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Handling different generations in a small business

CorrespondentSeptember 23, 2013 

Managing different generations within the same company is becoming more common. At small businesses, where workplace dynamics are often magnified, it’s especially important for owners and managers to figure out how to do this.

Rose Plesz is an independent senior sales director with Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Plesz says the biggest challenges she sees are baby-boomer company owners who struggle to manage younger employees.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the baby boomer generation was born between 1946 and 1964. Generation X generally is defined as people born from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, and Generation Y comprises people born from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.

“I have found that, and I’m guilty of this myself, is that I have looked at the younger generation as very entitled,” Plesz says. “It’s a word that keeps coming up over and over again.”

Labeling, however, won’t solve any problems, she says. Instead, Plesz suggests that employers learn more about younger generations, which can lead to better communication, better interactions and happier employees.

Here are some of Plesz’s observations and suggestions to promote generational harmony in the workplace:

• Younger generations want to be valued at work. “I think it’s where we’re missing the boat,” Plesz said. “That doesn’t mean prizes and a big deal. It means really recognizing a job well done.”

She has consistently found that something as simple as a birthday card from the company or a small incentive program can greatly boost workplace satisfaction.

She recommends that employers work with employees to find out what drives them to do well at work.

“Give them something that makes them feel like they are part of an organization and not just a paycheck at the end of the week.”

• Younger generations don’t want dead-end jobs. Plesz said a common complaint she hears from baby boomer bosses is that younger employees frequently are late to work, and often jump jobs.

When Plesz asked members of the younger generation why that was so, they said they didn’t want to be at work.

“They (are late) when they are bored with what they are doing,” Plesz said. “If they were excited and engaged and felt like they had some value, I bet they would show up on time.”

Like their parents and grandparents, young employees want to be successful, and many want to be entrepreneurial. When employers write them off, however, they lose motivation.

•  Younger generations want flexibility. While all generations value family and relationships, members of generations X and Y tend to care a lot about freedom, Plesz said.

Baby boomers worked hard and achieved success. The next generation is not as willing to sacrifice their lives for a job or money. Vacation time and flexible time are important, Plesz says.

“The more you can offer something like that, the more you will speak to something that’s valuable to them,” Plesz said.

She cites an example of a young woman who already had several vacations scheduled when she took a new job. When she announced she needed another week off for another vacation, the boss told her no.

She quit her job to go on the vacation.

“Their time is valuable,” Plesz said.

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