Everything! They represent the four major generations that are employed today and are the people you rely upon to keep you in business.

Every generation has some unique motivational differences, which is your reason for concern. On the other hand, these four groups have many things in common such as wanting to be appreciated for the work they do. The differences lie in the things they want for themselves both personally and professionally. The more you understand about each of these generations, the easier your job will become.

“Generation” Defined

Age and common experiences typically define a generation. For example, Seniors were born between 1922 and 1942. Common events that define them include World War II, the Korean War, Labor Unions and the “Golden Age of Radio.” This article is about how to successfully work with a diverse population that is defined by each generation (you fall into one of these categories too).


Let’s start with the 52 million Seniors since I’ve already mentioned them.  Some of you either are Seniors and/or employ them. These people lived through the Great Depression. They are a hardy bunch and are dedicated, hardworking and honorable people who traditionally respect authority. Most are conservative spenders and still don’t fully understand computers and technology; some simply don’t want to know and will tell you so. Many of them are working for extra income or because they found that retirement was boring.

Baby Boomers

The Boomers are the largest group of the major four. They account for roughly 73 million people born between 1943 and 1960. They are defined by the events of Civil Rights, the Space Race, The Pill, Women’s Liberation and the Vietnam War. This group is driven. They are generally optimistic, are concerned with health and wellness and are willing to go above and beyond when needed. Most, but not all of the people of this generation, have accepted new technology as a fact of life. Some are better at technical things than others. They often rely on Gen X and Gen Y to teach them how to use hardware and software.

Generation X

Born between 1961 and 1980, this group is known as Generation X, Gen-xers, or simply X-ers. These people are defined by high divorce rates among their parents, AIDS, “Just Say No” (to drugs), and the Challenger Disaster. There are roughly 70 million Xers. They tend to be risk takers, independent thinkers, self-reliant and practical. They also expect to have fun at work!

Generation Y

Gen Y is composed of approximately 70 million people born after 1980. This population is still growing in size. Defined by the Internet, school violence, and Reality TV, they tend to seek immediate gratification. They hate being micro-managed. They are optimistic and have confidence in their ability to learn quickly. They demand perks and recognition from their employer, and if they don’t get these things they quit!

Your Challenge

Your challenge is clear—how to successfully lead and manage each of these generations and still run your pizzeria. The solution to the challenge is not as clear. Your job is to successfully hire and manage people from each of these groups. If you are a Senior or a Baby Boomer owner or manager, you may even be experiencing what’s been called the generational jitters. The solution lies in understanding who all of these people really are—what makes them tick?

Understanding Generation X

In managing Gen X, be aware that this group knows that many seniors and Boomers are highly critical of them. Their work ethic tends to be different from that of older adults. Their strengths lie in their technical skills and their thirst for knowledge. Traditional methods of supervision will quickly turn them off. Generation X is motivated by the following:

A manager who earns his or her respect.
Respect based on position as the owner or manager.

Freedom to challenge authority.
Being told what to do.

Being part of a highly motivated and committed team of people.
Loyalty to the owner or manager.

Opportunities for advancement based upon work performance.
Promotions based upon longevity.

Personal satisfaction with the job
401k programs; life insurance, stock options, and other perks.

Opportunities to learn new things.
“Same old; same old.”

Generation X wants to make a difference. They enjoy working on teams with teammates that they respect. They also expect to be meaningfully rewarded for their accomplishments. They tend to get set high goals for their personal financial success and are starting to realize that it won’t happen over night. Many Gen Xers have taken second or even third jobs to supplement their regular incomes.

What Can You Do?

  • If you want to keep Gen X motivated to stick with you for the long haul, there are some things that you can do to help promote longevity with your organization.
  • Offer work incentives that your competition can’t offer, either because they don’t want to or don’t know how. A flexible work schedule is generally high on Generation X’s list of wants.
  • To learn even more about what incentives they value, ask them. Don’t make decisions for them. Don’t assume you know. Gen X employees have their own ideas concerning incentives. Another golf shirt and cap with the store logo on it may not cut it!
  • If you want to keep them happy, provide lots of training opportunities. They won’t stay with you if they’re not learning. They will go some place where they have opportunities to learn and grow with the business.
  • Recognize that Generation X has a short attention span. On the plus side, they have stamina as well as energy and a good understanding of computers and the Internet.
  • Don’t give the impression that you are out of step or that you are still living in the 20th Century. This generation is on the leading edge and they expect you to be too!

Understanding Generation Y

Gen Y is the fourth generation of employees that I mentioned earlier. Most of these people will hold minimum wage jobs until the year 2005 because of their youth and inexperience; something they are not particularly excited about. Money is important to them.  They are tired of working for peanuts. They are also seeking non-financial rewards. It’s interesting that this population is accustomed to being taken care of by their parents and teachers. Many of their parents have enrolled them in music and dance lessons, sporting events, boy/girl scouts, extracurricular school activities, etc. In short, their lives have been planned and managed for them since birth. In addition, this generation is sometimes viewed as gutsy and outspoken. They are sometimes in a job for only a few months and want to know when they are getting a raise and/or a promotion. Does this sound familiar? This is the kind of challenge that many of you are facing.

One of the problems in managing Generation Y is that many of them don’t see work as a learning experience or a job as a stepping stone to moving up. They will take a job for minimum, or slightly above minimum wage for purely economic reasons. Their hearts are not in it; they think nothing of walking away from a job despite the fact that you’ve invested time and money in training them. Loyalty—what loyalty? Generation Y is motivated by the following:

Individualized praise and recognition for a job well done.
A group or team “Thank you.”

Being treated as adults.
Being treated like children.

More responsibility as a reward.
Being expected to do the same job without opportunity to learn more.

Flexible work schedule.
No time off to attend a concert, school dance, or sporting event.

Meaningful work.
“Don’t ask questions. Do it because I told you to.”

To be respected.
“I’m the boss here.  I know more about this than you do, so listen up.”

Critical feedback given in the helping spirit.
Criticism that hurts, devalues and alienates.

Managing Gen Y can be a challenge, especially if you are a Senior or a Boomer.  At times you may even feel like you’re overseeing the work activities of your children or grandchildren. That may or may not be what you had in mind when you hired them. However, research and experience has proven that mentoring Gen Y is an effective technique, especially if a Senior or Boomer is the mentor. Older adults tend to be viewed by Gen Y as intelligent due to age and life experiences. Gen Y and the seniors and Boomers are often more compatible than you might think.

What Can You Do?

  • Get to know them; understand them and appreciate them for who they are and what they bring to the job.
  • Define expectations; leave nothing to chance. Make sure they know what you want from them.
  • Mentor those who are open to the idea. Consider setting up a formal workplace mentoring program.
  • Keep in mind they are loyal to themselves. Get them working in teams.  Help them understand the benefit of collective thinking and teamwork.
  • Capitalize on their zest for learning. Provide opportunities to try new things, and encourage calculated risk-taking.
  • Learn from them. Most will be excited to share their expertise with you.
  • Communicate every chance you get. Don’t assume anything. Gen-Y is used to being in contact with people. They are the beeper and cell phone generation. You can always reach them if you need to.  Keep them informed when it comes to work-related issues.
  • Satisfy their need for change and more responsibility by giving them an opportunity to do something they wouldn’t normally do during the course of a typical day.
  • Don’t disregard their opinions just because they are young; get used to recognizing talent in all of your employees regardless of age.

Gen X or Gen Y is in Charge, Now What?

Let’s flip the coin. You are a Gen X or Gen Y owner or manager and you are responsible for hiring and supervising the activities of seniors and “Boomers” among others. They are more than twice your age—old enough to be your parent or grandparent. You’re thinking, “What do they know about people my age; how am I ever going to be their boss? We’re not even interested in the same things.  Where do I begin?”

What Can You Do?

  • Begin with understanding.  People are people. The conflict is in the thinking. Gen X and Gen Y want “it” and they want “it” now. Seniors and Boomers worked hard and long for what they have and believe that the younger generation should do the same. Older workers may not like working for a young pizzeria owner or manager, but they were brought up to respect authority, unless the individual in charge is totally out of line. Many Seniors and Boomers are actually quite easy to manage. Give them an assignment that they view as worthwhile and they will get it done. They will even come back to you and ask for more work.
  • Ask for his or her advice; everyone enjoys giving advice. They may even have some great ideas to share.
  • Get their buy-in as well as that of the rest of the team. No one wants to work for a dictator regardless of age. The most successful owners and managers get their employees involved in decision-making.
  • Maturity as a result of life experiences is another plus. More often than not, the problem is related to the insecurity of the Generation X or Generation Y owner or manager when it comes to supervising an older adult. Gen X and Gen Y often see themselves as technology-savvy employees. They may find it frustrating that seniors and Boomers don’t know as much as they do about computers.  However, don’t take it personally if you are an older adult and are open to learning new things. The old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a bunch of nonsense!
  • Involve your older, more experienced employees in interviewing applicants for job openings. As with anyone who is asked to do this important work, make sure they know what to ask and what not to ask, as well as what to expect during the interview. Make them valued members of your recruiting team.
  • Recognize that most seniors and Boomers have a lot to offer in experience and skill. As with any employee, don’t make the mistake of under-utilizing them because you are afraid of them.

In Summary

Like it or not, most pizzeria owners are hiring and leading a diverse workforce. The more you know and are willing to accept about each generation, the more successful you will be. Trying to convert employees to your generation’s way of thinking is usually a losing battle. You are not a missionary working to convert the world to your religion. You are a professional with a business to run. This article only touches the tip of the iceberg in explaining the differences between generations and how to manage them. There are plenty of books and articles on this subject; I encourage you to read more.  But most importantly, get to know your employees as individuals, not as just a bunch of people on your organizational chart.

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