What to do When Generations Clash

Article by:
Jonathan Davis  EO Austin
Jonathan Davis
EO Austin

I’ve just returned from the EO President’s Meeting in Dallas, Texas, USA, where one of the biggest topics was the significance of delivering value to members in order to ensure retention. Like most organizations and companies, acquiring a new member (or customer) is very expensive and time-consuming. It seems obvious that, once you’ve acquired them, retaining members should be a heavy area of focus for any leadership team.

The discussion eventually shifted to the age of our members and the risks/rewards of eliminating the ceiling that is currently placed on new members. When EO was started more than 20 years ago, it was created for entrepreneurs who were under the age of 40. When I joined five years ago, the average age of a member was about 37. Today, the average age of a member is 41. To put it more simply : Every year that I’ve been part of this organization, the average age has gone up by one year, and a new generation of entrepreneurs are ushered in. This is indicative of our entire population, and the management of these people is a major challenge for companies everywhere. As businesses continue to grow and mature, entrepreneurs are worried about the retention of their employees, as well as the age of their teams.

Author Jason Dorsey, widely known by the business word as the “GenY Guy,” has some incredible data points regarding generational employees. Here are a few:

  • For the first time ever, the world has four generations working together in the same workplace (GenY, GenX, Baby Boomers and “the Mature” Generation)
  • The average life expectancy of a Baby Boomer is about 78, while the “retirement age” is still 65
  • GenY employees are the first generation in history that will likely need to work for 65 years (that’s retirement at 87-90 years old)

On top of these points, here are several scary ones for business leaders:

  • While Baby Boomers are finally comfortable with e-mail and are actively learning about Facebook, GenY’ers aren’t using those mediums as much because they’re cumbersome and/or they’re no longer “cool.”
  • GenY’ers believe that long-term tenure in a role is 13 months. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers want to give these employees reviews once a year.
  • GenY’ers aren’t really motivated by money as a “carrot” the way previous generations have been. Why? Because their parents (those same Boomers) have given them a credit card to pay for things like gas, groceries, vacations, etc.

Driving retention, loyalty and performance from the GenY population is becoming a real challenge for businesses. This is a generation that is affordable, hard-working and passionate about their work, but they can’t be relied on to work diligently from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. They aren’t interested in sitting in meetings to talk about the next meeting, and they’re no longer “tech savvy.” Rather, Jason calls them “tech dependent,” because they don’t have any idea how their smart phone works— they just know they can’t live without it.

What are you supposed to do as a business leader when you wake up and realize that the future of your organization depends on leveraging this new population of workers; these people that you can’t relate to? Here are a few suggestions Jason offers:

  • Accept that while work/life balance is something that Baby Boomers dream about and GenX’ers talk about, GenY lives it. You won’t be able to keep them around if you expect them to sacrifice their friendships and social time. Create a workplace that inspires them and encourages both hard work in short spurts and downtime.
  • Let GenY’ers work in teams as often as possible. This is a generation that was raised playing soccer, baseball and other team sports. If you’re asking them to work solo and independently without praise, they’re not going to stay engaged.
  • Start with the outcome and then work backwards to talk about the steps. This is counter-intuitive to the way most people are used to teaching, but by starting with the big picture and driving universal awareness of the challenges, GenY’ers will embrace the challenge and buy in to the goals instead of zoning out.
  • Give employee reviews all the time— 10-minute check-ins every week or two are significantly more powerful than an annual review. Let this new generation know what they are doing right, give them praise, offer corrective actions and make minor adjustments all the time instead of hoping they’ll be around for their first annual review.

These and other tips are in Jason Dorsey’s new book, Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business, which I recommend to all of my EO peers. Jason offers invaluable insights into how to handle new generations of employees, and he’s taught me a lot about how to set my business up for future success. As an entrepreneur, this is one book I can count on.​​

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