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Managing ‘what’s in it for me?’ workers

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SCOTT JAGOW:As people work longer, and retire later, the generational gap between workers only grows. For example, Baby Boomers think one way, Gen X-ers another. And the youngest workers, the New Millenials, yet another.

An old friend of mine, Cam Marston, just wrote a book about this. It’s called Motivating the ‘What’s In It for Me?’ Workforce. Cam, are you saying younger workers are selfish?

CAM MARSTON:Well, they appear to be selfish from (the perspective of) today’s employers — particularly the Baby Boom generation, who are in positions of leadership. What we see is a disappearing of the attitude of “let me prove to you my value” and more an attitude of “what am I going to get from this job?”

JAGOW:And how does that turn into conflict with employers?

MARSTON:Largely around a pay-your-dues attitude. Today’s employers, most of them in leadership positions, had to go through some sort of pay-your-dues evolution. It’s the apprentice-to-master evolution. But that pay-your-dues element has kind of gone away, and younger employees are coming in and saying “this is what I want, this is what I need — let’s talk about my vacation schedule.” And it’s really catching a lot of today’s senior employers off guard.

JAGOW:But are you saying that younger people don’t have a work ethic?

MARSTON:No, the younger workers certainly do have a work ethic. It looks a little bit different, though. They define themselves by who they are outside of the workplace, not by their job. Their job is something that they do that keeps them busy between the weekends. It’s not the self-definition that the job is for many other generations. That’s a little bit of hyperbole there, that’s kind of over the top. But it’s a big difference in generational attitudes towards the workplace.

JAGOW:OK, so how can the Baby Boomer executives get more out of their younger workers?

MARSTON:Define the job by the quality of the project or the quality of the product, not by how long they’re there — not measurable in hours-per-week. That’s one of the things. It allows that New Millenial to free up a bit, and get the job done, versus having to quote-unquote “play the game” and be visible during the work day.

JAGOW:I was reading in your book how one woman complained she had to compliment her employees just for doing the minimum work, or they wouldn’t even give her that.

MARSTON:I think that’s endemic of today’s workplace. The Wall Street Journal had an article on it not long ago: “The most-praised generation goes to work.” And it is a generation that is used to flattery, used to praise for doing just the minimal things. It’s a reflection of parenting trends that we have experienced for the last 25 or 30 years. There are many employers who say they simply have to thank their employees for coming to work. It’s distasteful to me — that’s the truth, it’s distasteful to me. Nevertheless, it’s simply a part of the workplace today. The employers’ options are to not do it, and risk turnover, risk bad attitudes, risk malaise — or to do it, and get the work ethic that they need.

JAGOW:All right Cam, thanks so much.

MARSTON:Thank you, Scott.

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