Bill Schwab of Schwab & Associates in Brigantine (www.getmebillschwab.com) moved to New Jersey to join the Construction Financial Management Association. As director of education, chapter services, and event planning, and later as president and CEO, Schwab faced the problem of motivating volunteers of different ages to get involved in their local chapters. That’s when he realized that he was not dealing with one generation of financial managers, but at least four, and that he would need to motivate each one in a different way.
The lessons Schwab learned by studying the extensive research on how generational differences play out in the workplace are particularly applicable today. Because the shaky economy is keeping the oldest employees from retiring and keeping the youngest from jumping around to accumulate new experiences and skills, many businesses and organizations are finding themselves with four different generations in their workforces. Because this creates inevitable clash points, managers need to start differentiating their responses to these groups, whose needs and values are so different.
Schwab will speak on “Multigenerations in the Workforce: Bridging the Generation Gap” at Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, April 16, at 11:30 a.m. at the Greenacres Country Club, 2170 Lawrence Road in Lawrenceville. The chamber asks attendees to bring along any gently used jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, earrings) to donate to Mercer County Dress for Success. Cost: $60. For more information, call 609-689-9960.
Schwab says the underlying premise of research on generational differences is that people’s current behaviors grow out of their formative experiences. “Studies have shown that events and conditions that you experience during your formative years, between ages 1 and 5 — culturally, economically, socially, educationally, politically, and technologically — have a lot to do with shaping your values and your personal behaviors,” says Schwab. Because of his own experiences as a young child during World War II, he says, “my values are about sacrifice.”
The four generations inhabiting today’s workplaces, in what may or may not be one big, happy family:
Matures. Born between 1900 and 1945, many of these employees were ready to retire, but due to the current economic climate are staying on longer than they had originally planned. “They grew up in a time when sacrifice what was what they had to do,” says Schwab. “Saving for a rainy day was the model, and discipline and conservatism.” These people have difficulty understanding younger people who want the perquisites of rank without working morning and night for years as they did.
Baby boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, this generation’s earliest memories were of the civil rights movement, when both authority and tradition were being questioned. As they got older, they experienced the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Watergate. “They bucked what the matures stood for,” Schwab explains. “They asked, ‘Why do we have to work like our parents did — other things in life are more important. They almost have an entitlement attitude.” Schwab describes boomers as the “me” generation — very competitive and desiring instant gratification.
In the workplace and at home, their values govern their behavior. They are driven by money, says Schwab, with a charge-now-pay-later attitude. “They will come to work and give everything they’ve got, but only 9 to 5,” says Schwab. Otherwise they are concerned with their personal regimes of nutrition, exercise, and self-improvement. “They’re not afraid to say, ‘I’m leaving because I have to meet my trainer at the gym,’” says Schwab.
Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1980, the Xers are a skeptical crew, but also very independent. “They grew up seeing every American institution called into question,” says Schwab, who then offers a list of the significant figures who fell from grace when they were young, including Richard Nixon, O.J. Simpson, and Bill Clinton. “Government, the presidency, corporate America, and religion were questioned,” says Schwab. “Name the institution, and Xers can name the crime.”
Another formative factor for Xers is the fact that often both parents worked. The feminist movement had encouraged women to pursue careers, and many Xers were latchkey kids. Studies suggest that Xers want more freedom and autonomy. “They were used to it as kids,” says Schwab. “They resent the mature people, who have a chain of command, military-style way of working and managing.” As this generation was maturing, the media exploded and expanded their world, he explains, and they are looking for positive work experiences and interesting ways to learn.
Gen Y. The millennials, or Yers, born between 1981 and 1999, are totally savvy about the world, very influenced by the development of the Internet and other technology. Until the current downturn, they would jump around a lot workwise, seeing themselves as learning what they could in a job and then moving on to the next one. The matures looked upon them as “job hoppers,” who would move when they were no longer happy at a particular job. But today they are not moving, just as the oldest workers are not retiring.
Businesses need to be aware of these variations among the four generations in leadership styles, career goals, and general expectations to avoid what Schwab calls “clash points” — when two or more generations bump headlong into each other. To keep businesses functioning smoothly, managers may need to think twice (or four times) about how they handle performance appraisals, motivation, promotion, pay, the nature of work assignments, and how much of a voice subordinates have in decision-making.
As an example of how different expectations come to play in the workplace, Schwab talked about how managers need to think about giving feedback. For the matures, he says, no news is good news. “Their reward is working hard and getting a task accomplished,” says Schwab. They are not particularly looking for feedback, but when the time comes, they expect the boss to be behind the desk, with the employee on the other side. The matures are comfortable with that desk functioning as an authority symbol.
Babyboomers want to know where they stand, maybe once or twice a year, and with lots of documentation, says Schwab. If they are performing up to snuff, they will be looking for a reward. Boomers also expect a more relaxed atmosphere, perhaps with a chair placed at the side of the desk. They want the evaluation itself to be more of a conversation, talking about the person’s strengths, areas for improvement, and setting a plan of action for the future.
Xers want instantaneous, immediate feedback, and they want it whenever the spirit moves them. They will walk up to a supervisor and simply ask, “How am I doing?” says Schwab. “They want to know all the time, and it’s much less formal.”
For millennials, technology is their middle name, and they want feedback that is up to the minute, but not necessarily delivered face to face. They like feedback that is short and sweet, like Twitter. E-mail is something of a no-no and viewed as the way their parents communicate.
The four generations also have different ways of feeling rewarded in a work environment. For the matures, it is the satisfaction of a job well done. For boomers, it is more the money, the title, the raise, and the corner office — tangible, material rewards that will distinguish them from the pack. The Xers are looking for freedom; once they know what is to be done, they want to be left alone to do it. The millennials seem to be rewarded by doing work that has meaning for them. They are also very realistic; work well in groups, task forces, and committees; and seem to be more interested in social responsibility.
Bill Schwab grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, where his father worked as a bottler in a brewery and then in a dairy. His father fought in World War II when Schwab was very young, and he remembers air raid drills and going with his mother to pick up rations of sugar, milk, and cheese.
Schwab earned his bachelor’s in education at Central Connecticut State University in 1961 and then taught elementary school for five years. But after having four children in as many years, the family was struggling financially. So when Schwab noticed a posting for a management trainee at a bank where he worked part-time as a teller, he decided to apply. After six months, when he realized that he couldn’t compete with the other trainees who had business backgrounds, he went for an MBA at Columbia, which he completed in 1976.
Schwab stayed in banking for 18 years with Bristol Savings Bank in Connecticut and, as expected from a banker, got involved in area organizations and associations
It was his next position at Construction Financial Management Association where Schwab says his “past education and experience all lined up.” Having retired from the association in May but still involved as a volunteer, he says, “Now I can do it when I want to, not when I have to.” Schwab now works for himself at Schwab & Associates as a consultant in leadership skills development.
Schwab has some ideas about what we as a society can expect from the next generation of workers, the ones who experience 9/11 in their formative years. “Safety and security have become a priority,” he says. “Whoever thought we would have to worry about going to a mall, taking an airplane ride, going to school, and having lockdown procedures?” He suggests these experiences may translate to a generation more interested in keeping the same job, because they will feel more secure staying in one place and doing their best.