Now that people are living well into their 80s, as opposed to their 40s as was the case a century ago, it is not entirely uncommon to find a 20-year-old working alongside a 70-year-old.
In fact, for the first time in history, four generations are working side by side: the Traditionals (born pre-1945), the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980) and the Millennials (born after 1981).
The Paranet Group Inc., a Wauwatosa-based development organization for high-level manufacturing executives, recently released a report titled, “Sharing the Workspace Across Generations,” which featured the perspectives of more than 200 survey participants.
BizTimes Milwaukee conducted extensive interviews with a dozen Milwaukee-area employees to explore how they view the other generations, how companies can improve generational relationships, how generations can learn from each other and more.
How the generations describe themselves
Diverse, open-minded and optimistic are some of the words Amanda Goetsch, a sustainability manager at Muskego-based InPro Corp., uses to describe her generation: the Millennials.
“We are definitely energetic and passionate about whatever is of value in our lives,” she said.
Generation X is hardworking and goal-oriented, according to Bob Makoutz, an engineering team leader and electrical engineer at Port Washington-based Modern Equipment Company LLC.
“Generation X definitely also likes to be challenged and likes change,” said Rachel Lloyd, human resources manager at Menomonee Falls-based Glenroy Inc.
Paul Grangaard, chief executive officer of Port Washington-based Allen Edmonds Corp., characterizes Baby Boomers as very driven and focused on success.
“Baby Boomers are the generation that does the work and doesn’t come back until they’re done,” added John Galando, a distribution center manager at InPro.
The oldest generation, the Traditionals, are hardworking, responsible and tolerant, said Gary Norton, vice president of Milwaukee-based Busch Precision Inc.
Paula Ott, a Traditional who works as an InPro sales analyst researcher, describes herself as loyal and fearless.
“I have lots of experience doing what I’m doing, and that makes me pretty fearless,” she said. “When you know what you’re doing, it’s very difficult to have apprehension about your job.”
How the generations View each other
The older generations typically view themselves as more diligent and dedicated than their younger counterparts.
“We didn’t look at the clock like the young people who work eight hours then go home,” said InPro purchasing manager and Traditional John Harrison, referring to Gen X and especially Millennials. “I work until I get the job done, and I believe in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. I don’t think young people today have that same attitude.”
He said the first things younger generations today ask about are salary, vacation and raises. When he began his career, those were all questions that were not initially discussed.
Traditionals also do not always use up all their vacation days like the younger generations do, and they do not call in sick nearly as often, according to Norton. He asserts that he sees these habits increase in each succeeding generation.
The Traditionals, on the other hand, are viewed by younger generations as quiet and provincial, said Baby Boomer Paul Schulz, vice president and chief financial officer at Milwaukee-based Max Weiss Company LLC.
“They came through the Great Depression. They’re very conservative, afraid of change, and if they were hurt or things weren’t right, they internalized it all,” Schulz said. “Millennials and Generation X think Baby Boomers don’t talk a lot; they should work with Traditionals. They just did their business and kept their mouths zipped.”
Baby Boomers are thought of as hardworking and loyal, said Lloyd, a Gen Xer.
“They take a lot of pride in what they do,” she said.
According to Michael Johnson, another Gen Xer, Baby Boomers have a vast wealth of experience and knowledge, which makes them great trainers, but that also means they can be resistant to change.
Baby Boomers, however, do not need their work praised as Millennials do. The latter, said Johnson, an operations manager at Waukesha-based DUECO Inc., need acknowledgement that they are hitting their goals.
While he and Lloyd said Gen Xers sometimes lack inclusiveness due to their self-sufficiency, Millennials are more collaborative. This newer mindset prompted Glenroy to recently remodel its workspaces, moving from closed-off cubes to a more open, interactive environment.
Galando, a Baby Boomer, said the Millennials’ need to collaborate is vastly different from the older generations who were “almost afraid to give their thoughts and ideas.” While it used to be seen as a weakness for a manager to seek the opinions and ideas of others, now he said it is seen as a weakness not to.
Additionally, Millennials crave challenges and variety, Lloyd said. For example, one Millennial at Glenroy moved into his third position in just three months. While Millennials are credited for their technological expertise and their adaptability, their work styles are occasionally questioned by older generations.
For instance, Schulz said Millennials listening to music and texting during the workday create a blur between work and home life.
“They’re hard workers, but as soon as they get to a problem, they give up easily,” added Makoutz.
He attributes this lack of resourcefulness to growing up with the Internet, which gave them everything at their fingertips.
Makoutz and Mike Sekula, a Gen Xer who is InPro’s vice president of supply chain management, also said some Millennials work at a slower pace and lack their sense of urgency.
Additionally, Galando believes that Millennials do not take criticism as well as the older generations and are more likely to leave a job if they become dissatisfied.
As for Gen X, Millennial Sarah Schramm views that generation as sharing the same “impeccable” work ethic as Baby Boomers but requiring more flexibility.
“It was much more common for the Boomers to have a (spouse) that stayed home or only worked part-time,” said Schramm, an Allen Edmonds store environments specialist. “Gen X often has families and daycare pick-ups. They work hard, but with flexibility offered they are able to better manage having families with two parents maintaining full-time employment.”
Setting the record straight
From lazy to job jumpers and from old-fashioned to disloyal, all generations find themselves labeled with negative descriptors.
As mentioned earlier, Millennials are thought of as too tech-dependent – something Goetsch said can be true.
“I see some people pull out their phones when you’re trying to talk to them or pull them out in a meeting, and that does not look good for our generation,” she said.
Another Millennial, Eileen Vilma, however, said their technology habits do not have to get in the way of work. The human resources generalist at Milwaukee-based Stainless Foundry & Engineering Inc. said listening to music at work or occasionally checking social media updates is frowned upon by older generations, but she believes people can still get as much work – if not more – done.
Vilma said the entitlement perception of Millennials, however, is true to an extent.
“You think you should get paid more, deserve more and are worth more because you’re educated,” she said. “You should be starting at $60,000 vs. $35,000. I think there’s some truth to that – I’ve seen it.”
Millennials also often are deemed lazy. Schramm, furthermore, believes the lazy and entitlement perceptions happen because older generations often worked on farms or in blue collar jobs, whereas now many younger people are working at corporations or as artists.
“Both my parents had blue collar jobs, and they worked really hard,” she said. “They don’t view me as lazy, but I know the work they put in to get where they are, and I have great respect for that. I can see how there can be a misunderstanding.”
Plus, Schramm said Millennials have a lot of drive. “When they have something they want to do, they’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter what it takes,” Schramm said.
As a Gen Xer, Johnson believes that people assume his generation is tech-savvy, although that is not always the case.
“It’s an assumption that as a Gen Xer you know a lot about software and servers, but the truth is we’re continually learning and pushing ourselves to learn what is second nature for Millennials,” he said.
Another misconception about Gen X, according to Johnson, is that they are disloyal. While he admits his generation may not be loyal to a company, he said they are loyal to effective bosses.
Makoutz added, “I’ve been here 16 years. If a company is loyal to you, you’ll be loyal to the company. I think that would be for any generation.”
Some perceptions of Baby Boomers are that they are greedy, tech-challenged, old-fashioned and unwilling to change.
On the contrary, Galando said he is not motivated by money, and he is somewhat tech-savvy as he recently completed his Six Sigma Black Belt certification.
Galando acknowledges he is probably old-fashioned, but said he has changed a great deal in order to be a successful manager of people from a variety of generations.
Finally, Traditionals say they are often not as valued as they should be.
“When you get to be 70, people think you shouldn’t be doing anything anymore,” Ott said. “But I don’t take no for an answer. People fault me for this because they say I should rely more on other people, but this is my motto: If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”
Ott said she feels like she is the president of her own company at InPro, and everyone should take that attitude no matter their generation.
What they want in a company
Millennials want to work at a company where they feel they are making a difference and can achieve a “life-work” balance, according to Goetsch.
“What’s important first is family, health, happiness and mental stability,” she said. “Work is important obviously, but if you’re not healthy and happy outside of work you won’t perform as well in your career.”
Goetsch believes that having more free time outside of work means having more time for family and engaging in other meaningful activities. For her, that means sitting on the Jefferson County Sustainability Task Force, learning more about sustainable lifestyle practices, exercising and cooking.
Millennials also, however, want to have fun and be creative and innovative, said Schramm.
Gen Xers find upward mobility and good salary, insurance and benefits as the top attractions of a job, according to Johnson and Sekula.
“Also, a company’s reputation,” Sekula said. “Awards and write-ups can weigh heavily on a person’s natural desire to want to be part of something great.”
Baby Boomers want to be involved in strategic planning and to play a role in the direction of their companies, Schulz said.
At this point in their careers, they are focused on career accomplishments and legacies, as well as preparing for retirement.
Like Millennials, Traditionals want flexibility in their jobs, according to Ott and Norton.
Although he works full-time, Norton likes to adjust his hours in order to go to doctor appointments or family events.
The other factor Ott and Norton find appealing about a company at this point in their careers is convenience. Both said they would not still be working if they had long commutes.
That does not mean, however, that Traditionals do not seek satisfying careers.
Harrison said he is attracted to companies with longevity. He cares about the quality of their products, their future business plans and their roadmap for success.
“We look for companies with a future,” he said.
What the generations can learn from each other
All generations agree that they can learn from the experience, wisdom and work ethic of the older generations.
Schramm, for instance, said she has a lot of respect for her Baby Boomer boss who worked his way from a store employee to director of store environments.
“I look up to him,” said Schramm, a Millennial. “I know that I’m not going to come into my position and automatically have everything given to me. I have to work for it and earn it. It takes a long time to learn what he’s learned.”
Goetsch, another Millennial, has specifically learned from the older generations how to avoid jumping to conclusions and how to better communicate.
“A lot of us don’t pick up the phone to call people and don’t have social etiquette, so effectively communicating, listening and slowing down are all things I’ve learned from other generations.”
According to Lloyd, Millennials and her generation, Gen X, are more likely to hop around and explore different avenues. While that does make them worldlier and more attuned to different processes, she said they could learn from the Baby Boomers how to dig into a matter and become an expert on it.
Although Traditionals are scarce in today’s workplaces, some qualities that younger generations can learn specifically from them include patience, persistence, self-discipline, responsibility and resourcefulness, according to Traditionals Norton and Ott.
That’s not to say, however, that Traditionals cannot learn anything from their younger counterparts.
One of the reasons Norton continues to work at the age of 70 is to keep abreast with the younger generations, stay up to date on the latest software technology and see new ways companies are operating.
Harrison, another Traditional, agrees.
“The important thing is you have to think young,” he said. “If you think about how it was 35, 50 years ago, you’re not going to be successful. You have to keep up with what’s going on in today’s current society.”
Traditionals, for example, can learn about technology from Millennials, which is something Baby Boomers and even some members of Gen X said as well.
Millennials also have new ideas.
“It’s fun to watch the Millennials come in,” said Sekula, a Gen Xer. “They have fresh ideas no one has looked at.”
Lastly, Millennials can teach the older generations how to have fun at work, said Makoutz, a Gen Xer.
Since the Millennials entered the workforce, Makoutz’s company has allowed more flexible hours, implemented casual Fridays and started occasional pingpong meetings.
“I’m not used to all the freedom they ask for, but it’s refreshing they ask for it, so we get to share in that,” Makoutz said.
Schulz, a Baby Boomer, said every company is better off learning from the incoming generations.
“Every generation has something new,” he said. “If you don’t have all that newness come in, then you become stale. It’s important for the older generations to understand what the younger ones are bringing.”
Although the generations may have their differences, all can agree they want success.
“We all want to see the company succeed,” Vilma said. “It’s just that we go about it differently.”
Harrison and Norton added that everyone wants the satisfaction of a job well done.
“It’s important everyone is a member of the team,” Harrison said. “If everyone pulls in the same direction, we can all be successful.”