The Multi-Generational Workforce

I was talking to the person in charge of customer service at Constant Contact, a company that provides email marketing services, today and started off the call with my usual question of “what are your challenges?” One of the answers, handling rapid growth, was not a unique challenge – lots of companies deal with it (it’s probably one of the best challenges to have). The other one, though, was a new challenge that I hadn’t really heard before: dealing with a multi-generational workforce.

What Constant Contact has experienced is a difference in career expectations between different generations. The company has noticed that its new employees who are often members of generation Y want to move through their careers much more quickly than those that are members of the boomer generation or generation X. He explained to me that the boomer generation is a lot more content in one job for several years (assuming growth potential is there) than a gen-Y’er. Gen Y’ers want to move through the company quickly – they’re looking to move around the company and experience different aspects of it.

While these generalizations obviously aren’t true in every single situation, it seems to be the general trend. There have been lots of studies examining the different ways members of different generations look at careers and what it means to have a career path. Constant Contact did their own research and had to make some changes in their existing policies in order to be able to adapt to the different expectations among their employees.

Firstly, what they aimed to do was ensure that the best people for the job got the job, regardless of how long they’ve been at the company, how much experience they have, etc. The company used to have a policy that essentially said employees had to stay in a job for at least a year before moving to another position. Overtime, the policy changed into a less formally enforced guideline. Today, the company looks less at the time an employee has put into a particular job and more at how much the particular employee understands the customers, the product, etc. It takes some employees five months to get that holistic understanding, whereas it takes some employees two years.

Coming to the understanding that time at the company doesn’t necessarily reflect how qualified someone is or is not for a certain job is an important understanding for rapid growth companies to have. Rapid growth companies don’t have time to let their best potential employees stay in one job for a year before moving up. Rapid growth requires flexibility, and as a result, flexible policies. It’s difficult for rapid growth companies to succeed if things are set in stone and can’t change as the company changes. Getting to a point where policies are flexible requires a management team that understands the importance of flexibility.