Liotta: Be Generationally Savvy in the Workforce

Large-scale retirements will cause a ‘leadership deficit’ in many organizations.

June 19, 2012
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For the first time ever, members of four generations are in the workforce together. This requires managers and employees to understand how the people around them think, behave, and engage, generational expert Anna Liotta told America’s Credit Union Conference attendees Monday.

A big part of this means understanding what events people in different generations faced when they were age eight to 18, Liotta says. “These events created an imprint—the higher the emotion, the deeper the imprint.”

The Traditionalists generation (those born 1927 to 1945), for example, was shaped by economic hardship. As a result, Traditionalists tend to be loyal, hard-working, and disciplined, and to hold the belief that charity begins at home.

Three other generations Liotta outlined were:

• Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). This group came of age when the sky was the limit, and is driven by optimism. They were given time to explore their interests, and are career-focused. Boomers tend to be driven, optimistic, and competitive.

• Generation X (born 1965 to 1977). This demographic group is the least understood, Liotta says. The first generation of “latch key” children, this group generally is the most socially awkward and difficult for employers to manage. Generation X does, however, embrace collaboration and cooperation, which bodes well for credit unions. Members of this group tend to be skeptical, independent, resourceful, and self-starting.

• Millennials, a.k.a. Generation Y (born 1978 to 1999). This group is “hyper connected,” Liotta says, says, so “give them solutions that let them stay plugged in with you, or they’ll leave.”

Millennials are collaborative, realistic, and tech-savvy.

The retirement of Baby Boomers and Traditionalists will create a “leadership deficit,” Liotta adds, requiring leaders to develop a balance that meets the needs of a diverse workforce.

Highly sought-after Gen Xer and Millennial employees will ask tough questions about your organization’s unique value proposition, she says, including:

  • Why should I work for or join your company?
  • What does your company believe in?
  • How does your company use innovative technologies to solve challenges?
  • What are my immediate opportunities to build my skills?

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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