‘A portfolio of experiences’
Younger workers increasingly taking on leadership roles

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

Jan. 28, 2015

Charlene Horner reviews a grant proposal Tuesday in the offices of Safe Babies Healthy Families.  
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - When companies got lean and mean during the Great Recession, Charlene Horner found herself contemplating her future, and ultimately making the giant leap of going back to school and switching careers from a professional marketer and business proposal writer to grant writing for nonprofits.

As she watched other workers getting laid off or forced into retirement, Horner said, she realized she wanted to make the last half of her working years more fulfilling and was less driven by income.

“I hear a lot of ‘I wish I could do something that means more to me,’” she said about her peers.

Returning to school at age 37 may seem an unusual decision, but Horner said many people she knows in their 30s and 40s are getting advanced degrees to keep their job skills current and obtain salary increases.

Scott Nissen, president of Nissen Staffing Continuum, Inc. in Waukesha, said workers in their 30s and 40s have come to realize that life and working is about acquiring a “portfolio of experiences.”

While the younger generations may change jobs more often, Nissen said they are becoming more realistic about the risk involved in accepting one opportunity opposed to another and are considering factors such as commuting time.

Since becoming a grant writer and communications coordinator for Safe Babies Healthy Families in Waukesha, Horner, 41, said it’s the first time in her life she is not looking to switch jobs. Before, she equated moving to different jobs as a way to increase her salary.

“I am looking to settle more into one place right now,” Horner said. “I am in that age where work-life balance becomes more important.”

In the past, Horner said, people in Generation X often stayed with a company or position for about three to five years, but now she feels that age group is choosing to settle into a role.

Research reported by Ernst & Young in September 2013 discovered a “significant shift in Generations Y and X moving into management roles in the past five years.”

The report described Generation Y or millennials as ages 18 to 32, Generation X members as aged 33 to 48 and baby boomer as 49 to 67.

Charlene Horner, right, talks with Margaret Sullivan in the offices of Safe Babies Healthy Families Tuesday afternoon.  
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

According to the survey, “between 2008 and 2013 alone, 87 percent of Gen Y managers surveyed took on a management role versus 38 percent of Gen X and 19 percent of baby boomer managers. By comparison, from 2003 to 2008, 12 percent Gen Y, 30 percent Gen X and 23 percent of boomers moved into management.”

Horner believes one of the biggest issues facing the workplace is the change in management styles as baby boomers retire.

“There is a big transition going on between baby boomers and Generation X(ers) who are advancing their careers,” she said.

There is often a different approach to work when comparing the generations.

Horner said Generation Xers have a strong work ethic and are task-oriented; however, they also can be a bit jaded. Millennials, Horner said, feel they need to prove themselves and they can be perceived as not having much depth of perspective.

“As management shifts to younger generations, the research reveals areas companies can focus on to enhance skill sets, address the challenges of managing multiple generations, and retain and engage employees by understanding which workplace perks they may value most,” said Karyn Twaronite, the EY Americas Inclusiveness Officer and a partner of Ernst & Young LLP, in a 2013 statement.

“While it’s encouraging that millennials are expected to significantly grow their managerial skills by 2020, the onus is on companies to also give them equitable opportunities to gain the right mentors, sponsors, career experiences and training to capitalize on this optimism.”

Nissen also views education as key for workers in their 30s and 40s so they can continue to enhance their skills. The good news is continuing education has gotten easier with more learning opportunities offered online.

And as the younger generations step into management roles, they continue to take charge of their own futures. Nissen said people have more interest in saving for retirement than before.

“When I talk to businesses they like to tout their benefit package. The focus isn’t just on compensation,” he said.

Also, younger workers are asking Nissen more questions about what kind of retirement programs a company offers.

Horner said a lot of her peers realize that Social Security might not around when they need it, so they have to find an alternative to support themselves later in life. She is currently more focused on establishing herself in her new career versus planning for retirement.


Generational strengths and weaknesses

Gen X

*Members of Gen X were cited as “best” among the generations in seven out of 11 attributes, including being a “revenue generator” (58 percent) as well as possessing traits of “adaptability” (49 percent) “problem-solving” (57 percent) and “collaboration” (53 percent).

Members of Gen X lag behind boomers in being perceived as “best” at displaying executive presence (28 percent vs. 66 percent) and being cost effective (34 percent vs. 59 percent).


Gen Y

*Members of Gen Y scored high marks for being “enthusiastic” (68 percent) but had lower scores for being perceived as a “team player” (45 percent), “hardworking” (39 percent) and “a productive part of my organization” (58 percent). They also scored highest in three out of four negative traits, such as being perceived as “entitled” (68 percent).

Members of Gen Y were viewed as the “best” at being “tech savvy” (78 percent) and social media opportunists who leverage social media beyond marketing (70 percent). They also outscored boomers for being the “best” at “collaboration” (27 percent vs. 20 percent), “adaptability” (41 percent vs. 10 percent) and being “entrepreneurial” (29 percent vs. 15 percent).



*Members of the boomer generation scored high in being a productive part of organizations (69 percent), “hardworking” (73 percent, the highest), a “team player” (56 percent), and nurturing and essential for others’ development (55 percent).

While members of the boomer generation were strong performers in most areas, they were not viewed as the “best” generation in areas such as being adaptable (10 percent) and collaborative (20 percent). Boomer managers received the lowest scores of all three generations in being “best” at “diversity” (12 percent), “flexibility” (21 percent) and “inclusive” leadership (16 percent) skills.

However, boomers edged out Gen X as the “best” generation to “manage in challenging times” (48 percent vs. 44 percent).

Source: Ernst & Young LLP report from Sept. 3, 2013