Cross generational: Don’t let age differences disrupt the workplace

June 9, 2015 By    

In just about every company, there are likely people from two or more generations working together. The age span can be vast, ranging from age 20 to 70 or older. According to Propane Resources, there are four “working” generations today:

  • Traditionalists – Born between 1925 and 1944
  • Baby boomers – Born between 1945 and 1964
  • Gen X – Born between 1965 and 1980
  • Gen Y – Born between 1981 and 1994

Propane Resources also reported overall average ages of employees in the propane industry following a survey of 153 retailers:

  • 6 percent fall between the ages of 0 and 25
  • 17 percent fall between the ages of 26 and 35
  • 20 percent fall between the ages of 36 and 45
  • 27 percent fall between the ages of 46 and 55
  • 24 percent fall between the ages of 56 and 65
  • 6 percent fall between the ages of 66 and older

Based on these numbers, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y represent the majority of the propane industry. Propane Resources says research on these age groups shows their different characteristics. Baby boomers tend to be more competitive, question authority and strive to build a solid career. Gen Xers tend to be more independent, value time, adapt to change and distrust institutions. Then Gen Yers tend to be realistic, cyber literate and value individuality.

Propane industry ages

Source: Propane Resources

Having a cross-generational workforce can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how a company responds to the clash of ideologies each generation brings.

Tamera Kovacs, consultant with Propane Resources who has led an educational session on this topic at industry conventions this year, says each generation is a product of its environment and the prior generation. The economies and situations influence the attributes of each age group.

Marty Lerum, managing partner with Propane Resources, adds companies tend to thrive when they adapt to a mix of generations and take input from future generations. He says companies tend to fail when they refuse to adapt to new technologies and refuse to help younger-generation workers.

“Understanding each generation and what they bring to the table can really build value in a business,” Lerum says.

Differences between generations

Each generation is a product of its environment and the prior generation, says Propane Resources Consultant Tamera Kovacs.

Kovacs agrees that it’s critical for businesses to learn the strengths and weaknesses that are generally tied to each age group to assure the company’s longevity. According to the survey, 70 percent of owners are over the age of 56. As those owners start to plan for retirement, Kovacs says companies benefit by preparing future generations for leadership roles early in the game.

“With athletes, they peak in performance and eventually decline,” Kovacs says. “Leaders follow that same curve.”

Based on information from John A. Davis’ book “Enduring Advantage: Collected Essays on Family Enterprise,” Kovacs says when a leader is peaking, have a successor ready to follow the same procedure. Make the transition not when the leader is already gone, but make it when the incoming successor is ready to lead.

Megan Wilkinson is associate editor of LP Gas magazine. You can reach her at 216-363-7930 or mwilkinson@northcoastmedia.net.

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