Bridging the generation gap

|  June 24, 2019
PHOTO: PETE SCHOPEN

PHOTO: PETE SCHOPEN

On the various Facebook group pages I frequent, such as “Let’s Talk Business Mobile” and “Pest Control Fraternity,” I’ve noticed a great debate brewing.

I’m not talking about the ending of “Game of Thrones.” I’m also not talking about any outrage over “pudgy” Thor in “Avengers: Endgame.” The battle of words I’m talking about is the real or made-up concerns regarding the hiring of Millennials and Generation Zs. Not even the vaccination debate can cause as much angst and animosity as the topic of Millennials vs. Baby Boomers.

I’m not sure why I’m fixating on “age” lately. In my April column, I talked about getting older in the digital era. Last month, I turned the big 5-0 and wrote about my journey. This month, I want to tell everyone about my (mostly) positive experience in hiring Millennials and Gen Zs.

To truly understand this topic, we must define the battleground. Depending on what source you use, the cut-offs vary a little. For simplicity, we’re going with the Pew Research Center’s definitions.

The “Greatest” Generation was born between 1910-1927. The “Silent” Generation was born from 1928 to 1945. Baby Boomers got their nickname because of the wave of babies born after WWII, and were born between 1946-1964. My generation commonly is called Generation X. We are the children of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1980.

Millennials come next. They are the kids of the “hippie movement” and the “make-love-not-war” era. These young adults were born between 1981-1996. Next up is Gen Z, which are mostly the offspring of the Gen Xers. These young people, sometimes also known as iGen, were born between 1995 and 2012. My two sons fall into this category. Everyone born after 2013 is categorized as Gen Alpha by some sources, but Pew Research Center currently is lumping them in with Gen Z.
 

My experience

When I started my company in 2006 (at age 38, for what it’s worth), I vowed I would never hire anyone under the age of 21. I was worried about immaturity, late-night drinking, late-night gaming, traffic accidents and lack of work ethic. So, the first employee I hired was in his 50s. He didn’t last one month.

The second guy I hired was in his 40s, and lasted two-and-a-half years. The third guy I hired was 59, and is still with me after eight years. The fourth guy I hired was in his 40s, and lasted two months. The fifth tech I hired was in his 50s, and lasted six weeks. Are you detecting a pattern here?

Over the past five years, I have hired many men and women in their 40s and 50s, and only two have lasted more than three years. During that same stretch, I caved in and started hiring younger people. To date, I have trained six Millennials and five Gen Zs. All of them are still with me, except one.

Currently, Schopen Pest Solutions is comprised of:

  • 6 Gen Zs (five techs and one office person).
  • 5 Millennials (four techs and one office person).
  • 8 Gen Xers (five office people, two techs and one part-timer).
  • 1 Baby Boomer (supervisor).

Overcoming bias

Why are some older people so hard on younger generations? The answer, in most cases, is that it’s always been that way.

While social media seems to make the differences among the generations more glaring, every generation usually condemns the ones that follow: “slackers,” “hippies,” “draft dodgers,” “punks,” “goths,” “preppies,” “gang-bangers,” etc. Few people can live up to the expectations of the previous generations, many of whom forget the biases against them when they themselves were young.

How can we prosper with Millennials and Gen Zs on staff? If we first accept the fact that every generation has unique traits, as well as individuals whose personalities don’t fall into the overall definitions at all, we can then move forward and use these people at their full potential.

For example, in the early 1990s, a couple of my bosses had no problems swearing at me. I had one boss who would get red in the face, spittle shooting out of his mouth, and berate me like a drill sergeant.

Screaming at my current crop of 20-somethings just isn’t going to work. It will do the opposite. It will make me look like a jerk or a bully to these “kids,” and they will seek employment elsewhere.

I have noticed some differences among the generations at my own company. Specifically, they include:

  • Millennials like compliments. They almost need to be reassured that they are doing a good job. My five Gen Z guys appreciate compliments, but seem to be more interested in whether they are doing the job correctly.
  • Gen Z employees are very cautious. They don’t take as many gambles as the Millennials or Gen Xers.
  • Gen Xers are fact-driven. They’re looking for data and results, whereas the Millennials are more concerned about emotions and “feelings.” R-E-S-P-E-C-T also is a big deal with Millennials.

Regardless of age, though, I’m proud to report my current crop of workers all come to the office on time. They rarely call in sick, and they handle most situations in a mature, measured way. They have no problem talking to their clients and they ask me a gazillion (good) questions.

I love my employees, and I hope my passion for my clients, my company and pest control is rubbing off.

Read more: 5 generational marketing tips

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