Want to retain your top talent? Know what motivates their g-g-generation

In this Big Picture Interview, Emily Saopraseuth and Ryan Kees explore how to nix generational conflict.

Emily Saopraseuth and Ryan Kees are product managers at Emerson Process Management. In October, they presented a session on how to manage different generations at Emerson’s annual Emerson Global Users Exchange event in Denver. The two, ages 30 and 29, respectively, spoke recently with Plant Services about why talent retention depends on understanding what drives different generations.

PS: Your presentation generated some spirited conversation, especially with respect to Millennials’ skills. What do you hope attendees ultimately took away from your session?

RK: We said that there’s a lot of Millennial-bashing out there, so the intent of our presentation was to get everyone on the same page. Everyone has their own little quirks, and there’s a way we can all work together.

PS: What are some of the biggest misconceptions you’ve encountered about the different generations in the workforce?

ES: I think one common thing is with Boomers, it’s said that they’re not comfortable with technology, but in a technical field like the process industry, that’s not true. Millennials, they’re characterized as pampered, entitled; they need a trophy. They’re (seen as) book-smart, not street-smart. They’re iPhone-carrying optimists ready to change the world. With any of the characterizations, in some cases, there are elements of truth. 

PS: What would you say that U.S. plant managers need to know about managing different generations?

ES: I think the most important thing is they all have different personal needs. They all have different things that fill their tank. Boomers, they’ve been around, and they have a lot of experience, and they have pride in their experience and their knowledge. And they want people to recognize that and see that they have something that can be shared and that’s helpful. Xers are generally classified as individualist; they like to be individual contributors. Millennials are just ready to make a difference. They want responsibility; they want to run something; they want to help.

RK: The Boomers I work with, they really think that the more hours you log, the better job you’ve done or the more successful you’ll be. If you’re in a manufacturing environment and your boss is a Boomer and he or she gives you a weird eye because you’re leaving at 4 o’clock and not 5:30, just understand that their generation is built upon long hours, and more hours means more work done or better time spent.

For Xers, they were brought up in a time of (high-profile) corruption, so they oppose authority a little more. If you’re working with a lot of Xers, they may not want to be told how to do anything. Just give them a task; let them do it on their own, and they’ll get it done. You don’t need to babysit them.

The Millennials, the younger generations, they grew up with helicopter parents; their formative years were built around people always helping them around. It’s going to be overwhelming for you if they come to you asking for affirmation of their work all the time and asking you to rate them every single time they do anything. It’s not that they need a trophy; I think it’s just that they want to know that they’re valuable, that they’re contributing to the greater good of the company. And they want to learn skills.

I would say, managers, understand where your people come from, and then you can better deal with them on their level.

PS: How can managers build a bridge between, in particular, Boomers and Millennials?

ES: I think it’s a mutual training aspect. It’s Millennials training Boomers on technology and Boomers training Millennials on the industry, the world that they work in.

PS: Finally, what would you say to a skeptic – why should managers care about this stuff?

ES: I think it’s all about retaining people. If there’s people you really want to retain, they need to be satisfied. For example, Gen Xers are characterized as wanting strong work-life balance, because they grew up as latchkey kids, in general. If you don’t respect their needs for work-life balance, you’re not going to retain that individual. It’s all about retaining who you want to be the future of your company.


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