Teamwork in a new age

Supplement - Future of the Industry Report

Adapt your management or work style to bridge the generational gap in your greenhouse.

March 28, 2016


Are you a Millennial who’s frustrated with your lack of earnings, success, or even finding a place in the industry? Are you a Boomer who’s having trouble relating to and managing new, younger workers? Are you a Gen Xer who is irritated by having to work with both of them? Whichever the generational group you most closely identify with, getting along with the other generations in the workplace has become a prickly business for some.

Bringing the next generation up in the workforce is proving to be a challenge for all involved. Many have valid questions about whose responsibility it really is to do so, be it the employer or the employee themselves. There is a distinct clash of ideas when it comes to what younger employees and older employers expect from one another. With roles in businesses shifting between the generations, the gaps in mutual understanding seem to be getting wider.

Where do you fit?

Part of learning how to get along and manage better in the workplace is figuring out where you fit best within the generational dynamic, and how you individually approach both work and life. While generational generalizations are just that, there are certain traits and attitudes toward work and life that are common among the groups. While you might technically fall into the Millennial age boundaries, you may find your philosophies are more similar to those of Boomers. Or, as a Gen Xer, you might have more in common with your Millennial counterparts than your Boomer parents. As a younger Boomer, you may find you identify more closely with your Gen X colleagues. It’s up to you to decide where you fit best.

Once you’ve figured out where you fit into the generational equation, it then becomes your job to gain better understanding how each generation views work/life balance. As an owner or manager, it’s also about figuring out how to both adapt your management style and clarify expectations to improve relationships with those whose work/life philosophy differs from your own.

Roles are changing

It’s important to note that management styles are already changing organically within the industry as leadership roles are handed down to the next generation. And as such, we need to take a closer look at how the “next generation” will be guiding and managing the green industry. And before you get ahead of yourself and assume that I mean to say Millennials are taking over, let me remind you that there’s another entire generation that’s been patiently and quietly waiting its turn: Gen X.

While the media has focused an immense amount of attention on the communication disconnect between Boomer owners and Millennial employees, not much at all has been paid to Gen X and how they fit into the equation. While Gen X (birthdays from 1965 to 1980) will make up a smaller percentage of the work force by the time Boomers hand over their thrones, it’s important to recognize that many Millennials don’t yet have the experience and maturity to take charge. Therefore, it’s crucially important to understand how Gen X works and what it needs in order to lead.

Stuck in the middle

Determining where you best fit within the generational dynamic and understanding how other age groups approach work and life will help foster relationships with co-workers.
Photo: Laura Watilo Blake

The Gen X crowd is firmly lodged between two much larger and extreme generational groups. Speaking for my Gen Xer compadres, we’re accustomed to having to balance between the wants and needs of both Boomers and Millennials. Basically, we’re Jan Brady. We’re used to Marsha stealing our thunder and Cindy driving us nuts. As such, Gen Xers tend to take a more moderate viewpoint on many things, from politics to work/life balance. A Gen Xer isn’t necessarily going to follow all the rules or do things the way their Boomer boss wants them to; but they also aren’t going to indulge Millennial employees in many of their expectations.

As employees, Gen Xers don’t want to be micromanaged. We’re used to working alone, unsupervised and without kudos. Tell us what you expect then leave us alone to get the job done; we work hard. As the original digital geeks, we’re very tech savvy. We don’t expect or need a pat on the back, but we do expect to be paid fairly. Unfortunately, the lone-wolf “let me get it done” approach can leave the Boomer owner/manager feeling unacknowledged and disrespected.

Helicopter management

Millennial employees were brought up under the much more watchful eye of the Helicopter Parent (some of whom, ironically, are Gen Xers). They often expect Gen X managers to be more collaborative and work with them as opposed to giving them marching orders. But that is the last thing many Gen X managers want to do. A Gen X boss is typically going to give you basic instructions, then leave you to it to figure it out on your own. Millennials that expect hand-holding from their Gen X manager may often feel personally neglected, all the while unknowingly annoying the heck out of their boss. But, if or when a Gen X boss does dole out the occasional compliment, you can be sure you’ve truly earned it.

As a Boomer or Gen X boss, there is one particular dynamic that may make your intergenerational communications most difficult for you: It’s that whole collaborative work thing. Younger employees seem to enjoy more face-time with managers and desire a bit more guidance than previous generations. While Gen Xers experienced a cell-phone and tether-free childhood (so much so to cause fierce independence) and Boomers had the value of hard work pounded into them (so much so to cause rebellion), most Millennials were under the constant close watch of their parents, both in person and digitally. Many are used to someone looking over their shoulder at all times, and many require more supervision.

Two-way street

Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s the manager’s responsibility alone to adapt their management styles for younger employees. Employment is a two-way street as far as I’m concerned. Employees of any generation must do their part to improve communication. However, as a manager, the key to better connecting with younger staff is perhaps is learning to be more personable, without getting too personally involved.

Advice to Gen X and Boomer managers

You may not have gotten any participation trophies or pats on the back for just giving it your best, but younger employees may not relate to or understand that attitude. Many Millennials don’t see any reason why they can’t expect to get the most out of their job, with great pay and plenty of kudos, while still having adequate time left over to focus on personal goals. Boomer and Gen X parents raised them with these expectations at home, but Boomer and Gen X managers didn’t necessarily have that kind of upbringing themselves; therefore, we tend to apply a very different set of expectations at the office.

Given the generational communication gap, it can be challenging to get the kind of work you want out of younger employees unless you’re willing to adjust your communication style. If you don’t first clearly define the terms of your one-on-one working relationship and clarify your job expectations of them, you’re going to leave younger employees confused. New employee orientations, clear descriptions of how you expect your new employee to communicate with you, and clear work/life boundaries are key. Don’t want them texting, Tweeting or Snapchatting half the day? You’d better put it in writing and have them sign it, from the get go. Expect them there on time every day and not leave before a certain time? Better put that in writing, too.

Advice to Millennial employees

All generations must work together to create better communication with one another, Halleck says.
Photo: Laura Watilo Blake

Employment really is a two-way street, as I mentioned earlier. Employers don’t owe you a job, nor is it their job to worry about your personal life. You’ll find that Boomer and Gen X managers will be less than sympathetic to, or interested in, your personal goals or challenges. They simply do not feel it is their business or place to care about your personal issues, or pave your way to success. While you may feel emotionally neglected and disenfranchised by the seeming lack of concern for you as an employee, your success is ultimately your own responsibility. So, what can you do to better relate to your manager?

If you want to encourage your employer to feel more personally invested in you as a person, then you’re going to have to make an effort to learn about what they value. If your boss is a Boomer, then they probably want to see you show up on time every day, and they’ll want you to listen to them and acknowledge their ideas and success. Do so, and they’ll be more open to working with you on your needs. If your boss is a Gen Xer, learn that they may value independence and a more distinct separation of work and home life. Even if you make a mistake, they will be happier that you tried to accomplish the job on your own first, instead of hitting them with a million questions. The less you talk to them about your personal goals or problems, and the more you focus on your work, the more willing they’ll probably be to help you get ahead; so you can hit your personal goals and fix your own problems.

The making of a mentor

Younger employees tend to bring more of their personal life to work. This may not make you comfortable as a manager, but you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it while still getting what you need from them as an employee. While it’s not your job to hold their hand, you can choose to adopt a more mentor-like management style.

A work mentor is not a personal counselor. A work mentor is someone who is going to help an employee grow professionally. When someone has professional success, it has a cascading benefit on their personal lives and goals. That is what you must clarify upfront to younger employees, that you care to a degree that they have a happy personal life, but that you are not part of it. Your job is to help them grow and achieve professionally at work, and that when they succeed in their job, it will bring them the stability and success they need to further their personal goals.

After you’ve made them sign your attendance and social media work policies, be sure your Millennial employee knows you’ll also be meeting with them once per month for a face-to-face check-up on how they’re doing. That way, you both get what you want.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, marketing strategy, digital content creation, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies.