Jeff Crissey: Mind the gap

Mind the gap

JeffMultigenerational work force requires careful management


By Jeff Crissey

At a workshop on managing multigenerational work forces at the Truckload Carriers Association’s recent annual convention, attendees were presented with the following scenario and then asked how they’d respond:

Road Warrior Trucking has a service shop for its fleet of 100 trucks. There are 10 employees in the shop, all under the age of 30. Ernie, the 62-year-old shop manager, set up the shop and has been running it for 35 years. Lately, the work is not getting done in a timely manner, morale is low and a couple of the employees are grumbling about quitting. To make matters worse, Steven, Ernie’s new 38-year-old boss, is the founder’s son and is being groomed to take over when his father retires next year. Steven has told Ernie that if things don’t improve, Ernie may lose his job.

My first inclination was to fire the two disgruntled employees right off the bat, but as the course went on, it became clear that both Steven and I arrived at very different but similarly incorrect decisions.

As the U.S. work force ages and employees are putting off retirement at an increasing rate, the age gap and generational work habits are more disparate than ever, posing a number of challenges for fleet managers. The goal isn’t for everyone to get along – it’s to decrease tension and improve communication and productivity in order to impact the bottom line.

Companies that force their younger employees into the current company culture are going about it wrong, says Phyllis Cohn, project manager for AARP’s Workforce Issues Team. “It’s a matter of incorporating what they bring to the table and adding to your business.” Strategies to achieve this include recognizing what your generation groups have in common, developing a system to transfer skills and knowledge among them and turning multigenerational teams (like the one in the example above) into intergenerational collaborations.

The goal is to decrease tension and improve communication.

The four generations currently making up the U.S. work force include traditionalists (born in or before 1945), baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) and millennials (born between 1980 and 1995). Each group is defined not only by age but also by common beliefs, experiences and values.

As value systems change among generation groups, employers should reconsider how they deliver corporate communication and the types of rewards and feedback they offer. Giving a crystal trophy or plaque to a 50-something driver for a milestone anniversary probably would mean more than extra paid time off. It’s likely the reverse would be true to a 25-year-old dispatcher.

Aaron Tennant, vice president at Tennant Truck Lines and himself a “Gen Xer,” learned from experience that the way he started out providing coaching and feedback to employees wasn’t the best. “The feedback they wanted wasn’t what I wanted to give them,” he says about relating with the company’s older employees. “They don’t care about flashy reports. Xers tend to try and force data on people that don’t want it.” Tennant now consults with employees differently depending on who he’s talking to. “It may be a sit-down discussion in the office looking at a spreadsheet, or it may be at the water cooler or leaning against a stack of tires.”

Managing a diverse work force isn’t just a function of age. Differences in technology and life experiences also can shape individual values. “If you don’t know your people, you’re in trouble,” says Don Hummer, president of Don Hummer Trucking. “I have a 24-year-old employee that acts like a traditionalist and a 60-year-old that acts like he’s [a millennial].”

As the age gap in the work force continues to widen, effective communication based on age, capabilities and strengths can make the workplace more productive and contribute to the bottom line. As for Ernie, hang in there…someone is listening. n

Jeff Crissey is Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal.

E-mail or call (205) 248-1244.