Managing your kid's contemporaries

June 1, 2004
SOONER or later, no matter how young you are now, if you are a manager or business owner, the time eventually will come when you will hire someone young

SOONER or later, no matter how young you are now, if you are a manager or business owner, the time eventually will come when you will hire someone young enough to be your kid.

Simple demographics tell us that this is happening a lot in today's job market. Baby Boomers may have flooded the workplace a couple of decades ago, but almost half of today's workforce was born after 1964. With every passing day, the percentage edges higher as Generations X and Y enter the workforce and another 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 55.

One of the most common complaints we hear is that it is difficult to attract and retain quality employees. While demand for trucks and trailers increases (See ACT Research forecast, Page 28), competition for talent will only intensify.

According to a quarterly survey by Manpower Inc released June 15, employer confidence within the manufacturing sector has steadily improved for the past four quarters. More help wanted signs are posted in the manufacturing sector than any time since the beginning of 2001. And for the workplace in general, 30% of the 16,000 employers responding to the Manpower survey said they would be expanding their payrolls in the third quarter of this year.

So it was not surprising that an audience filled with senior management paid close attention when Bruce Tulgan, an author of several books on the generation gap in the workplace, gave his thoughts on how to get the best from young talent.

Generational conflict is one of the few things in life that does not change. Every generation at least since the ancient Greeks has been pessimistic about what the world will be like when the next generation takes over. Yet we are here today, flourishing in a world that is the product of countless generations who left this earth a little better off because they lived here. Despite their tattooed and punctured body parts, the odds are great that this generation will do the same.

“In contrast to older workers, GenXers are not experiencing all the radical changes — technology, globalization, downsizing, restructuring and reengineering — as a workplace revolution. Everything was like this when we started our working lives, and most of us kind of like it this way,” Tulgan says. “Moreover, these changes are leveling the playing field for our entire generation, and we now have the rare and historic opportunity to transform the very meaning of success and security. Experience and seniority no longer rule the job market. What matters in the new economy is one's ability to add value and to sell that value on the open market. GenXers know instinctively that their success will not be defined by the hierarchy of a particular corporation, or any other establishment. Xers look for security in options rather than commitments; in mobility rather than stability.”

Tulgan raced through his presentation in hopes of leaving time for questions, but he simply had to truncate the results of his company's interviews with more than 10,000 people in 700 companies.

A detailed report on what Tulgan told TTMA begins on Page 34. Meanwhile, here is a sample of some of the things he has told other audiences but didn't have time to tell TTMA:

  • Never stop recruiting, even when you do not have a job opening that urgently needs to be filled. The pipeline of talented people should be kept flowing.

  • Be creative in the way you compensate employees. They should be paid in line with their contributions. “Nothing is less fair than paying high and low performers the same.”

  • The real solution is not to get really good at old-fashioned retention, but rather to get really good at managing much more fluid/flexible employment relationships.

  • Don't waste the orientation process. When new hires are learning about the company, don't just give them paperwork to fill out and directions to the break room. Use that time to get them enthused about their jobs and the company they work for.

  • Manage people as individual human beings, rather than as a group of faceless employees. Many managers may say that they don't have the time to do so, but the reality is that they don't have time to manage people poorly.

Another generation is coming into the workforce. Like those who came before, it has been shaped and molded by their life experiences. And like those who came before, those life experiences are radically different than those of the previous generation. The challenge for management is to get the most from what they bring. They, after all, are your company's future. And in a rapidly changing world, that future began yesterday.

About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.