Twenty years ago, while working as an editor at my first publishing company, I was working with a group of other editors that were mostly 9–10 years younger than I was. (Generation X was the term used, the generation born after the baby boomers, often perceived to be disaffected and directionless.) With the usual enviable camaraderie of creative departments, my younger co-workers would advise me regularly that people who remembered Nov. 22, 1963, were stifling any opportunities for their professional growth, and lost no opportunity to use the phrase “woolly mammoth” in random conversations. I’d respond, genially, that if disco had been my primary cultural influence, parking cars and pumping gas was all I’d really aspire to anyway.
Ultimately, we were probably both right. But other than making for some interesting debates at our frequent after-hours visits to the Rheinhaus down the street for gluhwein, it made absolutely no difference to how we did our jobs, or how we worked together.
I was thinking about generational differences in the workplace recently as I was assigning an article for the April issue on building a strong workforce. The lack of skilled labor is a driving force in our industry (and in others), but there are many factors in attracting, training and motivating employees. Now that Millennials have edged out boomers in societal bulk, business articles are focused on whether they are entitled, narcissistic, easily distracted, lazy and disloyal; or whether their technological savvy, focus on work-life balance, demand for feedback and search for purpose makes up for it. I’d guess that these generalities have more to do with time of life than date of birth, even given changing economical, technological and societal frameworks.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review researched notable studies and concluded that whether you look across generations, raceorgender, peoplegenerally want the same things from their jobs—and that companies would be far better served to focus on the factors that motivate all employees to perform at their best.
Three prime needs are usually listed: interesting work, recognition for doing a good job (including opportunities for advancement) and being let in on things that are going on in the company (and encouraged to contribute to them). All of these lists mention money, but none of them focus on it. When it comes to jobs in the manufacturing sector, however, especially for small businesses, that may be a mistake.
When it comes to skilled (or at least talented and trainable) craftspersons, the emphasis is definitely on the demand side oftheequation, whichmeanshigherwages must come into play. And current political maelstroms are making benefits like health care more problematic than ever, and more important to employees.
If you’ve somehow balanced this equation in your company, I’d like very much to include your comments, or letters to the editor, with that April workforce article. (Especially if you include the phrase “woolly mammoth.”) We’d all like to hear from you.