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    Baby Boomers, Xers, & Gen Y’s Working Together: Oh My!

    April 3, 2013
    In the HVACR contracting business, as younger people begin joining your firms, the methodology by which you manage them needs to take into consideration their generational outlook on work and life. This isn't as easy as it sounds.

    My past two columns have focused on the characteristics of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers and how to target your marketing and selling process to effectively reach each of these generations. But, it’s a different story when it comes to managing or working with different generations!

    Vicki LaPlant

    . A generation of people share similar values and perspectives because the individuals have shared similar life experiences. The shared events of each generation have shaped their view of the world. For example, Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964, share the experience of seeing President Kennedy assassinated on T.V. , the cold war, Vietnam, Woodstock, civil rights, a man landing on the moon, economic boom.

    Generation Xers, born between 1965-1976, have shared the launch of MTV, the explosion of the Challenger, the dismantling of the Berlin wall, end of the cold war, identification of AIDS, large corporations eliminating jobs. This generation invented the software that allows us to use the internet and social media.

    Generation Ys, born between 1977-1994, have shared the Gulf War, OJ Simpson trial, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11. And perhaps, the most impactful shared experience has been helicopter parents. (Gen Xers were the first generation where Mom typically worked outside the home and became the generation known as Latch Key kids.) Consequently, the parents of Gen Y children hovered and constantly reinforced their specialness.

    A Real Life Story of a Boomer Responding to a Gen Y Manager. While we own our business, John and I still must work with a number of younger managers for approval of new training materials. Recently, we’ve been working to receive approval for a new training course for a large client. The person who oversees this process is a super-smart, confident, professional Gen Y. This Gen Y kept asking for more specifics and more documentation—and in my mind, that translated as more proof that we knew what we were doing. I couldn’t understand why this person wouldn’t simply trust me. We have 17 years of developing training courses and have been successful for at least 10 of those.

    Gen Ys are a generation viewed as being special and have confidence in themselves. Our Gen Y manager was correct. His additional requirements definitely made our new training course more focused and enhanced the learning experience for participants.

    This type of confidence may irritate a Boomer, but often allows Ys to help older generations make much needed changes. We Boomers don’t like change, especially when we think it’s being caused by someone who doesn’t respect our past experience.

    So what’s the take away and how does it apply to your work place? If you’re a Boomer managing a Y, reinforce how special that Y is by asking for his or her help. Gen Ys are very collaborative and want to feel part of a team. So let them help you design new systems or procedures. They’re young and enthusiastic, so let them get the rest of the team excited too. They want awards—recognize their achievements and how they help the company. A Boomer manager needs to emphasize a culture of equality for the Ys. Boomers should emphasize that everyone in the company is important, especially the Ys.

    Don’t forget, if the information is important, the Ys want it by a text message, not e-mail.

    If you’re a Y managing a Boomer, remember to respect the Boomer’s experience by saying things such as, “It would be valuable to hear about your experience and what has and hasn’t worked.” Listen to what the Boomer has to say and maybe use some of the ideas; let the Boomer know he or she has made a difference.

    As a Y, you are collaborative, so use that skill. Go out of your way to look for ways to learn from Boomers. Show patience with Boomers in the use of technology. Boomers did not grow up multi-tasking. Be specific (don’t use techno talk or acronyms) as you explain how to use a new app or software package to a Boomer. Most importantly, remember that relationships are essential to Boomers. Again, occassionally lay down your smart phone and communicate face-to-face. Boomers want to have a sense of purpose and want to know that what they’re doing for the company makes a difference. Consistently, reinforce that.

    The Bottom Line. Every generation is different and members of each hold unique core values and preferences. These provide each generation essential information about how the other generation wants to be treated, lead and managed. Pay attention to the signals and be respectful of the perspective that each generation brings to the workplace.           

    Vicki LaPlant has worked with HVAC contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer/consultant. She helps people work better together for greater success. Vicki is a longtime Contracting Business.com editorial advisory board member and can be reached by email at [email protected], or by phone at 903/786-6262.