Understanding how and what shapes generations is vital to successful communication, job attraction, retention and skill utilization in the workplace.
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That was the message to attendees of the Beef Industry Conference from Alicia Rainwater of the Center for Generational Kinetics.
“Understanding generations gives us three things,” she said. “It helps us build trust, connection and influence with people who are older or younger than you. (Those three things) are key to generating the outcomes you’re looking for.”
Why it matters: Gen-Z and millennials have different approaches to employment, and prospective employers must realize that if they want to make successful hires.
“Young adults today are entering the workforce anywhere from one up to five years later in life compared to previous generations when they statistically started their first job,” Rainwater said. “No one’s talking about this but it has some interesting effects.”
For example, a newly hired 22-year-old might be in their first real job and need more skills training than someone from a previous generation needed at the same age.
“There’s some real training and onboarding to be had here,” she said. “We know the differences between generations can cause some tension, and we must overcome these differences.”
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Parental influence can be reflected in a generation’s attitude toward money, whether it’s spending, debt or education expectations, said Rainwater.
The relationship, or lack thereof, to technology has a strong but often invisible impact on how generations communicate or relate, which can cause tension between generations.
“(Technology) is only new to you if you remember how it was before. Otherwise, it’s all you’ve ever known,” she said. “And we want to recognize that all of us are coming to the table with different experiences around technology.”
For example, 40 per cent of Gen Z uses YouTube as a job search tool.
“We found out the No. 1 highest conversion technique to get a Gen Z jobseeker into an applicant was to show them real videos, testimonials of people saying what it’s really like to work on the job,” Rainwater said. “It’s fascinating. Visual learners for sure.”
The pandemic and the recession’s impact on parents shaped Gen Z’s choices and behaviour around money, education and workforce entry.
“Twelve per cent of this generation, which includes kids and teenagers, is already saving for retirement,” said Rainwater. “Many have emergency savings accounts or (financial) apps on their phone.”
In the next five years, Gen Z, those 8 to 27 years old, will be the fastest-growing generation of employees and consumers.
They are focused on entering the workforce with little or no post-secondary debt, the ability to save, and the freedom to take a job offering stability, benefits and flexible schedules instead of sacrificing those priorities to pay off debt.
Millennials, who range in age from 28 to 46, are the largest group in the workforce today. Most have children, a mortgage and a career, Rainwater said.
As a millennial, she admits that within her generation there’s a small, entitled percentage known as mellennials. However, millennials are most of the managers and leaders in the current workforce.
“(Millennials) are tech-dependent and that dependence has radically altered our communication profile, our preference for things like email and texting or video platforms.”
Workplaces would be wise to harness a millennial’s technological dependency as a strength to solve issues rather than dismiss it as a shortcoming, she said.
As non-linear learners, Gen Z and millennials were taught to skip steps, which can create tension in a process-driven workplace.
“They’re outcome-oriented thinkers and very visual learners and thinkers, so we know you need all those important steps you can’t skip over or toss out.”
Rainwater suggests working backward by showing the end goal.
“Show us what step five is first, and then walk your way back through the other steps, and we will follow you every step of the way,” she said. “We’re simply understanding we need to show them the direction we’re heading, what’s the end goal.”
Engaging and empowering these generations begins with giving them more responsibility and incorporating them into the workplace through stretch projects.
A stretch project has three components, said Rainwater. It offers support, is realistic and challenges people. It must have a beginning, middle and end, and involve tasks that employees can accomplish with some support.
“They have to believe they can actually accomplish this project or this objective you’ve given them.”
Stretching abilities by challenging employees will create value at the project’s end. Quick and ongoing on-the-spot feedback is also essential.
For many older generations, it runs against the “no news is good news” thought process, the idea that if the boss talks to you, it’s because you’ve done something wrong, she said.
Parenting and education has taught the younger generations that something is wrong if someone in authority isn’t talking to them.
“We need to show people how they can improve, what’s working, what’s not working. It’s not just compliments,” explained Rainwater.
“It doesn’t always have to be in person. It could be a quick text message or email. But frequency is more important than the amount of feedback to these two generations.”