Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Crossing the Generational Divide"

Last week, I helped out at a three-day conference for insurance and financial professionals. One of the sessions I was most looking forward to sitting in on was "Crossing the Generational Divide," with Preston Swincher of The Center for Generational Kinetics.

I had watched a video on YouTube of Swincher presenting on the topic of generational differences, and I thought he was both insightful and hilarious. (I've also included the video at the end of this post ... see if you agree.)

Swincher helps people understand how generational differences affect the workplace and specifically, communication issues. He started with an exercise where he asked the participants in the room (approximately 100 insurance agents and financial professionals -- most of whom were between the ages of 40 and 70) to think about the most menial job they ever had, how old they were when they started that job, and how much they earned at that job (by the hour). This being Nebraska, the "best" response was $.12/hour or a penny a cow for milking cows. Both of those respondents would surely be breaking child labor laws if they were doing it today, of course.

He pointed out, however, that even if the individuals made 75 cents or less an hour in that first job, "you still saved (part of that) money." Audience members nodded. They laughed when he said, "I'm part of Generation Y. If we earn $30,000 a year, we spend $50,000. It's the new math."

Swincher pointed out that — on average — Generation Y workers go to work at 3-5 years older than every other generation started working. He said, "That changes things. It changes how you look at work, and how you look at responsibility." He pointed out that Gen Y workers are entering the "work" stage at a different "life" stage compared to other generations.

He drew another knowing laugh when he said, "It's our very first job ... so we're probably ... 27."

Swincher asked audience members to think back to all the things they learned from that first job. He asked, "If you could offer one sentence of advice for that generation (Gen Y), what would that advice be?"

The answers included:

  • Hard work never hurt anybody.
  • Remember who are customers are … they are the people who actually pay you.
  • Take pride in what you are doing.
  • Show up and be on time.
  • Act on your commitments, not your feelings.
  • Be different in order to be superior.
  • Be willing to pay the price; get over this feeling of entitlement.

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Swincher said the best piece of advice he's heard so far, from an audience in Dallas, was from an older gentleman who contributed, "Pull up your pants."

Swincher noted that people want to be motivated — they want to be led from their personal life experiences.

When they look at this generation of workers, older generations don't see what's in front of them — instead, they see themselves when they were the same age. The young worker sees his parents, "who may or may not need help restarting a computer." More laughs from the audience.

That separation of perspective is a huge challenge for some people.

Swincher noted that for the first time ever in this country, we have four generations working side by side all at the same time.

Swincher's employer, The Center for Generational Kinetics, looks at what shapes people and how it influences behavior in the marketplace and how we can forecast that.

You can find out more about what Swincher had to say in the next issue of Resume Writers' Digest.

Check out this video with Preston Swincher -- and let me know what you think in the comments:

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