A lot has been said about the four generations that comprise the American workforce these days. So much so that it raises the question, are employers making too big a deal of the differences between age groups?
Well, no. In fact, Gary Alessio, who owns Print Tech, a marketing and communications company based in Springfield, says employers may not be taking the subject seriously enough. It’s not like it was a couple decades ago, when there were simply old people and young people, Alessio says. There are four very distinct groups working now. And if you don’t know how to get through to them all, you could be missing out big time.
Alessio will present “Pitch Perfect: Communicating with All Generations” at the Somerset County Business Partnership on Wednesday, May 21, at 8:30 a.m. at the SCBP office in Bridgewater. Cost: $30. Visit www.SCBP.org.
Born in Parsippany, Alessio is a lifetime resident of New Jersey who learned a lot about business from his parents. Alessio’s father was an Army sergeant in World War II who went on to work for the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Postal Service. “He was of the generation where you got a job and you stayed in that job,” Alessio says. His mother was an accountant who taught her son a lot about finances and running in the black.
Alessio, 47, started his career with Pitney Bowes, which paid for him to get his associate’s degree in electronics after high school. He fixed office machines for the company for a few years, but realized he “wanted the better things in life” and decided that his best route was through sales. He became a sales manager with the Pitney Bowes in 1989 and later a vice president of sales at Direct Marketing Support Group. He helped that company go public and it became Vestcom International.
Fifteen years ago, Alessio quite literally walked into the company he now owns part of. “I was walking down the street and saw that Print Tech was advertising marketing and fulfillment, and I’d never seen that before,” he says. So he walked in the front door “and basically cold-called the two brothers who owned the business.” Turns out, the brothers were looking for some help and Alessio became the director of sales. A few years later, he says, one of the brothers, “at the ripe old age of 53” decided to sell his share and Alessio has been a partner ever since.
As a full-service marketing and communications firm, Print Tech needs to reach several audiences, from the veterans generation to the millennials. And as an employer, Alessio needs to reach these same groups for different reasons. But fundamentally, the way to talk to these groups remains the same within each group. It’s a matter of knowing what each responds to. “I hate to say you should stereotype, “ Alessio says, “but if you’re stereotypical towards each generation, you can sell to them or hire them or market to them much easier.”
The four work groups. This is the first era in which there are four distinctly marked sets of personalities and perspectives among American workers. The veterans generation, who fought in World War II and bore the baby boomers, believe in authority, order, and security. The boomers, born between 1946-1964, believe in climbing the corporate ladder. Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976, embrace independence and are guarded about their money. Millennials, born between 1977 and 1994, are the most technologically savvy group of people in the workplace.
Talking to the different groups. In the broad strokes, the differences between the generations lies in what motivates them. Veterans generation folks like Alessio’s father, who survived the Great Depression and World War II, are most motivated by job security. When looking to hire someone in this age group, a good approach is to frame the job in term of this — the understanding that the person will get X dollars and Y perks and know the schedule.
On the other end of the spectrum, a millennial candidate would be more likely to respond to how the job benefits them personally. “It’s been called the ‘me generation,’” Alessio says. “It’s all about them.” Millennials are more likely, after all, to prize free time and embrace urban social life. They’re not moving back to the suburbs quite so quickly as other generations, Alessio says, and they are comfortable working at whatever hours, so long as they can live the way they want to live the rest of the time.
Alessio gives millennials a lot of credit for adaptability. Unlike Generation X, their predecessors, who use technology as part of their lives, millennials integrate all aspects of their lives through technology, from socializing to work. This allows them to be extremely flexible and extremely creative. To reach them, Alessio says, you can’t sell them on a rigid schedule in a job that makes them feel like part of the machine.
Likewise, you can’t reach into the different groups in just one way. “If you’re looking to hire someone from the veterans generation, social media would not be the best place to look,” Alessio says. Someone from this age group would answer an ad in a newspaper or print magazine — or a phone call. And you would discuss the position over dinner, in person. People of this age group, he says, respond very much to face-to-face. Millennials, on the other hand, would likely find out about a job online and would submit online. Face-to-face time could wait.
The chameleon effect. Success in recruiting and retaining, Alessio says, lies in knowing what each generation prizes and blending in a bit with everyone. Take tattoos, for example. Members of the veterans generation or baby boomers do not espouse tattoos. Gen-Xers do, but not to the degree millennials do. “About 40 percent of millennials have tattoos,” Alessio says — a testament to their yearning for personal expression and creativity.
It’s important, he says, to be aware that for some older folks, tattoos carry a lower-class connotation. A millennial may proudly show off their body art, but a boomer might think it’s unbecoming to have a tattoo. Alessio’s advice to millennials is to be aware that their prospective boss may not be fond of the body art.
And for the boomer? Alessio advises to look past the surface and realize that millennials have a lot to offer — they’re sharp, adaptable, and strong. After all, he says, they’ve lived through 9/11 and the Great Recession and have found that their first ideas about education and work life didn’t hold up when the world got thrown off kilter. And they survived, and keep surviving, on their drive to live their own lives.
“A lot of times when hiring, we kind of want people who are a lot like us,” Alessio says. “But that’s not always the best fit. Not anymore.”