Employee Performance Management for the New Economy: Multiple Generations Working in Harmony?

Generation gaps aside, employees young, old and everything in between are increasingly finding themselves working as a team – congregating at the same water cooler, kicking the same photocopier in frustration. Now more than ever, successful employee performance management requires a careful balancing act, the kind not easily executed in that quintessential management attire, the suit and tie.

If only the key to motivating and effectively managing young employees could be found in a clothing store . . . Unfortunately reality is rarely so straightforward. Instead, managers need to identify the different learning styles and expectations of their workers, even if those traits don’t divide neatly along generation lines.

Over-achievers, under-appreciated?

The most common complaint leveled against Generation-Y employees (also known as “millennials”) is undoubtedly the sense of entitlement they harbour – the feeling that good pay, job security and benefits are all just part of the deal they signed when they clawed their way through post-secondary education. Whether or not you endorse this point of view (many would argue that the recent economic downturn has made realists of these one-time prima donnas), it’s easy to see how the prevailing attitude and conditions of a generation could shape a person’s outlook.

For example, while baby boomers have a reputation for working hard and performing tasks without question, their younger cohorts are seen (rightly or wrongly) as being high-maintenance and demanding. At least in popular perception, this latter group also tends to be less concerned about reaching the top of the corporate ladder and has grown up in an era that sees workers constantly jump from job to job, or even career to career. For them, employee rewards and recognition could go a long way toward keeping them tethered to the same position for longer. But it’s unlikely they would be satisfied without some significant change in responsibilities or working conditions along the way.

Gen-Xers fall somewhere in the middle, generally chasing some quality of life beyond work and willing to sacrifice career advancement to achieve that balance. Those who’ve embraced technology find more in common with Gen-Yers, while those who reject it end up making themselves and their message irrelevant.

Open your mind on management style

So how do you get the best results out of your multi-generational staff? It might not always be cookies and cream – unless of course you work at a bakery or an ice cream shop – but the most successful approach will be the one that accounts for these differences. And in fact you may find that a singular approach makes no one happy; rather, your employee performance management method should be more flexible and actually encompass a few different methods capable of adapting with the individual.

If your twenty-something employee finds himself being more productive when he can work on the go, don’t be afraid to embrace his style, as long as you know you can count on the quality to be there. In this case that level of trust becomes a form of employee recognition, albeit a less explicit one. Likewise, there’s nothing that says you have to apply those same standards to a baby-boomer who prefers to confine her work to a more rigid 9-5 timeframe. Just because she doesn’t answer emails or phone calls at all hours of the night doesn’t necessarily show a lack of ambition or efficiency; it’s simply a different way of doing things.

And while baby-boomers carry on without much need for employee recognition or rewards, the Gen-Y craving for validation is well documented. These individuals have grown up with constant rewarding for tasks older generations might consider trivial (the participation ribbon being the best-known example). So it’s not unreasonable to expect such an employee to lose sleep over a lack of recognition after a job well-done.

With older employees working into their golden years to top up retirement savings, companies shouldn’t expect this Full House-style arrangement to change any time soon. Effective employee performance management, then, won’t be a blanket solution. It will be one that considers accountability, rewards, recognition and expectations against the individual and his or her needs.

May, 03, 2013