One for the Ages

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“Employees these days just don’t seem motivated. Where is their work ethic? They refuse to do manual labor, and expect something for nothing.”

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Chances are that you have three generations working side-by-side at your equestrian facility, each with differing values, experiences and expectations. As a stable owner, manager or trainer, your task is to get your employees to all work together as a team, which will help you run an efficient business. The key is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each generation.

Currently, the workforce is tilted toward older workers, especially Boomers. Here’s a look at the overall population by generation:

• Baby Boomers, born 1946-64, comprise 46 percent of the workforce

• Gen Xers, born 1965-77, comprise 29 percent of the workforce

• Gen Yers, born 1978-2000 comprise 15 percent of the workforce

But the mix is changing fast. The steady departure of of older, experienced Boomers (every day, 10,000 Boomers turn 55 years of age) means your workforce will increasingly consist of Gen Xers and the much larger population of Gen Y’s.

Talking ’bout Our Generations

Just how different are these generations? How can you meld them into a smoothly functioning and productive team? First, understand who they are.

Baby Boomers are idealistic, self-absorbed, driven and committed to improve the world they inherited. Their right of passage into adulthood was civil rights protests, the Vietnam War, and the emergence of a counter-culture whose motto was “trust no one over 30.” They took on the “establishment.” Now they are the establishment.

Generation X has been typecast as skeptical, cynical, slackers who are often disloyal job hoppers unwilling to pay their dues. Xers have a “get-out-of-my-way” attitude. They want balance in their life now, not when they are 65. They grew up seeing their parents getting laid off, were often latch-key children with divorced parents, and therefore are unwilling to sacrifice their personal or family time for a job. Xers are creating a free-agent workforce. They are comfortable with technology. This is the dot.com generation.

Generation Y is the offspring of the Boomers. Self-confident and optimistic, independent and goal-oriented, Yers are masters of the Internet and PC. They believe education is cool, integrity is admirable, and view parents as role models. They are blunt, savvy, fast thinking and impatient. Yers are used to balancing a high level of activity from school, work, sports, clubs and social events, and are the masters of multi-tasking.

Understanding these generational qualities can help you manage your employees effectively. To cultivate your employees’ talents, ask them what they can offer that adds value (and meaning) to the job. Ask them what innovations might make the barn more efficient or help grow the business. Then listen. Really listen.

Foundations for a Solid Workforce

A good relationship with employees is key to making them productive and engaged. What defines a good relationship? It all depends on the generation.

For older workers, it’s a relationship with their manager that’s built on mutual respect, appreciation for their work ethic and dedication, and where their status is acknowledged.

Gen X employees define a good working relationship differently. They want their supervisor to tell it like it is, minimize politics, explain the job task or problem, and then get out of their way. Face-time is not important to them, getting the job done is.

For Gen Ys, a good working relationship with the boss starts with getting to know them “up close and personal.” Be empathetic and nurturing with Xers, and treat them like colleagues, not teenagers. They expect their manager to respect their opinion, answer their questions and share the reasoning for decisions made. After all, they have been included in family decision making early on and have been encouraged to speak up. With Yers, you lead by example. Jump in the stall with them and have fun doing it. You are the role model.

Most of all, find tasks to keep them busy. Gen Yers are stimulus junkies looking for the next challenge. They become bored quickly.

Reining Them In

Dealing with employee performance issues can be tough for even the most experienced manager. Often, problems arise when work expectations are not clearly conveyed or understood.

Boomers will often respond to performance critiques by saying, “Let me tell you how I feel about that.” Keep their egos intact. Let them know how much you value their hard work and contributions, and how much they are needed. Collaborate on finding solutions.

For Gen X employees, lay out the facts, get to the point quickly, and avoid story telling. Tell them what results you are looking for, and then let them figure out how to achieve them. Stress your confidence in them and their ability to focus on the goal.

When Gen Y workers are confronted with performance issues you will often hear “Why? (or why not?) Let me tell you what I think.” Provide a concise explanation of the problem and make sure both of you agree on what is expected of them. Be flexible in determining how an issue can be resolved, but firmly communicate deadlines and goals for improvement.

With age comes wisdom and experience and with youth comes enthusiasm and energy. Owners, managers and trainers who can build bridges between the generations can make their operations more productive, keep the customers happy, and even make the business more profitable.