The Pervading Work Beliefs Of Different Generations

As those 40 and older become the veterans of the workplace, two generations of young employees are taking their places in the gases and welding industry. Those in the so-called Generation X are maturing into leadership roles. Those in the Millennial generation (sometimes called Generation Y) are becoming the new skilled trades people and professionals within your organization. But each of these groups is bringing with them a distinctly different understanding of work and its role in one’s life. To best understand how these individuals will impact the industry going forward, it’s important to compare and contrast their pervading beliefs with those who have been in the workplace for more than 20 years.

  between 1946 and 1964

GENERATION X – born from
  1965 to 1980

) – born
  since 1980

Baby Boomers and their Parents
A job is what you are. Ask Boomers and Matures to reflect on their lives, and most will begin with a current job title. While younger generations work to live, older generations live to work. In fact, two-thirds of them admit to checking e-mail and voice mail on vacations. Both of these generations grew up in times when what you did for a living defined your existence. But for the past 30 years, lifestyles have shifted from survival and “hard work” to a balance of leisure and livelihood. Even now, however, most Boomers plan to work, in some form, past traditional retirement age.

I remember when . . . It is a consequence of life that the more we mature, the more we use the past as reference points for the present. While younger generations sometimes show impatience with the seemingly endless, and sometimes repetitive, stories told by senior employees, they too often discount the insights those stories illustrate.

Good things come to those who wait. In the hierarchy of top-down organizations, patience has served many of those in the older generations. Loyalty to one organization was expected and rewarded with promotions and pay. Many of these senior employees still cling to the hope that longevity will still be rewarded, in spite of layoffs. While those in younger generations display little patience for outdated modes of work, the experience and skills of these older workers still contain a wealth of resources.

If your hands aren’t moving, you can’t possibly be working. The advent of automation and computerization has challenged older generations’ idea of how everyday tasks are accomplished. While they intellectually understand the impact of technology, there is still something inside of them that says, “Where’s the physical effort?” This phenomenon, coupled with the introduction of flex-time, telecommuting and such, has violated many of the ingrained notions Boomers and those older have about the nature of work.

We have to have a system for everything. Matures and Boomers entered the workforce at a time when manufacturing was the center of the U.S. economy. They carried forth these systems and fostered an emphasis on tasks rather than outcomes. When those in younger generations discount these finely honed procedures, older generations take that as an affront.

All this technology will never overcome the value of hard work. While Boomers certainly understand the value of technology, many still harbor an inherent uneasiness about its capability. But younger generations see computers in the same light as earlier generations viewed typewriters. For those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, relying on the straightforward hard work of earlier times affords comfort, especially when computers don’t perform to expectations.

Younger Generations
A job is a contract, not a calling. Having experienced and/or observed layoffs, consolidations, acquisitions, mergers, recessions and the like, younger generations are more skeptical of an employer. Businesses that breach the employment “contract” by failing to follow through on commitments such as training, promotions and resources are more likely to lose good workers.

Focus on the outcome, rather than the task. With the tremendous emphasis on performance and the proliferation of technology in the workplace, younger generations have less patience for what they see as meaningless tasks. They want to be able to “take the ball and run with it.” Given a clear definition of desired outcome, the resources necessary and a deadline, most want to work on their own in a style that favors their work ethic.

In the long run, balance is more important than money. Common assumptions that older generations have had about working long hours are not relevant concepts to younger employees. Having watched their parents do this for years at their expense, they consciously work toward a more balanced life even at the expense of income and promotion. Employers will find their traditional work beliefs increasingly challenged if younger employees figure out a way that allows for more work/life balance.

Training, knowledge and experience equal versatility. Versatility ensures job satisfaction and long-term security. Employers who provide opportunities for ongoing ways to enhance one’s résumé will be the organizations that remain successful at retaining talent. Loyalty, per se, is viewed as irrelevant by many of those in younger generations. But the chance to work and grow in a challenging and supportive environment will remain one of the most effective ways to keep people.

Management should be partners with employees. Young workers have seen a host of organizations that are implementing “best practices” that foster highly effective, team-oriented work environments. Employers should be prepared to discuss and re-examine those practices that may be resistant to change. Organizations refusing to implement new systems and preserve the status quo may find that the younger and highly connected workforce will have them pegged as old fashioned and an employer to avoid.

Life is too short to “pay dues.” Society’s increasing emphasis on outcome and speed has engendered a belief in younger generations that there is no time to lose. Witness their comfort with simultaneously surfing the Net, flipping TV channels and sending instant messages. This phenomenon, coupled with low unemployment and availability of training and information on the Web, will present specialty gases and welding employers with a mighty challenge over the next decade. How well are you prepared?

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

Bob Wendover Meet the Author
Robert W. Wendover is director of the Center for Generational Studies, located in Aurora, Colorado, and on the Web at