is creating a significant impact on job decisions, hiring and work-life balance… The ability to use social media, mobile devices, and the Internet more freely in the workplace is strong enough to influence job choice, sometimes more than salary.

What motivates a 55-year-old employee to accept or remain at a job may not similarly motivate a 25-year-old peer. The older worker might be motivated by a higher salary, greater 401(K) employer match percentage, better health care coverage, and stronger retirement benefits. The younger worker, on the other hand, may just want to be able to check her Facebook page from work and use her own iPhone to access company email. If your policies and practices fail to account for these divergent interests, you will not succeed in motivating your whole workforce to reach its potential, and, most importantly to become engaged, long-term employees.

Another issue that may arise in multi-generational workplaces concerns work schedules. Indeed, a lot of evidence suggests that the 9-to-5 workday is becoming an anachronistic relic. According to a study conducted by Mom Corps, 37 percent of Gen-Y workers would agree to take a pay cut if it resulted in greater flexibility in working hours and “on-the-job” time. Gen-Y workers feel entitled to greater flexibility because of their higher level of connectivity to the workplace. An iPhone-using employee able to read and respond to emails 24/7 simply does not feel the need to tether to an office during a traditional workday. They are sacrificing teamwork and collaboration for accessibility and a lack of personal time.

What can an employer do to minimize the stresses that may arise from having to manage multiple generations within one workplace? Consider these three thoughts:

  1. Benefits. Each generation favors different types of workplace benefits. Baby Boomers may emphasize retirement benefits, Gen-X wants parental leave and dependent care, and Millennials desire flexible schedules, Facebook, and iPhones. Your benefit allowances must account for each of these divergent priorities.
  2. Communication. Use multiple types of communication media to reach all employees across all generations. If you are not using meetings, emails, instant messages, and virtual conferences, certain of your employees may not effectively hear and retain the message being communicated.
  3. Training. You should build generational differences and characteristics into your anti-discrimination training. You should teach employees to embrace differences across generations, to avoid stereotypes, and how to properly communicate and avoid conflict across generations.

Each generation has a very different idea about their role in the workplace. Policies that only recognize the interests of one generation will chase away the others. Take the time to construct a workplace that properly accounts for the divergent ideas of Boomers, X-ers, and Y-ers, to ensure that you a properly engendering and promoting generational diversity.


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About the Author

Jonathan T. Hyman is a partner in the Labor & Employment group at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz in Cleveland. He can be reached at 216.736.7226 or

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