Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Not Fair... And Never Will Be

By David Stillman, BridgeWorks/TimesFour Originally published by Twin Cities Business at

With Millennial graduates showing up in the workplace this summer, the other generations are perking up and taking notice. It is not uncommon to hear from them comments such as:

  • Traditionalist: You've got to be kidding me! These kids are getting to do a scavenger hunt and three-week orientation. My first day I was handed a phone and told to get to work cold calling!

  • Boomer: When I was her age, I had to put in at least 10 years before I could even think of getting off an hour early one day a week! She's getting it from her first day!

  • Xer: I can't believe this new hire is stressed out about crafting her work schedule, I had to fight tooth and nail just to get PTO (paid time off ).
While all these situations differ, there is one thing in common: almost no one thinks it's fair. Fairness among the generations within the workplace is definitely a classic battle. In one corner you have those who groomed under a dues-paying or tenure-based model; in the other corner you have the ones getting it all from the get-go. We could go back and forth on the fairness dialogue, but the more strategic question is what can be done about it moving forward.

Our advice? Stop thinking about fairness and focus attention on performance. If you manage or create a culture based solely on being fair, it is next to impossible to win or even make everyone happy. What motivates one generation probably won't work for another, and good luck trying to get the generations to agree on who deserves more or better.

But if you manage or create a culture focused on performance, everyone can be a winner. For example, a CEO we work with was approached by Erik, a new employee who wanted to leave early Thursday afternoons to coach his son's soccer team. Rather than say, "Well, if I do that for you, then I will have to do it for everyone, so I'm sorry it won't work," he sat down with the new employee and determined a list of performance measures he would have to achieve in order to receive this benefit. The new hire not only walked away motivated but rolled up his sleeves even higher to get the job done.

The surprise in this example isn't that the new hire hit the mark and got to leave early on Thursday afternoons, but what the CEO did. The next day, he put up a sign in the lobby stating "Erik gets to leave early on Thursdays. Come to my office and find out why." Those who showed up talked about something they really wanted and everyone had something different in mind. In the end, everyone felt like a winner because the CEO figured out that in the fight over fairness, he needed to make productivity the point.

Posted by Julie Vreeland
NRS, Brainerd

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