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How to Manage the Challenges of a Changing Workforce

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Generational Changes Could Wreak Havoc in Business

The workforce expectations have changed with the introduction of generations X and Y. Many businesses have lost some of their Baby Boomers who were raised to believe they would work their lifetime for a single company. They were trained to be loyal, hard working, respectful of authority, and to be “a company man or woman”.

Most baby boomer employees stayed with the same employer from two to five years, trying to “pay their dues,” before their being considered for supervisory or management positions. According to Anne Fisher, Senior Writer for Fortune, “As for the old-fangled idea of paying one’s dues in a dull job before moving up to something sexier, forget it: 77% of Gen Xers say they’d quit in a minute if offered ‘increased intellectual stimulation’ at a different company. And they’re intent on managing their own time: 51% would jump ship for the chance to telecommute, and 61% of Gen X women would leave their current jobs if they were offered more flexible hours elsewhere.” (Fisher, 2006)

Born between the mid 1960’s and the late 1970’s, the Generation X population is not as patient about moving up in a company as their predecessors (Boomers, born between mid 1940’s to mid 1960’s). They want interesting, challenging work, somewhat flexible hours, and want to move up quickly. They are a generation of people who can easily get tired of waiting for the Baby Boomers to retire and leave their jobs to become their own bosses. When working for organizations, Generation X enjoys building relationships and working in teams.

Employers have a challenge of keeping all the Generations happy. As the Boomers retire, new generations come onboard. It is important for businesses to understand those people and what motivates them.

Generation Y was born between the end of the 1970’s and the mid 1990’s. This population, according to Business Week, is “60 million strong, more than three times the size of Generation X, they’re the biggest thing to hit the American scene since the 72 million baby boomers. Still too young to have forged a name for themselves, they go by a host of taglines: Generation Y, Echo Boomers, or Millennium Generation.” (Ellen Neuborne in New York, 1999)

This generation has and is growing up globally. They have technology at their fingertips and are used to instant gratification. They tend to be more “green” conscious, have a belief that they can do anything at any time, and they are not used to the boundaries of the other Generations. The best of the workers can be quick, eager to learn, and they can easily change. The worst can be disinterested, easily bored, and quick to leave the organization.

If managers treat all the Generations the same, they could easily be disappointed. By understanding the workforce, businesses can find ways to challenge their whole workforce and keep it running smoothly. The goal is to keep turnover down, productivity high, and the best employees. If any of those three things fails, the business suffers.

Jennifer Craig

Jennifer Craig

Jennifer has over 30 years combined experience in business consulting, human resources, training, organizational development, and entertainment. In the past, she had worked for a variety of organizations including NMSU, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Universal Studios before joining WESST in 1995. Her BA is in Journalism and Mass Communications, and her graduate work is in Training and Development. She was on the founding Board of the local ASPA (SHRM) group, was named SBA’s Small Business Advocate of the Year in 1997; and has illustrated two books. She enjoys writing and painting.