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And Baby Makes Four - Managing at Retail


As much as we may love our families, let’s face it, coming together on holidays and special occasions can be challenging. 

You may even take bets on how long it’s going to take Great Grandpa (Veteran generation) to deliver his “During the Great Depression we knew what work meant” stories.  You expect you’ll have to put up with your wife (Boomer generation) taking a call as she’s dishing out the sweet potatoes (“It’ll just take a minute, this is an important client.”)  Plus you’re going to need to prepare yourself just in case your grandson (Millennial generation) is going to show up with something else pierced.  If only your daughter (X’er generation) could get a handle on that kid, but her attitude is that her job was done as far as that subject is concerned when she advised him not to do it. 

No matter how much you love them, trying to keep the peace between all four generations represented at your family’s table is, well, challenging.  You might even feel a bit guilty thinking you’d like get back to the store and get to work where you can relax.  However, on second thought, you realize you’ve got similar challenges waiting for you there.  A career retail manager, you fondly remember the good old days when only two generations showed up for work – the one came before, and the one after that.  Now, just like home, you’ve got to figure out how to manage four generations of employees.

Today retail managers face special, but not insurmountable, challenges managing intergenerational workforces.  It is true up until recently most managers had only two generations showing up for work, the “older” and the “younger”.  Today we have four:

Veterans:  Born before 1945, with many of them able to remember living through the Great Depression, World War II, and Korea, they value hard work, duty, and sacrifice.  They are quite often very thrifty and strongly believe saving money is evidence of good character.  They also have a tendency to work rather quickly.

Boomers:  Baby Boomers hit the planet between 1945 and 1964 and are children of the Veteran generation.  Boomers were among those considered to have been “Hippies” or from the “Me” generation. This generation values personal fulfillment, are fairly optimistic, will work hard for a cause they believe in (this is the generation that fueled the civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements), and are quite efficient workers.  Unlike their thrifty, saving parents they use a “buy now, pay later” philosophy to guide their spending.  At work they value working in teams, but also place importance on having their individual contributions acknowledged. 

Gen X’ers:  Now it starts to get pretty interesting.  X’ers were born between 1965 and 1980.  Somewhat dismayed with the world their perhaps overly optimistic parents presented to them, they are somewhat skeptical.  Aware of how fast things can change due to growing up in a world that spawned the Internet, they are also uncertain.  This uncertainty is reflected in their “save, save, save” attitude – something their Veteran grandparents can relate to more than their Boomer parents.  However, Gen X’ers have a much more personal perspective and see themselves as free agents.  X’ers value flexibility.  These particular values have led them to embrace entrepreneurship.   

Millennials:  This generation is perhaps the most intriguing.  For one thing, Millennials may have either Boomers or X’ers as parents.  Or they often have siblings who are X’ers.  For now, they are defined as having been born no earlier than 1981.  To date, there is no definitive “end year.”  However, most retail managers aren’t dealing with anyone younger than 16.  They are the only generation who take rapid advancement in technology as simply a fact of life because they haven’t known a world where this wasn’t true.  This makes them keenly interested in whatever is it is that comes “next” as well as a “need for speed” as they can easily become impatient. 

Millennials like to do things on their own terms and highly value personal freedom.  Unlike X’er savers, the Millennial attitude towards money is to earn for the purpose of spending what they’ve earned (at least somewhat of an improvement over the “buy now, pay later” Boomer attitude.)  At work they tend to do exactly what’s said to them.  They also have a reputation for thinking simply “showing up” demonstrates a good work ethic.

Intergenerational Tip Sheet

Of course these are gross generalities.  Even so, it is easy to see that retail managers are dealing with quite a diverse workforce made up of groups with different values and perspectives.  However, it is possible to manage intergenerational diversity within your retail workforce; here are a few useful tips:

Managers need to empower individuals as well as create more team-based activities and projects.  Providing an opportunity for each individual, no matter what generation, to contribute makes everyone feel heard and valued.  Opportunities to work in teams towards shared goals create the opportunity for workers to learn from, and develop respect for, each other.

Emphasize feedback. No matter what generation, people need feedback in order to continuously improve their performance as well as feel valued.  However, you will also want to customize feedback.  For example, a paid day off is a great reward to a Millennial for a job well done, whereas a thrifty Veteran would value a cash bonus in lieu of time off.  Additionally, a Millennial will respond better to rewards delivered immediately after they’ve made their contribution or met their goal whereas a Veteran or Boomer relates to working towards a goal over a set period of time.      

Whenever possible be more flexible when setting schedules.  Each generation has different “quality of life” needs, take time to find out what they are and be certain to address those needs whenever you can.

Miscommunication is perhaps the greatest challenge among intergenerational workers.  When someone says something it might mean one thing to a Boomer and be taken to mean something quite different by a Millennial.  Retail Managers must be proactive.  Create a culture of open communication with your employees, with your door “always open.”  Be there to facilitate uncomfortable conversations among employees, making sure that all sides understand each other.  Provide your employees the opportunity to develop and improve their communication and listening skills by providing appropriate training.       

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