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The ABCs of Managing Generations X, Y, and Z

This article was originally published on OC Tanner and is republished here with permission.

As a marketer, I spend my days thinking about customers and how to improve their experiences with some of the world’s best brands. As a manager, I’ve begun to recognize that the people on my team are having an experience with me, much like those customer experiences I work so hard to understand and improve.

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Understanding customer values is the first step in learning how to create a positive customer experience—so, through this lens, we can see how the basics of good customer experience can be applied to managing the generational differences we see in today’s work teams. Here’s what I’ve learned about managing Generations X, Y, and Z.

A: Start by Understanding Generational Values

Unifying a team demands common ground and well-defined expectations. Managing to different values and for unity at the same time is a delicate balance, but it’s critical for keeping—and delighting—your best people.

A recent survey by HR consultancy Mercer revealed numbers behind the values held by Generation X, Y, and Z employees. While base pay is most important to all employees, younger generations ranked flexibility a close second when compared to older generations, who are likely to have fewer school or family demands.

Satisfying your employees’ desire for flexibility is not enough to completely hedge against attrition, though: the survey also found that two out of five workers intend to make a job change at the present time, which is up 33% from 2011.

Manager takeaway: You must do more to meet your employees’ needs than simply create policies that satisfy a generational value.
Five bar graphs depict the percentage of employees in different age groups would like to reduce the value of some benefits they receive and increase the value of others. All employees: 58%; 18-34: 70%; 35-49: 59%; 50-64:48%; 65+: 38%


B: Translate Values into Policies

To better provide for your employees and reduce their flight risk, learn about your team’s generational values and how those translate into company policies.

Consider whether Gen X workers need schedule flexibility to take care of older and younger family members, for example. Research and implement the types of employee development programs Gen Y workers want for career development. Give Gen Z workers the opportunity to innovate and automate processes for your team.

Bottom line for managers: Advocate for your team where you find gaps in your policies.

You may find that current company policies are nothing more than status quo decisions made years ago but still in place simply because no one took initiative to put together a business case for changing them. Have conversations with and solicit buy-in from executives and HR to modernize your policies, and your company could see gains in retention and recruiting.

C: Make Your Policies Personal

Once you’ve discussed policies at the organization level, meet with your team to learn about their values and find ways to meet their needs on a more personal level. Understanding a few common preferences of Generations X, Y, and Z can help jumpstart the discovery process for you and your team members.

Managing Generation X (mid-1960s to 1970s)

  • Let them pursue independent work: Gen Xers are known for their independence. Let them go after entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial projects.
  • Give feedback: As one of the most skeptical groups in the workplace, Gen Xers like to receive solid feedback as they set out to achieve goals. Establish a process for feedback to keep their skepticism in check.
  • Allow them structure to collaborate: Mind mapping, team building, and information sharing can provide the support this pragmatic age group needs.

Managing Generation Y/Millennials (1980s to mid-1990s):

  • Let them shape ideals in day-to-day work life: Gen Yers are idealistic in their approach to life, and work is no different. Let them customize their role and contributions as it makes sense for the team.
  • Give them opportunities to define their work style: Be flexible on workflow and schedules, but set firm expectations for performance.
  • Recognize their comfort and skill with low-cost technology: Use this generation’s productivity and tech savvy to improve efficiency to your advantage. Hard hit by the economic crisis, Gen Y workers are also cost-conscious and can be resourceful in finding cheap and effective technology to solve problems.

Managing Generation Z (mid-1990s to early 2000s)

  • Communicate with them authentically: This generation came of age in the era of social media and social transparency. While their Gen X counterparts place high value on privacy, Gen Zers are more comfortable sharing personal and candid information on social media, for example.
  • Let them satisfy their need for on-demand technology: Gen Z has grown up using on-demand technologies—DVRs as children, for example, and now Uber as young adults. Allow them to innovate and automate processes and embrace those ways that save your team time and money.
  • Recognize their ability to absorb information: Expert multitaskers, Gen Z workers are likely to introduce more efficient ways to share information in the workplace, perhaps across devices or in simultaneous real-time formats. Encourage their pursuits in these areas to keep your team at the forefront of information management.

Keeping up with social change fueled by younger employees can be a path for keeping your company relevant.

Staying ahead of the change is where managers can truly compete for talent and distinguish themselves as transformational leaders within organizations. Check out more blog posts to learn how Clearlink approaches leadership.

Heather Flash

As a leader at global ad agencies and as a brand client, Heather has helped Fortune 50 brands solve digital marketing challenges. She is currently cracking the performance marketing code in the telco space as a marketing director at Clearlink, while splitting her time between the mountains of Salt Lake City and the lively music scene of Seattle.


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