Managing the generations

Jonathan Sweet
By Jonathan Sweet

When people talk about diversity, the first thing that usually comes to mind is ethnic and racial diversity. But the truth is most of us are now facing a workforce that is also diverse when it comes to generational differences.

Consider that for some businesses, there are five generations in the workforce: the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z (or whatever we’ll call this latest age group). They have separate career goals, need to be managed differently and hold different opinions.

Yet at the same time, we struggle to understand each other. And that leads to a lot of misapprehensions about what matters to each generation.

Dr. James Pogue, one of the keynote speakers at the 2019 Boating Industry Elevate Summit, spoke about this unconscious bias. We’ve all heard the complaints (and probably said them ourselves): Baby Boomers ruined the world and won’t retire. Gen X is cynical and just cares about money. Millennials are lazy and entitled.

In his keynote address, Dr. Pogue made a great point – one that is blazingly simple and obvious in retrospect, but that really resonated with me. Would you make these comments about another group, such as a minority group or a different gender? As a Gen Xer myself, I’ve often made comments about Millennials and their expectations. True, these are often made in jest, but I would never, for example, say any racial group was lazy. The thought made me feel a little sick.

So, what do we do about this, then? How do we counter this bias? The most important step is simply being aware. Recognize that you have these biases and that they can affect your decision making as a leader or manager.

Are some Millennials lazy and entitled? Of course they are. So are some Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, so on and so on. These are the types of toxic employees you don’t want on your team regardless of age.

Millennials, more than earlier generations, also say they are concerned about making a difference with their work and seeing purpose in their careers. They have less faith in institutions, whether they be government, financial or corporate. According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, only 55% of Millennials believe business has a positive impact on society and 64% say that businesses only care about making money. (Biases go both ways.)

It points out the importance of sharing with your employees and potential associates the positives of boating: creating family time, protecting access to waterways, creating American jobs, to name just a few. Addressing their biases and addressing your own will help create a workplace that makes it possible to keep growing your business.

*          *          *

Also a reminder that the 2020 Boating Industry Top 100 will soon be open for applications. Look for the 2020 Top 100 application this month at The 2020 Top 100 will be recognized in the December issue of Boating Industry, at and at the Top 100 Gala.

Jonathan Sweet is the director of the Boating Industry Top 100  program and former editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine.  He can be reached at or 763-383-4419.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *