Q. I'm a manager in my 50s with a lot of employees in their 20s. I'm getting to the point where I don't want to hire a younger employee because they don't seem to listen, they want rewards without earning them, don't seem to see what needs to get done, and quit after five minutes. How do I supervise this generation without biting them?
A. If you are a baby boomer, you can supervise the 20-something crowd by realizing that what motivates them is entirely different from what motivates you.
Managers will often "raise" their employees in the same way their parents raised them. Now, obviously, nobody is going to literally spank you in the workplace, but there are many ways to use anxiety, shame and fear of the manager to attempt to keep employees in line.
The 20-something crowd, conversely, was generally raised with high emotional validation and often nearly no discipline. Baby boomer parents likely thought that doing the opposite of what their parents did to them was a better way to parent.
The strength of baby boomers is that they will work like dogs with very little emotional reward and strive for excellence. The strength of 20-year-olds is that they strive to make work a path for personal growth, enrichment and meaning.
As a baby boomer manager you simply cannot use shame, fear of failure, or demands to inspire younger workers. You will need to look at the work you are asking them to do through a new set of glasses. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What is the future of the job they are doing? Yes, they might be answering phones today but does it give them great interpersonal skills, contacts and organizational skills? How can this be useful to them?
2. What kind of fun activities will they have access to? Do you have birthday parties and summer picnics? Do you give employees exposure to interesting events?
3. If they stay long term in your job, what benefits will they receive in three months, six months, or a year? The benefits they care about are appreciation, fun, and growth opportunities.
4. Do you assume that the prime motivation for your younger employee is money? Yes, the salary needs to be competitive, but this generation doesn't believe in delayed gratification. Even if you are competitive, can you clearly articulate what makes your job or internship cool and groovy (for you former hippies)?
All my baby boomer executive clients agree with you that they want to bite their younger employees who can't seem to just show up, work hard, suffer, and stick with a job because it is the "right" thing to do. Then again, younger employees can teach us baby boomers that life is short, the richness of work should go beyond a paycheck, and the journey of life is sweeter when we include fun.
Your 20-year-old employees believe that all work and no play means their resume goes back into circulation. Twenty-year-olds are capable of doing the same fine job you get easily from your baby boomer employees -- you just need to use more carrot and very little stick!
The last word(s)
Q. I am a short, quiet, minority female and I am often underestimated at work. I also find this sometimes gives me a competitive advantage because people can't predict what I am capable of doing. Can being underestimated be helpful?
A. Absolutely! When people expect a single match of talent and end up with a sky full of fireworks, you have the opportunity to over-deliver and impress.
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything," (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)
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