Generations of understanding: SC&RA comment November 2018

By Joel Dandrea15 November 2018

Representing a mix of three groups – those close to retirement, Generation X, and millennials – today’s skilled workforce wants different things from their careers. In fact, each of these groups comprise not just a different stage of life, but a different approach to living entirely. That approach almost always spills into what they want out of their career(s). It is something worth recognising as those of us in industry continue to examine what it will take to attract quality workers and keep them through retirement.

Joel dandrea

Joel Dandrea

The current state of almost any workforce is “multi-generational” – i.e. grandfather or grandmother, father or mother, son or daughter. They each come from different eras, and each often carry with them the attitudes, belief systems, and motivations of that respective era. In the case of construction and transport, the soon-to-be-retired generation is looking at securing themselves financially for the road ahead and getting respect for what they’ve achieved and the wisdom they can impart on the ones coming up behind them. They expect the people they work with and around to be professional, accountable and responsible. In turn, they expect this of themselves. They grew up in a time when this type of attitude – and often a handshake – was the bond beneath which the work got done.

Ironically, the people filing in behind them, often referred to as Generation X, typically like to be left alone. While not disrespectful in this approach overall, they’ve grown up doing things their own way and prefer to create their own experience and combine that with the demands of a given job: they like you to get to the point, get out of the way, and get on with it.

The generation behind them is often referred to as the millennials – who have been (sometimes unfairly) described as the “trophy” generation, coddled, enabled, and so on. Again, such stereotypes might explain some members of this group, but certainly not all. What we have learned about millennials, however, is that they like to be included and asked their opinion. They also like to be asked about their role in the company, as well as their future. They would like to see their responsibilities “stretched,” and expect some fun factor to be associated with the job.

Historically, as each new generation enters the workforce, there are concerns about their attitude and willingness to work, including what expectations they will have from that workplace. It also can’t be overlooked that each generation is influenced by societal and world events that occurred while they were growing up.

The important thing to remember when trying to not only juggle all three groups within your workforce, but as you go about recruiting younger workers to fill in the ever-emerging gaps, is that none of these styles are necessarily wrong: they’re just different.

It’s on us as leaders to recognise these differences and adapt (not change) our way of attracting them and engaging with them so that we can continue to move forward productively, together.

Most businesses today employ a workforce of varying ages. Understanding what influenced their upbringing and what they value can make for a more harmonious working environment, and a more cohesive system that keeps quality workers walking through the front door as valued workers are inevitably walking out the back door and into deserved retirement. Recognising the differences within our workforce is just another part of the modern workplace – like any other challenge.

The point of understanding these differences is that it allows employers to know how to best attract and manage different employee groups, while continuing to push successfully forward through every level of their business.


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