Learning to Manage the Changing Workforce

If you’re like me, in the over-50 age bracket, it’s no surprise that you view the world a lot differently than the younger generation. On the other hand, people from the younger generation will struggle with many of the values and ethics of the older generation. When you consider the diverse demographics of today combined with a multi-generational workforce, it’s easy to see how the differences in values and behavior are having a profound impact in the workplace.

These differences may lead to conflict, which could have negative consequences on your business. Shop owners, in particular, need to understand these differences in order to maintain order and morale.

Our perspective on life is molded by our upbringing. Our ideals are taught to us by our parents and from the events of our childhood, which help to shape who we are and how we live our lives. I am part of the baby boomer generation. I am the son of parents who were brought up during the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and learned that sacrifice and survival are the same.

When I entered the workforce in the mid-’70s, the boss was the center of authority. The “My way or the highway” attitude was accepted as the way things were. If the boss raised his voice, he probably had a good reason. There was no discussion about it. If you screwed up, you knew it, and you vowed to yourself to do a better job next time. Because this was an accepted way of life, many people from my generation adopted this style of management and implemented it into our own businesses. The problem we now face is that yesterday’s management style no longer works with today’s diverse workforce.

Priorities and lifestyles have changed. Past generations mostly focused on family and work. Free time was a luxury that was reserved for that rare vacation. Today, people place a high value on free time for themselves, family, and friends. In my era, overtime was considered a gift. Today, overtime is often viewed as an inconvenience if it conflicts with personal time.

How we approach workers today has also changed. If the boss approaches an employee to discuss an issue and is perceived as being confrontational, the conversation will not go well and will cause a rift between the employee and the boss, even if the employee is dead wrong.

Before we go on, I want to make one thing clear. I am not judging any generation or group of people to be better than the other. Being right or wrong, or should I say being perceived as being right or wrong, doesn’t really matter. Everyone has their own way of thinking and adheres to certain core values that they believe they should live by. For business owners, it becomes a problem when we cannot see beyond these differences.

My own shop went through difficult times recently with personnel after we expanded and built our second facility. With the hiring of new workers, most under the age of 30, we lost that close-knit family atmosphere. Morale and productivity tanked. My first mistake; I had forgotten that skill should never outweigh attitude. Identifying people with the same culture as your company means more than an impressive resume or grade point average from a trade school.

I knew that morale and working as a team was essential. So, in my effort to improve morale and unify the company, I made more mistakes by refusing to accept the differences of the younger generation and by pushing my values on them. This resulted in alienating people and divided the shop even more.

Some of the newly hired employees had to be let go, some left on their own. The reason in both instances however was the same; they were not the right fit. So, after a series of employee turnovers, I eventually found the right people and at the present time, our staff consists of people who range in age from 18 to 60. Learning how to get along and work as a team, however, was another thing.

Morale becomes the foundation for success. Your workforce is a team, no different from any other organization. We all know that a divided shop cannot survive; morale will suffer along with productivity and profits. All teams must find common ground that can hold the group together. In order for any team to be successful, they need to rally around a common cause. A baseball team rallies around winning the World Series; it becomes the chemistry that bonds the team together.

To improve morale at my shop we started to hold open meetings to air out opinions about how to make improvements in the business, particularly workflow. I let the meetings run themselves, only adding my input as a moderator, not an enforcer. From these meetings, I began to understand what was dividing the shop. It became apparent that the diversity in personalities and ideals was causing indifference, dividing the shop. It was not a lack of respect or animosity; it was more about the lack of understanding in the differences among the group.

It also became clear that being the leader meant I had to set the mood of the shop. The mood and culture of an organization is always shaped by the frame of mind of the leader. If I am frustrated or negative, the rest of the shop will follow. In order to improve morale, I needed to remain positive and become a leader that represented the culture of the shop.

This also meant I needed to find ways to bridge the gap between the workers. What is the bridge? Find out what is important to each of your employees. What are their goals in life? What do there care about? Why do they get up in the morning and come to work? What do they want to see in the workplace? Most of all, find that common cause, a goal or series of goals that will inspire the people in your company to rally around them.

Running a business today is more about managing personalities than managing numbers. To have a successful company you need to learn that it’s not all about you, you can’t do it alone. You need good people around, who feel good about themselves. The better the people in your company feel about themselves and about their coworkers, the stronger the company. Your culture must align people and inspire them. When looking to hire, find people who fit the culture of your shop. High-priced talent alone does not ensure success.

The culture of your company is what matters and that can only come from you. Build a company where the culture is so strong, that people go to work because they want to, not because they have to.

This article was contributed by Joe Marconi of Elite. Joe is one of the top shop owners in the country, and one of the 1-on-1 business coaches who helps shop owners through the Elite Coaching Program.

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