Dairy Strong news release

Maneuvering today’s workplaces requires an understanding of five generations and realizing everyone has been shaped by different experiences, according to an expert on how generations interact in the workplace.

Lynne Lancaster, who consults businesses about generational differences and is featured in the news media as a cultural translator, spoke Jan. 17 to hundreds of dairy farmers and other representatives of Wisconsin’s dairy community during the annual Dairy Strong conference at the Monona Terrace in Madison.

“Business managers and owners, at first, came to us saying, ‘We can’t understand the Gen Xers, and then the Millennials came, and now Gen Z is here,” Lancaster said. “The key to understanding the different generations is to understand where everyone is coming from.”

The five generations in today’s workplaces – and families – include Traditionalists, who were born before 1946; Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979; Millennials, born between 1980 and 1996; and Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2013.

“When you came of age affects you. For example, the Traditionalists, who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, dealt with a lot of hard things and know how to scrimp and save,” Lancaster said. “Later, when they started making more money, they didn’t go out and become spendthrifts.”

Millennials are shaped by things like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the proliferation of technology and the 24/7 news cycle.

“Their parents also talked to them a lot and they have an ability to easily talk with people of all ages,” Lancaster said. “With them, the knowledge pyramid has also been turned upside down because they are the ones who understand technology and are showing all of us older people how to use our phones.”

When managing Millennials, it’s important to realize they want to know what is going on and share their ideas, but Lancaster said it is vital “to find ways to partner, not parent them. They are not kids.”

Attracting and retaining Millennials is difficult, but not impossible, she said.

“They see what everyone is doing via social media and want to feel like they are getting ahead. Invest in them through training, leadership programs and mentoring,” Lancaster said. “When they feel valued and part of the company’s culture, they are more apt to stay.”

If a Millennial leaves your company, keep the door open for possible returns, she added. “They may go away and learn something they can eventually bring back to your business and use there.”

Members of Generation Z are pragmatic, realistic and think about their careers early on.

“Talk to your local middle schools about career days. Many of these kids are already looking at what kind of jobs they want and trying to figure how to get there – without spending too much money,” Lancaster said. “They grew up during the recession and have seen their own parents struggle and hear stories about Millennials graduating with loads of college debt. They don’t want that.”

Family-owned farms are just like all businesses, with several generations working together – although there is the extra family dynamic that needs to be considered, Lancaster said.

“I know there’s concern about keeping the younger generations in farming – the average age of a farmer is 58 – and my advice is to talk about what you love about what you do when you’re around the dinner table,” she said. “Don’t talk about your aching back from the physical labor or the awful milk prices all the time. Discuss the positives, too.”

As for Traditionalists and Baby Boomers running farms today, Lancaster said it is time to begin the discussions about the transition to the next generation.

“Everyone wants to feel like there’s a plan and they are part of it,” she said. “Just remember when you look across the table that the other people do not have the same experiences that you have. Everyone has a unique voice.”

About Dairy Strong: Dairy Strong, in its fourth year, is a conference where all aspects of the dairy community come together to coalesce around a commitment to what’s important today and tomorrow. Farmers representing farms of all sizes and management philosophies are joined by any number of related businesses and partners to learn, engage and explore. For more information, go to dairystrong.org.