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Creatively Managing the Generational Gap

[ 0 ] February 18, 2013 |

Leaders are often challenged to connect with and motivate team members outside of their own generation. I’d like to think that those of us in the creative field are a little bit better at this, specifically with younger generations as us creatives are “hip” and potentially more technically savvy than leaders in other functions. But reality would quickly set in when a Generation Y team member would talk to me about foursquare (which I had to look up to make sure I correctly represented the name), and they weren’t talking about the game with the red rubber ball—of which they knew nothing about.

I recently read an excerpt[1] of an interview with Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky[2] that explained the four generations currently working and motivating factors for those generations. Dr Grodnitzky describes those generations as such:

  1. The Silent Generation/Traditionalist, born 1925–1945. These workers are traditionally motivated by their desire to leave behind a legacy and are extremely loyal. Typically these folks worked for the same employer for most of their career and rarely took risks—they accepted what was served up to them.
  2. Baby Boomers, born 1946–1964. These workers work hard (and long hours) to achieve success. They measure success by the things they acquire, thus compensation is extremely important to this group.
  3. Generation X, born 1965 to 1981. These are the children of Baby Boomers who saw their parents work extremely hard and long and are rejecting that way of working. In fact, this generation prides itself on how productive they are within their day without need to work excessive overtime. The practice of work/life balance is extremely important to this generation, and they want to be measured by their output, not the number of hours they sit at their desk.
  4. Generation Y/The Millennials, born 1982-2000. These workers live a “blended life”—technology/being connected is not a choice, but a way of life. Responding to a work email while watching prime time television—they were already on their iPhone/Droid posting to Facebook, whereas other generations are more likely to needed to boot up their computer or, at the very least, go find their phone. These folks are motivated by their peers—they want to work with people they like.

As I think about how these different motivating factors and characteristics apply to our world at the in-house creative agency, I had a few takeaways:

  • Clients may think our Generation Y team members are 24-hour employees because of their connectedness, which is great for customer service but could lead to unrealistic expectations outside of business hours. It’s one thing to answer an email, it’s another to work on a new design request at 9pm—or is that my Generation X tendency surfacing??
  • At several organizations I have seen overpaid creative staff because team members of the Baby Boomer generation haven’t changed jobs and a salary cap was never imposed. This had led to high budgets for these creative groups and those that I am familiar with are currently implementing cost-cutting initiatives. Creative leaders must accept a certain amount of risk in setting and abiding by salary caps, otherwise you risk the “golden handcuffs” scenario—your employees won’t leave because no one else will pay them what you are, and your team and its creative output may become stale due to a lack of turnover.
  • If your team is mostly comprised of an older generation, Gen Y candidates may not be interested in joining due to a lack of similar-age peers. It’s probably worth creating peer interview/discussion as part of the interview process that allows candidates to socialize with potential co-workers.
  • We’ve discussed before how managers are significant factor in an employee’s job satisfaction—for Generation Y employees this is further magnified. It’s important for creative leaders to really know and engage with their employees—don’t keep them at arm’s length…accept their Facebook friend request (if you even have an account, maybe that’s step 1…setting up a Facebook account).
  • Those of us outside of Gen Y may have challenges being open to non-standard schedules for Gen Y employees. These team members identify with “as long as the work gets done on time and well, why does it matter when I get it done?” It’s important for creative leaders to be flexible (with all employees) and open to a new means to the end.
  • Know whether time or money is more motivating to each of your employees—would you rather make 5K more or have 5 more days of vacation time? Would you rather receive a day off or a bonus as a reward?

And remember, not all team members within these defined generations fall in line with these generalizations, so be sure to build a personal connection with each member of your team and require the same of the managers on your team. (And now go look up foursquare; if you are already familiar, congrats on being more hip than I am).

For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email cella@cellaconsulting.com. This article was written by Cella Vice President and General Manger Jackie Schaffer.



[2]      “Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky is a clinical/forensic psychologist and mental health expert turned organizational consultant on leadership, communication and change. He works with business leaders to help them effectively integrate the various generations into their workforce.” (Source: Inner Circle Newsletter June 2011)

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