What is the generational workforce?

We look for contributors to the website who can bring us valuable information. We reprint the following article with permission from Jay D'Aprile. Jay has a blog, Insurance Industry Talent Tracks which has some very interesting articles on the insurance industry and employment.

Mind the Gap: Workforce Engagement Strategies for the Cross Generational Workforce

The talent landscape in the insurance industry is changing fast. As we can all see, today’s workplace looks and feels different than before. With companies offering work/life balance and telecommuting programs the traditional way people view their daily working routine is rapidly changing.

According to some studies, a Boomer turns 62 every seven seconds; helicopter moms drop their kids off at school before work and leave early to drive them to their next practice or school play; and to top it off, a talent shortage in the insurance industry is looming.

I firmly believe that the insurance industry is facing a double threat: not only must insurance companies attract talent from a shrinking pool of qualified executives; they have to figure out new ways to attract talent. For the first time ever, the nation’s workforce spans multiple generations commonly known as the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, GenXers and the Millennials. Unfortunately what I often hear from my insurance clients is a naive understanding of how best to manage these employees, Most often utilizing a “one size fits all” management philosophy. This is not an option. Each one of these generations view work differently than the others. Each generation brings different mindsets about the workplace and each communicates in radically different ways. To be successful, insurance companies must understand each generation’s idiosyncrasies to meet their needs and to best utilize their talents to ensure success in the future.

Which Generation is Which?

In order to be successful, insurance companies must not disregard a generational perspective on work. On the contrary, insurance companies must strive to understand and appreciate each generation’s approach to work and embrace the diversity of ideas and approaches that the cross generational workforce offers.

Traditionalists (born 1900-1945): Traditionalists are patient, loyal and dedicated. They have a strong work ethic valuing responsibility before pleasure and will rarely turn down a work- related request such as working on the weekends or taking on additional responsibilities. They also respect the chain of command. It is important to realize that Traditionalists have spent the majority of their working lives in formal cultures. When dealing with Traditionalists it is important to respect this mindset and take a formal tone when addressing them. Personal/face-to-face communications is critical to effectively managing this group.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): Baby Boomers make up the current majority of the existing workforce. They are disciplined, loyal and extremely competitive. It would also be appropriate to characterize them as workaholics. By doing the work that they do, they find a sense of self and are the last generation of workers who believe that a person can work for one company their entire career. Baby Boomers believe in tradition, are loyal and often feel uncomfortable with change. When managing Boomers give them your full attention and admit that in certain situations they have more experience. They prefer clear communication of their goals and objectives and are results driven.

GenXers (born 1964-1976):Unlike Boomers, GenXers work to live, not live to work. They are currently starting families and are the folks who coined the term “work life balance.” They are attracted to companies that offer job flexibility and telecommuting options. They are independent, resourceful and comfortable with authority. They value productivity and desire high-quality results. GenXers value challenge and feedback. It is not a good idea to micromanage them. Define what needs to be done, but not how to do it. They prefer open, honest and direct communication. They value casual/informal working relationships and want to be heard. They believe in a “career lattice” rather than a “career ladder;” they do not expect a pension or to work for one company their entire career.

Millennials (Born 1977-1995):Millennials have high expectations of the companies that they work for. They view work as an expression of themselves; therefore, this mobile, goal oriented generation wants to make an impact. Their optimism and energy drive their need to succeed. Millennials were raised to believe that they can do anything that they put their minds to. Because of this they have greater demands of their employers than the generations that came before them.

Having a strong corporate brand image is important to this group; they value teamwork, training, upward mobility and flexibility in work hours and casual dress codes. They want a well-rounded workplace, a commitment to diversity, environmental awareness and office social events. To successfully manage this generation assign them multiple projects and responsibilities and encourage them to share new ideas and solutions.

Be a Magnet for the Generations

As the “War-for-Talent” begins to intensify, insurance companies are going to have to battle with other industries for a limited number of available employees. Forward looking organizations realize the value in having a cross generational workforce. In order to attract talent, create cross generational recruitment strategies that utilize multiple avenues to target this broad audience. The social networking revolution and online job boards that catch the Millennials attention may never be seen by Traditionalists. Likewise, newspapers and radio ads are of little value in attracting the younger generations. It is critical that your company understand how each generation views technology and tailor your recruitment strategy appropriately. Attend college recruitment gatherings, post open positions on job boards, utilize word-of-mouth recruiting, pull out a Rolodex of connections, and retain executive search firms. Fine tune your recruitment strategy to attract the mature worker as well as the college student.

Engage the Generations

I am always telling my clients that a company’s culture is one of the most important things that potential employees consider when making a decision about a career opportunity. Your company’s culture is critical to overcoming the obstacles created by generational differences. A well-defined culture sets the expectations of how employees interact on a daily basis and it can go a long way to assuring potential and current employees that your company values the different generational work styles.

Span the Generational Gap

Understand that each generation has a distinct expectation of how managers should communicate. Traditionalists operate under the mantra that “no news is good news.” They appreciate conventional rewards such as plaques and certificates. Millennials desire quick and consistent feedback. They are looking for involvement, diverse projects and the opportunity to grow and develop. Finally, Baby Boomers believe in fostering a formal working relationship with their peers and superiors. They feel comfortable with scheduled meetings and want to be recognized and rewarded on a company-wide scale.

Here’s a question: If a disagreement occurs between a 38 year old Vice President with an MBA and a 60 year old Director with a 25-year company tenure, who do you listen to? In a time where it is not unusual for younger employees to manage those with more years of company experience and where Traditionalists might be working with closely with Millennials on a daily basis, it is important that managers understand the generational differences and make adjustments to accommodate their staff.

As Generation Y begins entering the working world they will be the largest generation in our workforce. The insurance industry must begin to engage and prepare our future leaders. It will be wise to position the seasoned workers for this transition. Create mentorship programs and taskforces that are comprised of cross generational teams to solve problems. Forward looking companies will make sure to educate managers, supervisors and team members on the differences between the generations as well as how to span the gap and leverage the various ideas and approaches of each generation.

The Bottom Line

For Companies to survive, they must continue to be flexible and agile. At the end of the day, productivity and quality is the barometer of success. If employees want formal meetings, schedule them. If they prefer that a project is managed via e-mail, do so. If they work at their desks while listening to their iPods, don’t assume that work is not getting done, instead, judge them on the quality of their work. If Boomers prefer face to face meetings over the lifetime of a project, let them. If Generation X prefers to work from home and host conference calls and can maintain high performance levels, offer them telecommuting options. Managing a cross-generational workforce is a new challenge and opportunity that must be approached with finesse. The “one size fits all” mentality is long gone; however, the increased productivity and knowledge capital that is created because of this convergence of generations is invaluable. The insurance companies that will be successful during the impending “War-For-Talent” are those that realize this reality and adjust their management style to identify and utilize the talents of each generation.