Get the Job Done: Shifting Perceptions when Working in a Multi-Generational Business

Salt Lake City—These days, when a family business is looking to prepare the next generation to take it over, or a bringing new family member into the fold, more often than not, that person is a Millennial.

Because of explosions in technology and cultural shifts, older generations and younger generations frequently find themselves at odds, but that doesn’t have to be the case, said Chris Redgrave, senior vice president of Zions Bank’s Community Development.

“Family is very important to us here in the State of Utah. The idea of passing something on generationally is at the core of our values,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not hard, it doesn’t mean it’s not mess, but it’s a value we have in the state.”

Redgrave’s discussion on generational differences from the Greatest Generation to the members of Generation Z (currently working hard in elementary school) was part of a luncheon to help family-owned businesses better manage Millennial workers. Harris Simmons, chairman and CEO of Zions Bancorporation, said facilitating these kinds of discussions helps family-owned businesses tackle challenges either not seen, or that present differently, in non-generational businesses.

“Sometimes, in a family business, you find yourself in a conflicting role as a family member and a businessperson,” Simmons said, noting that he himself grew up in a family business after his father purchased a controlling portion of Zions Bancorporation. “We have lots of Millennial employees here. They think about the world differently.”

Redgrave, who has studied generational trends for the past 15 years, said while categorizing generations is far from an exact science, there are trends that tend to be present among people of a certain age. Those who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, for example—the so-called Greatest Generation—tend to have a strong sense of duty and patriotism. Baby Boomers, or those typically born to those from the Greatest Generation, have been the largest generation and the media darlings for most of their lives, but Millennials have usurped them both in numbers and cultural importance, Redgrave said.

As the two generations, sandwiching the frequently overlooked Generation X between them, co-exist in the workplace, conflict tends to arise because of their different views on work, she said. Millennials are frequently viewed as being lazy, self-centered and entitled, she said, and in order to catch their attention, companies—or managers—have to be direct and concise. Millennials also tend to eschew the traditional 9-to-5 workday for more flexible hours that could stretch, in small chunks, throughout the day, night and even weekends, she said, and often enmesh work into the rest of their lives to an unprecedented degree.

“You have the Boomers who were raised with agrarian hours, who get there at 7 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. and send an email right before they leave so the boss knows how late they were there,” Redgrave said. “[With Millennials], you have to ask: ‘Is the job getting done?'”

Millennials tend to be more project-oriented, she said, and consequently are often able to accomplish more things more quickly than workers of previous generations. But completing a day’s work before a manager thinks the workday is up can cause conflict, Redgrave said.

“They’re not caught up in perfectionism, so they just go right through [projects]. I’m not saying it’s not high-quality work; they just get a lot done,” Redgrave said. “Pay attention to whether the project’s getting done instead of paying attention to what hours they’re working.”

The strengths and weaknesses of Millennials can dominate workplace conversations, she said, but companies should take care to look at employees across the board to find commonalities. After all, she said, at the end of the day, Millennials want what every other employee wants: to use their time and talents to do something productive and worthwhile.

“That’s one of the most important things we all have in common,” she said. “Let’s get the focus off a generational divide and onto what we want to produce.”