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Generation Integration

September 2004 – Vol: 27 No. 9
by Russell J. White

Generation Integration
Boomers vs. Xers: Decrease tension by building an environment of mutual respect.

By Russell J. White

Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the October 2004 issue of Credit Union Management.

If I were to ask if you remember watching "Ozzie" on television, would you think Ozzy Osbourne or Ozzie and Harriet? One, the consummate ideal family of the '50s and early '60s living in harmony with respect and politeness, and the other a modern-day family led by a tattooed shell of his former self known as the Prince of Darkness!

Can you imagine those two families living under one roof? They do in your workforce. Not since the immigration waves at the turn of the 20th century have we seen such a uniquely diverse workforce attempting to get along, be productive and understand each other. Managers at all levels are looking for answers as to how to involve, motivate, guide and lead this diverse workforce.

"It's up to us to create a culture where everyone is valued for what they bring to the team, where they have a sense of belonging," says Lee Fogle, CEO of $64 million/16,000-member Duke University Federal Credit Union, with 37 full-time equivalents in Durham, N.C. Where to start in creating that culture? Start by understanding baby boomer assumptions. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 and aged 40 to 58, now make up the bulk of the ranks of managers and executives.

According to Cam Marston, president of Marston Communications, a generational consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C., all generations make three assumptions of the next generation:

  • that the generations that will follow them will want the same things they have, will cherish the same things they cherish, and will appreciate the same things they appreciate;
  • that the generation that follows should "pay their dues" the same way they have;
  • and that the generation that follows has it easier than they did.

Rebellion is the natural instinct of each young generation; the boomers certainly rebelled against their parents during the 1960s and '70s. In turn, "Generation X looked at what boomers had and said, 'I don't want that.' Therefore the path boomers took became invalid to the Gen Xers. They then took a new path with a new definition of success," says Marston.

Generation X, once thought of as "the kids of today," are now 24 to 39 years old. As the boomers retire and vacate positions to be filled by this "new" generation, the transition of power is to some alarming and to others as natural as with every other generational passing of the baton.

In either case, understanding this transition is critical to making it a positive, seamless transformation our members appreciate and support.

Xers Seek Challenges
Although success is defined differently, members of all generations are still interested in performing successfully. "Boomers measure work ethic in time spent, while Generation X measures work ethic in getting the job done in the allotted time and going home on time," Marston says.

Other differences also define the generations. "Xers are hungry to learn and they want to be challenged," says Nancy Donsbach, VP/human resources for $232 million/34,000-member K-25 Federal Credit Union, with 104 FTEs in Oak Ridge, Tenn. "It's not that they are impatient; they just feel that once they've done it, they want more challenges. It forces us as managers to be more on our toes and work harder, and that's positive for everyone."

Linda Brown, SVP/marketing and member services for $91 million/ 15,000-member Service 1st Federal Credit Union, with 48 FTEs in Danville, Pa., agrees. "We find we have to explain our actions to the Generation X employees more so than to the boomer employees.

"As boomers we just did what we were told, whether we agreed with it or not, but this generation wants to do something because they understand why they are being asked to do it. This approach has actually helped us change things and by creating more dialogue, we've resolved issues and been more successful as a result," she says.

Recognize Gen X
All generations have a need for appreciation and recognition; however, Generation X employees want it more quickly. Waiting for the end-of-year review isn't going to have the desired effect on performance for this group. Recognition needs to be quick and specific—and fun!

"We do more celebrations for successes now instead of how it used to be, by just posting the memo on the board for all employees to read," Brown says. "And the fun doesn't stop with just the recognition. Generation X likes to have fun at work and that has spilled over to our training. We found that 'edu-tainment' training was more effective and better retention occurred, not to mention the boomers are enjoying it more as well. We know we get more of a buy-in this way."

Have we turned our work environments into playgrounds? Not at all.

"To Generation X this is just a job to labor through, unless we as managers make the leap to create an atmosphere of work enjoyment," says Donsbach. "The reality is that this is a workforce with a free-agent mentality, and the good workers are going to shop their talents unless they feel a reason to stay with the credit union they are currently with."

Fogle says it is the credit union's responsibility to create an environment that encourages younger workers to stay, but managers also need to realize some will move on. "We'd rather have three to four years of good results and enthusiasm while we help them progress personally and professionally instead of 10 to 15 years of half-hearted service. If they leave us for a better opportunity we helped prepare them for, we're fine with that. We try to meet the needs of our best quality employees so they stay with us, but we know we can't even think we can lock people into a job anymore."

Mixed Culture
The common ground for all these CUs and their successful management of a multi-generational workforce is establishing the right culture inside the CU by blending youthful enthusiasm and seasoned-veteran experience and creating a workplace where everyone is a teacher and a student of each other's values. It's the basic understanding of different perspectives and blending them constantly to refine the best of each that can create the best of all solutions.

The biggest unresolved obstacle between the boomers and Generation X is finding the balance between professionalism and individual expression. "The one area we've not resolved is the dress code. We are having a tough time finding the balance between letting Generation X enjoy the current trends, and knowing we are handling people's money and we need to remain professional," Brown says.

With the growing diversity in our workforce and membership demonstrated by today's clothing styles, body piercings, tattoos and hair colors across the spectrum, being in touch with your membership and the type of future members you want to attract will give you some guidance as to what your membership will accept as professional. Communication and respect are the keys to reaching the proper balance.

Millennials Up Next
For boomers, the learning curve does not stop here. Credit unions are only beginning to see the impact of the next generation, known as the Millennials (sometimes called Generation Y, a term they dislike), moving into the workforce. These are the "Babies-on-board" of the early '80s and the teens of the Columbine era. Just as all generations are programmed from birth to react to the world in certain ways, these experiences are the filters through which they see the world.

Millennials tend to be very confident, since they were raised by parents who believed in the importance of self-esteem. Insecure managers will find this group very unsettling and their can-do attitude threatening to the managers' ability to lead them. Their achievement orientation will have them showing up at work with personal goals already documented on paper. Millennials are used to being organized into teams and have an inclusive mentality. They expect to earn a living in a workplace that is fair to all and they'll use their collective power if they feel someone is treated unfairly.

The Millennials will be looking for leaders of integrity and honesty and will not tolerate anything less. They will want to be challenged and mentally stimulated even more than Generation X. They will look for employers offering growth, development and a clear career path. Finally, they want to work with their friends. Employers who provide for the social aspects of this workforce will find those efforts rewarded. In fact, some organizations are experimenting with hiring groups of friends as opposed to one individual.

Think this sounds like a strange way to run a business? See if the following quote sums up your thoughts: "Children now days are tyrants that contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." Socrates said these words in 425 B.C., and we've experienced many great generations since then. How many great improvements will we see in the generations to come?

Russell J. White is a professional speaker, consultant and author of Debunking the Designated Decoy: Get to the truth in your organization! and Little White Truths: Lessons for Leadership. Sign up for his free e-zine, The Brain Feeder, by e-mailing brain@thinkbigguy.com or by calling 803.329.1566.


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