Next Gen Know-How

As a pest management leader, you’ve probably noticed an interesting shift in your workforce in recent years. Your incoming employees have different expectations, behaviors and attitudes than previous new hires. No, your company is not slowly being taken over by an alien race—but it is being pervaded by a new generation.

In fact, 35 percent of U.S. employees are now Millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Also known as Gen Y, Millennials are the generation of folks born between 1981 and 1998. As of 2017 (the most recent data available), 56 million Millennials were working or looking for work—outnumbering 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor force. Millennials are now far ahead of the 41 million Baby Boomers, who represented a quarter of the total.

With these major changes in the workforce, it’s critical for pest management leaders to educate themselves about the goals, preferences and views of differing generations. “It is important for all leaders to understand and be self-aware that people have different influences and experiences throughout their lives that shape who they are, how they think and how they interact with people,” emphasizes Kevin R. Laycock, marketing manager, professional solutions with FMC Global Specialty Solutions in Philadelphia.

At PestWorld 2018, Laycock discussed the differences between employees from varying generations in a presentation entitled, “Leading the Next Generation: It’s More Than Managing Millennials.”

“As a leader, you need to be adaptive to each situation and team member,” he explains. With five different generations in the current workforce, the ability to adapt is more important than ever. Keep reading for a few tips to help you better understand and manage a staff of wide-ranging generations.

Tip #1: Take tech skills into account.

There is no question that generations respond to technology differently. While younger generations are more likely to embrace tech, older employees are often resistant to new-fangled gadgets and gizmos. In other words, today’s work teams often range from tech savvy to technologically challenged—and everything in between.

“Millennials are unique because they are the only generation to grow up in an analog world and then have a digital adulthood,” points out Laycock. “Baby Boomers and Gen X were well into their adulthood and professional careers when technology exploded and have had to learn on the go. Technology use is not second nature to Baby Boomers and Generation X like it is to iGens, and to a lesser extent, Millennials.”

iGens are those who were born after 1999, so they are 20 years old and younger. While this generation currently represents only 2 percent of the U.S. labor force, these numbers will continue to grow in the coming years. These “digital natives” have grown up with the world at their fingertips, so they will expect their employers to offer high-tech tools and communication methods.

Tip #2: Understand varying career goals.

As a Baby Boomer nears the end their career, their goals will obviously be much different from an iGen’er who is just getting started. It’s important to keep this in mind as you manage employees from varying generations.

“People have different goals and motivations, which can be driven by generational differences and the career stage that someone is in,” Laycock says. “For example, a Millennial or iGen’er are earlier in their career and may be looking for various experiences, where a Baby Boomer is nearing retirement and is more interested in stability of a role and company.”

Tip #3: Be open to different communication styles.

We all know communication is the cornerstone to every successful business. If you’re not communicating properly with your staff, your employees are less likely to be productive and more likely to leave. According to one study, effective communication leads to improvements in productivity of as much as 25 percent, especially when employees feel engaged with their work and connected with their co-workers.

Of course, the catch here is that every generation prefers a different type of communication. “Each generation, with some exceptions, default to a certain communication style,” says Laycock. “In my experience, this is the genesis of why we are talking about generations more than we ever have. It is not uncommon for there to be three different communication styles within a team. That inherently presents challenges to the team right off the bat.”

He says senior leaders and business owners, generally Baby Boomers, prefer a less formal communication style. They like one-on-one conversations either over the phone or face-to-face. On the other hand, Generation X is all about communicating via email, with text in a distant second place.

Then there are the Millennials, who prefer texting followed by social media apps. “Millennials use work email only because they have to,” Laycock emphasizes. “I just named 95 percent of the workplace, and none of the generations prefer to communicate the same way. This brings challenges to an organization when you have leaders, middle managers and individual performers trying to communicate differently.”

Tip #4: Don’t make assumptions.

Once you discover a new employee is a Millennial or a Gen Xer, you may think you’ve got them all figured out. Not necessarily.

“Just because someone falls into a generation based on their birth date, don’t pre-determine their preferences or style,” Laycock stresses. For instance, while he falls into the Millennial category, Laycock is actually a Gen X/Millennial “cusper,” also known as an Xennial. This micro-generation has different attributes from both Millennials and Gen Xers.

“It’s important to listen to people and have an open dialogue about goals, development areas and areas of interest,” he adds. “After all, people are people, and regardless of communication style, being an outlet for feedback and input is where leadership is critical.”

Tip #5: Be flexible.

When it comes to effectively leading an array of generations, flexibility is key. “Leadership is one of those continuous, lifelong learning skills. Even the best leaders challenge their current methods and explore new leadership methods,” says Laycock. “Good leaders are flexible in their approach. Having an understanding of the macro generation preferences and ways of working assists not only the leadership of people, but helps when developing and evaluating organizational structures and reporting relationships.”

By Amy Bell

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