"Thursday Night Starts the Weekend"
by Ronald C. Reece, Ph.D.

Motivation! Motivation! Motivation! Why can't my employees be motivated like I am?

Robert's company began in 1997 after his management position was eliminated in a merger with another bank. He wrestled with the decision "To Entrepreneur or Not to Entrepreneur". He entrepreneured and Keepsafe was born.

Within one year he was working 75 hours a week and Robert had to evaluate, "Am I My Business or My Business' Keeper?" He stepped back, realigned his perspective and became his business' keeper. Robert set some well-defined goals and objectives. Today, Keepsafe has 32 employees. His "little company" isn't so little anymore.

Diversifying services and even developing a computer software package to enhance security systems has necessitated a work force with extensive skills in computers and software design. Robert has found that in order to get the expertise in those areas, he is looking to a younger group of workers. Therefore, the ages of his employees range from 56 to 19. He also has two independent contractors ages 62 and 63. Keepsafe employs salespersons, equipment handlers, installers and knowledge workers. Virtually everyday, Robert asks himself, "How can I motivate these people? How can I keep them loyal to Keepsafe? Important questions in today's tight labor market.

At age 40, Robert is mid-way between his youngest and oldest employees. What he is learning is that the different generations have significantly different ideas about work. He is also learning that there is risk in assuming that what motivates him will motivate his employees. Robert is at the younger end of the Baby Boomers.

A good example is a conversation he recently overheard between two employees ages 30 and 55. The 30 year old invited the 55 year old to go out with a bunch of fellow employees by saying, "It's Thursday night. The weekend's here." To which the 55 year old replied, "But we have to work tomorrow." Not just an energy difference, but more importantly, a values difference!

Those persons born between 1920 and 1945 are the Depression impacted generation. They work to put food on the table and roofs over their families' heads. This generation believes in duty, team, and loyalty to their employer. They are married to their jobs and expect the same loyalty in return from their employer.

Boomers question everything. Born between 1946 and 1964, they think they can fix the world. To the Boomer, the ultimate job is self-satisfying, fulfilling and challenging. Also, Boomers often date their jobs, instead of marrying them. They believe that things will always get better and they will always be able to have more.

Then there are the Xers, a generation born between 1965 and 1976. X stands for "unknown" because demographers could determine no central defining characteristic. They were raised in the shadow of the Boomers and blame them for their mass consumption and environmental pollution. Job-wise, Xers may be transitory and are likely to move on if the job doesn't "fit". Freedom and operating on their own terms are important. Thus, Thursday night begins the weekend. Life is about much more than work. Also, they know they have no job security.

Who's left? Well, the Y generation, born between 1977 and 1995. Most of these haven't entered the work force yet, so work habits are not known. Consider, though, that they don't know about the fall of the Iron Curtain or the uprising of Tianamen Square. Realize that they have more choices than any generation coming before them, for example, 200 plus channels and an instant high-speed orientation to almost everything. They are just as familiar with "virtual" as previoius generations are with the telephone.

Can Robert satisfy all these different orientations? Certainly not! However, he can recognize that there are differences. Then, he must utilize that knowledge for communicating with employee groups and for designing reward and recognition programs or perks.

Primary strategies (in addition to fair compensation) which Robert needs to use:

  • Repeated and consistent emphasis on the culture of Keepsafe. Robert needs to reward employees for knowledge of the company's mission and for special efforts in carrying out that mission. He will be setting the example and must not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.
  • Show the importance of community by being a good corporate citizen. Encourage the same from employees.
  • Periodically "survey" employee opinions just as he would customer opinions. Recognize the value of responses, whether positive or negative, and use that data constructively. Demonstrate that employee opinions do matter.
  • Emphasize the value of cross-training with a focus on developing employees for their betterment, not just for the job.
  • Create an atmosphere in which employees have some knowledge of how the business operates and hold them responsible for applying that knowledge. Link the goals of the business with the goals of the individuals. Give bonuses, or even stock options, when they make the bottom line stronger.
  • Promote opportunities for employees to socialize. Celebrate organizational and personal successes and milestones
  • Offer services, such as transportation to childcare, flexible hours or laundry pickup, that make an employee's life easier as they juggle the responsibilities for their children and aging parents.

The idea here is for Robert to place himself mentally in the "front line" employee positions. He must pay his employees with more than just money. Walk in their shoes and plan from that perspective the differing ways that he can become the Employer of Choice in his community.

By the way, generation X, generation Y and next, generation Z . . . . . No way! How about generation .com?

© Reece & Associates, P.A.