The Five-Gen Era: What You Need to Know | SOS Podcast
Generational traits and characteristics are often referenced as a way of identifying those things that separate us. In a workplace setting, what matters most are strategies that can be used to build comradery and teamwork. In this episode, generational expert Cam Marston shares insights on ways to build teams and work as one through more effective leadership practices.
Joe White (00:00):
Generational differences. Are they real or just something we've been led to believe? Hello, and thank you for joining us today. My name is Joe White and I'm the host of Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success. The SOS podcast series is produced for the ongoing development of front-line managers. With each episode, we take on a topic of interest and interview subject matter experts for the benefit of our listeners. In today's episode, we're going to talk about generational differences, something that I've heard a lot of discussion about in recent times. My guest today is leadership expert Cam Marston with Generational Insights. Welcome Cam, and thank you for joining us today.
Cam Marston (00:43):
Thank you Joe. I'm glad to be here.
Joe White (00:45):
Awesome. Well, I want to jump right into this. This is a topic that we get so many questions about and I was sharing with someone recently. When you talk about leadership and the folks that we engage with, especially with these podcasts, there's a number of different perspectives, but at the end of the day, we're talking about the same thing, we're just coming at it from a different approach or a different angle. So, this notion of generational differences and how it really factors into the workplace today is very important. So I'm going to open up and just ask you why is this something that business owners, company owners, senior executives... why is the notion of generational differences something they really need to be paying attention to?
Cam Marston (01:30):
Most people believe that their preferences around the workplace are going to be shared by other people as well. I, Cam Marston, have preferences about doing a job this way or that way. I have preferences about communicating in the workplace this way or that way. And my assumption is, those who surround me will share those preferences, and therefore, we'll all get along. But so often, many of the challenges and much of the conflict in the workplace is about misinterpreting or misunderstanding another person's workplace preferences. There are many different ways to slice these preferences, one of which that we study is generationally. So I, as a generation X-er have these preferences and may assume that the millennials may share them. But when I find that there are differences in these preferences, what I don't do typically is spend a moment and say, "Ah, that's a millennial generational preference." I usually make an attack in my head, perhaps of something like, "What's wrong with them? They have no work ethic. They don't respect authority. They don't respect wisdom."
Joe White (02:36):
Cam Marston (02:36):
So I leaped to a conclusion. What we do in understanding these generational preferences is work with our clients to say, "Hey, there's a better way to work with your team once you understand where they're coming from." And I think that's significant to every workplace.
Joe White (02:51):
Yeah, again, this is a topic in every working environment, every sector that we were involved with, this whole notion of emerging generations and the differences and "why don't they look at the world or view the work workplace the same way that I do?" These discussions, we hear them all the time.
Cam Marston (03:12):
It's been my business for the past 20 years. And it's usually the senior people both in age, as well as in responsibility, the senior people in the workplace, working or asking questions to understand the junior. It's not always that way, but that's usually the way it is. What do I need to know to better connect with and engage and motivate and retain my workforce? And it's been an issue since generation X-ers entered the workplace, [that's] when these questions began to arise. Now we've got the X-ers as managers. We've got the millennials also as managers, usually kind of entry-level skill. And right on the horizon now, just visible on the horizon, is the next generation. Some call them iGen, some call them Gen Z. So their workplace motivations and preferences are going to become very important, very soon. So it remains a big topic. And our approach to it is understanding is the way.
Joe White (04:11):
Great points. We specialize in focusing these podcasts at the level of the organization, where the interface with the employees and are in some cases with the clients exist. And it's on that shop floor level with the supervisors, the managers, the foreman. What about this topic is important to them? What is it that they really need to know? Why is it something that they really need to be paying attention to?
Cam Marston (04:38):
First, I think that the frustration that these front-line supervisors, front-line managers, face is often, like I said a moment ago, "What's wrong with them?" With a finger pointing at them, "What's wrong with them?" And what I think they need to know and understand is that with some changes in behavior, these front-line managers and supervisors will see some more success. There is titled leadership. And these front-line managers and supervisors have titled leadership. And because of titled leadership, they can, I use this word loosely, but force people to behave a certain way. They can mandate that things get done one way or the other. However, what we try to teach these front-line people is that high-performing teams are not high-performing because you're the boss. They're high-performing because the members of the team want to work there and want to work a certain way. And when we teach them how that is, these front-line managers and supervisors see their influence and their success grow. And for that reason, I think they should be interested in understanding the generational preferences that we study.
Joe White (05:49):
I'm going to test a theory with you. I've been in the workforce about 30 years. And when I first came into the workforce, you would typically respond to a supervisor with trying to clarify, understanding, making sure you knew what the objectives were, but you really didn't go into the whole, "why am I doing this?" It was more about what, and when and not how. I mean, not the why. So, I'm going to ask you, is that something that's more relevant today? Is that real? Or am I just imagining that the why is suddenly a bit more important?
Cam Marston (06:26):
It is more important and there are a couple of reasons for it. First, many of today's youth and I describe that as any entry-level workforce -- let's say up through 30 -- have been inspired, have been told to go out and find a good job that makes them happy. And in that command, in that directive from their guidance counselor, from their graduation speaker, from their parents, whoever it is, they enter the workforce trying to determine what a good job is and what makes them happy. And a part of that is the answer to the question, "why? Why am I doing it? Why am I doing it this way?" It is the need to feel fully, I guess, educated on the components of the job. Secondly, you're finding today in the younger workforce, a real call to mission. And it's a mission of, "why am I doing this? What is the greater purpose here? What is the greater purpose of XYZ organization?"
Cam Marston (07:25):
And it's not just, "do the job to get paid." If I can go get a job elsewhere, there are plenty of people that want me, but I'm going to find a place that has a mission that I embrace. Now you're not going to see people embrace that mission minute by minute, every day, once they're clear on it, but it is going to make them want to come to work, it is going to make them double-check or reconsider other job offers when they feel like they are working for a mission. And part of that mission is understanding why. "Why are we doing this? Why are we doing it this way?" So to answer your question, Joe, yeah. The "why?" question has shown up and it is relevant and it is, it can be a pain in the tail of the supervisor who says, "Listen, man, I don't want to have to answer why just do this, just help me out and do this the way I've instructed you. I've got history doing this job. I've got a legacy doing this. I know what, how, and when you need to do it, just believe me."
Cam Marston (08:25):
However, if they refuse to answer why, they're going to find a disengaged and perhaps disloyal workforce eager to search elsewhere. And again, the workforce isn't going to walk around and change the mission. They're going to wake up in the morning and say, "I'm going to work here because of their mission, and when I get there, I'm going to do it." So why continues to be a significant question. And there's a third reason. And that is oftentimes the youth feel like their ideas and their fluency with technology will yield a quicker, better way of doing things. That's when you survey the generations and you say, "What does your generation bring of value to the workplace?" The youth often, I would say, always reply with, fluency and understanding of technology, fluency in technology and understanding of it.
Cam Marston (09:14):
So their question why, is also trying to help them find better, quicker ways to get things done. And there are two different ways you can go on that attitude, but go back to your basic question, is the question why being asked more today than in the past, and is it important to answer? Yeah, it is. It is, to both of us.
Joe White (09:34):
You definitely triggered a memory with a recent article that I read talking about how organizations today... historically we've heard a lot about the need to have a mission statement and that's so important in creating your strategic plans. But one of the trends now that we're seeing is that mission statements are being supplemented with statements regarding social causes, that organizations are now tying themselves to social causes. And it's really going back to that notion that you made about the younger generations, having a preference to work somewhere where they can really relate and respond to the mission of that organization. So that why is all bundled in that and seems to be increasingly important.
Cam Marston (10:20):
I couldn't agree more. I would like to shout that from the rooftop. The mission of the organization and when I say that, you've touched on something I realized, I didn't clarify. When I say mission, it's just about who we are as an organization what did we do, but why we do it to make the world a better place, which ties into those social causes that you just mentioned. If you're recruiting, and you're trying to get a workforce out there, and you don't have something clear in your materials, whether that be a website, whether that be a flyer, whatever it may be about why you do it to make the world a better place, you're tying one arm behind your back in your recruiting efforts. Yes, money and benefits and all that matter. But that mission, that social cause is a key element to recruiting more talent. And I think will be for a time to come. There's kind of almost a Baby Boomer feel of social justice when the Boomers were coming of age that we're seeing in the Millennials right now and the Gen Zs, the generation younger than the Millennials.
Joe White (11:22):
That's great insight, a lot of good advice in that dialogue. Cam, in an earlier conversation we had, you had shared some concerns specifically involving Gen X managers. Explain that a little bit more. I'd like for our listeners to benefit from that discussion as well.
Cam Marston (11:43):
Yeah. I'm happy to. It's perhaps one of my missions these days is to help that Generation X manager understand what it to be successful. And perhaps more importantly, I don't like to focus on the negatives, but there's no way around this, understand what they may be doing wrong.
Joe White (12:02):
Yeah. I was going to say, if you would, and just to put this in context, help us understand who are the Gen X managers?
Cam Marston (12:07):
Yeah, Gen X managers. So first Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979. And more than the birth years though, are the characteristics. And so, as I describe this, your listeners may recognize themselves or other people, but the Generation X manager, there's a little bit of a back plot to it. It's the latchkey kid who has come of age and is now leading teams. And that latchkey kid was raised in a time where he or she, and this is more prevalent in males than females, by the way, he or she had to "figure it out" themselves. As one of the fingerprints of the latchkey kid, they had to figure things out themselves, due to the necessity of parents working. So, as a child in their home, they were often alone figuring things out.
Cam Marston (13:00):
"What do I get for a snack? What do I do after school? How do I solve this homework problem?" And the universal reply from the parents was, "I wish I could be there, but you're going to have to figure this out yourself." The Generation X-ers have taken great pride in figuring things out themselves. And they've entered the workforce with this as a badge of honor. And as they, Generation X-ers entered the workforce a while back, they were also told in the workforce to figure things out for themselves, the boss, the manager, the supervisor, "Yeah, figure that out, you know what we need done, figure out how to do it." And the Gen X-er today is now in a position of leadership, a front-line manager or supervisor or director, whatever their title may be... cherishes this figure it out yourself attitude, and they can cite things that they figured out themselves, that they are now fluent in, a process, a sales process, a process on the warehouse floor, whatever it may be.
Cam Marston (13:54):
And they look at the generation who's younger than them, the Millennials, and say to the Millennials, "You know what? You've asked me a great question and I do know the answer to that question. However, I'm not going to tell you the answer to that question. Instead, I'm going to tell you to figure it out yourself, because when I was in your shoes and was told to figure it out myself, I did. And I learned it in such a way that I'll never forget it. So Millennial, I could tell you the answer. I could show you the answer. I could show you the way, but I'm not. And it's going to be the greatest favor I could ever do to you is to throw you back into the boiling water and tell you to figure it out yourself." And the X-er is proud of this direction that he's given this Millennial or this Gen Z.
Cam Marston (14:43):
However, let's look at it from the other point of view and this is what often gets lost. When you think of the Millennial generation, how much have they had to figure it out themselves? Through no fault of their own, their life has been facilitated with answers. Adults have often been, Siri or Alexa, "Hey, what do I do?" And there is someone there to deliver the answer. It was a parenting style that influenced the raising of the millennials of there to help, there to aid, there to assist. And when the Millennials hear, "Figure it out themselves," what resonates in them is, "He doesn't like me. My boss doesn't like me. If he liked me, he would tell me the answer. Because he's not telling me the answer because he's telling me to figure it out myself, it's obvious that he doesn't like me. I came in here to find a good job that makes me happy, if he doesn't like me, I'm probably not going to be very happy, very long. I wonder where my next job will be?"
Joe White (15:46):
Cam Marston (15:47):
So in the same moment that this Gen X manager says, "Figure it out yourself." The Millennial is hearing, "He doesn't like me." The same moment the Gen X answer is saying, "I'm doing the best favor for this young man that I can do," that young man is saying, "I wonder where my next job will be?" And I said this a little while ago, and I want to say it again. A high-performing team is not based on the manager's direction. It's based on the individual's desire to do the job, the way that they see best to do it. And if this young Millennial is saying, "Boss, can you help me with the answer?" Then that's what matters, and the Gen X manager needs to say, "Yeah, I can. Let me tell you what to do. In fact, let me walk you through it myself," not, "Figure it out yourself." In my experience, Millennial [and] Gen Z turnover is more driven by Gen X managers than any other thing. And they will go to that manager and say, "Hey, boss, I got a quarter more down the street, a quarter more an hour, 50 cents more an hour."
Cam Marston (16:49):
I can promise you if that boss we're helping that Millennial in the way that I've just described they should, that quarter, that 50 cents wouldn't matter.
Joe White (17:01):
The way you piece that together, it makes total sense. And look from both perspectives and both feel that they're doing the right thing. And it's just that the needs of each are not necessarily being met. "I'm going to teach you the way that I was taught that worked for me, why won't it work for you?" I mean, that makes complete sense and I can certainly see how that would play out in an actual situation or circumstance.
Cam Marston (17:29):
When I work with these Gen X managers, and I'll give you an example last week... I was in front of an audience, a rare appearance in front of an audience in these COVID times. But I laid that out similarly to what you and I just discussed there just a moment ago. And there was one guy in the room that literally put his palm to his forehead and went, "Oh my gosh, that's it. That's what I've been doing and that's the root of the problem." Now what we've not even discussed here, there are two more things to discuss. I want to make sure we filled this vessel with the solution. Number one is the Baby Boomers who may work for the Generation X-ers are team-oriented people and figure it out yourself doesn't work well for teams. The Boomers like to be together and to acknowledge one another and work and help with each other.
Cam Marston (18:17):
So when the X-er's managing the Boomer, that figure it out yourself workplace style doesn't work either. And the final thing is, "well, what do I do?" There's got to be a Gen X manager who maybe has just identified himself in this content or someone who he or she is close to, and they're asking the question, "Well, what do I do?" Well, here's the answer. You answer the question. You show them, you walk them through and you may say to yourself, "That's going to take so much time, that's not the way it should be done. That's holding hands. That's treating these people with kid gloves." Maybe so, from your point of view, but the alternative is you're going to have to find someone new to hire. And I can promise you the little bit of time you spent showing these people what the answer is, the effort required to find and hire somebody new is well-worth your effort.
Cam Marston (19:08):
And secondly, that individual who you're now working with is going to say, "I was looking for a good job that makes me happy. And he, my boss, he likes me. He spent some time with me, that makes me happy." So go find these people, I tell my Gen X managers, if they have a question, answer the question, but become very interested in them as well. It's one of the other remaining pieces of the puzzle is to be sincerely interested in them. One of the other fingerprints of the Gen X management style is, "I've got all the friends I need, we don't need to be friends, let's just work together. I'm not interested in hearing about your weekend. I don't expect to have to talk to you about mine. Let's just work together. Good Lord, please don't show me any baby pictures. I have a hard time acting interested in that. Let's just work together."
Cam Marston (19:55):
And you can hear from the Millennial description I gave a moment ago, that that attitude ain't going to go over very well either. Show some interest. Be sincerely, genuinely, interested, ask questions, check in, ask about weekends, smile and nod at the baby pictures. And you're going to find a more engaged workforce with much less turnover.
Joe White (20:16):
All right. Great. Those are great points, Cam. And think about a conversation that I had recently with someone that was sharing with me, that their daughter actually left the company they were working for. And I asked her, I said, "Well, what was the motive? I'd love to know, with the nature of work that I do." And she shared with me that her daughter wasn't receiving feedback. And she's fairly young, she's right out of college. But the catalyst, the motive for her leaving the company that she was with, is because she didn't receive any sort of performance feedback. And that was very important. Now in my generation, no news was good news.
Cam Marston (20:55):
Joe White (20:56):
If I saw a manager once a year that wanted to talk about performance, that was more than enough. And here's an example of someone that's recently out of college that says, "Look, you're not giving me feedback and guess what? I want it, and because you're not providing it, I'm leaving."
Cam Marston (21:13):
Joe White (21:13):
So, I want to ask in your experience, in your opinion, are younger generations generally more collaborative and what does that really mean for a supervisor or foreman?
Cam Marston (21:25):
I think the story that you've just given is very typical in the workplace. In fact, I'm hearing new hires into the workplace this year, or this COVID time, are really reluctant to enter a workplace where they won't have collaborative opportunities with their peers. In other words, the employer is saying, "We'd love to hire you, you'll work from home on a regular basis." And the new hires are going, "Well, how frequently will I be able to collaborate?" What we're seeing is this effort to collaborate and to be a part of the team, to be a functioning and participating member of a highly collaborative team. Now, you can imagine, let's take this young lady that you mentioned a moment ago who left due to lack of feedback. You can imagine her boss was saying, "I am giving you an opportunity to perform. I am giving you an opportunity to show off. I am not going to micromanage you."
Cam Marston (22:18):
And it's interesting that the very behaviors that one generation calls micromanaging the other generation calls collaborative feedback, collaborative teamwork. So I, as the X-er manager may say, "I'm not really interested in micromanaging you." And when the Millennial says, or the Gen Z says, "Well, I'm looking for feedback," me, the Gen X-er says, "Well, that sounds like micromanagement. And I'm just not going to do that." It's not, to that next generation, it's not. It's input, it's feedback. And there are two components to it. Number one, that Gen X manager needs to gather the team on a regular basis, whether it's under the same roof or in a Zoom call and say, "Hey team, how's it going? What's going on out there. Tell me something you all have learned this week about the job. Tell me all something you've learned this week about a customer who you interact with, or tell me something you've learned about your peer and your counterpart."
Cam Marston (23:15):
It's a light conversation about what you've learned. So pulling the team together, number one, and letting them talk, so everyone else can hear what's going on. But number two, is reaching out individually to each team member to say, "Yeah, we were on the Zoom call, I saw you on the call, but I really want to talk to you now, what's going on with you personally." It's a phone call, it's a one-on-one. And those two things, or a level of collaboration that today's current management and leadership thinks it's micromanaging. And they've got to get over that because that next generation is looking for it.
Joe White (23:50):
Yeah. I feel like we almost need to unlearn, especially with my background experiences that I've had, I almost need to unlearn some of the practices that I grew up with and was exposed to early on in my career.
Cam Marston (24:07):
Yeah. I think that's the case for many people right now.
Joe White (24:10):
Yeah. We're almost out of time, but there's one question that I have, and this is one that I get often. Let's face it, Gen Z is now coming in the front gate and they're going to be coming in droves for several years. What is it that I really need to know about Gen Z? If I'm a contractor I'm a maritime company, mining company. What is it that I really need to know about Gen Z?
Cam Marston (24:35):
I think we can expect a lot of the same levels of collaboration with them, perhaps a little bit more as well. One of the things that I'm most concerned about, and this is not cheerful, but this is reality, is the mental health and mental stability of a generation that has been isolated due to these COVID times more so than any generation past. And I think mental health, which has been coming up on the radar for years now, is going to be something we're going to be, have to be more acutely aware of, particularly with Gen Z, as teammates and learning to identify poor mental health and what to do about it. I also am concerned a little bit about communication skills as a result of the isolation that they may have seen in their lifetime due to again, to this COVID time here. We will continue to see a reliance and dependence upon technology, which is, gosh knows, there's a lot of happiness that can be found absent technology, but we're going to continue to see a lot of reliance and dependence upon technology.
Cam Marston (25:36):
So, collaboration, keeping an eye on mental health and a technology-dependent generation, technology-resourceful, the other side of that resourceful point might be dependent generation. And as they're entering into the workplace, time will tell exactly what their specific workplace preferences are. But I think you're going to see a demand as well for personalized schedules. And I know many of your listeners say, "Well, that's just not possible with what we do." I recognize that, but that demand, that interest is going to be there, be aware of it, be ready for it.
Joe White (26:10):
Great points. I just made a note. I'm definitely going to be revisiting Gen Z. I'm going to probably give it a year or so, but I'd love to come back and revisit specifically some of the traits and characteristics that are taking shape with Gen Z.
Cam Marston (26:25):
Well, it gives me a timeline. I got a year to get some good content together on them. We've got them on the radar, hopefully in a year, we'll have something specific to share.
Joe White (26:34):
Thank you so much. Well, Cam, I really appreciate your time today. As always, very insightful, love to talk to you, just a wealth of information that you shared, and I really, really appreciate your time.
Cam Marston (26:45):
Thank you, Joe. It was wonderful to connect.
Joe White (26:48):
Thank you so much. Okay, contact information with Cam is available in the show notes for this podcast. In the event that anybody would like to follow up with him, I know Cam has a wealth of information available and would love to talk with you. For those listening, I hope you found the discussion of value and benefit. I know I have. If so, please help us spread the word. Share the podcast with others that you know of that may have interest. The SOS podcast series is brought to you by AEU LEAD, a consultancy dedicated to the needs of frontline managers. For additional information, or to follow us on social media, please use the links provided in the show notes. That's it for now, stay safe and thanks for listening.
About our guest, Cam Marston
Cam is the leading expert on the impact of generational change and its impact on the workplace and marketplace. As an author, columnist, blogger, and lecturer, he imparts a clear understanding of how generational demographics are changing the landscape of business. Marston and his firm, Generational Insights, have provided research and consultation on generational issues to hundreds of companies and professional groups, ranging from small businesses to multinational corporations, as well as major professional associations, for over 20 years.
Marston’s books, articles, columns, and blog describe and analyze the major generations of our time: Matures (born before 1946), Baby Boomers, (born 1946-64), Generation X (born 1965-79), Millennials (born 1980-2000), and iGen (born 2000+). He explains how their generational workplace and marketplace preferences affect every aspect of business, including recruiting and retention, management and motivation, and sales and marketing.
His two DVD training videos have been best sellers since introduced in 2005. Marston also offers short, to the point, training micro-videos designed to be viewed on the go focusing on Sales & Service, Management & Retention, and Recruiting.
Marston’s half to full-day training program, “Leading Multi-Generational Teams,” features the Gen-Flex® process which teaches leaders how to be flexible in their generational workplace preferences to get the best performance out of their teams.
- Motivating The “What’s In It For Me?” Workforce (2005)
- Generational Insights (2010)
- Generational Selling Tactics That Work (2011)
- The Gen-Savvy Financial Advisor (2017)
Where you can find Cam
- What’s Working with Cam Marston podcast and radio show
- Every Friday on Alabama Public Radio