Multiple Generations in the Workplace

May 13, 2011

by Steve Coscia

Years ago, I used to insist that my trade industry (plumbing, HVAC and refrigeration) audiences turn off their Blackberry and IPhone devices. Long gone is this expectation - these days my only concern is that the devices are silenced so that my customer service seminars are not disrupted by extraneous noise.

Being flexible about this issue changed over time and it wasn't easy for me. I used to believe that plumbers and HVAC technicians, like elementary school students, needed to give me their complete and undivided attention. Softening my expectation occurred through a greater understanding of how today's technicians work and utilize technology.

Many technicians are virtual workers and their devices are akin to their office. There is a need to stay abreast of incoming e-mails and calls without actually having to reply to these messages.

My audiences are also getting younger. Most of the technicians in my audiences used to be baby boomers like me - those born between 1946 and 1964. My assumption that baby boomers still dominated the audience caused me to become interested in the midst of new audience behaviors.

Before describing the behaviors, a little back ground. During my customer service seminars, I tell signature stories many of which are derived from personal experiences, books and case studies. Signature stories are a powerful public speaking tactic because each story is a story that only I can tell. Like my handwritten signature each story is unique. The delivery style and uniqueness of these stories is what engages audiences as an effective instructional design methodology. Speaking about an obscure or esoteric topic or book makes signature stories more meaningful because the audience is usually hearing it for the first time.

Staying abreast of the latest research and reading cutting-edge books is what feeds my signature story inventory. Being factual and honest about details therein is a huge credibility factor and even more so in the presence of generation X managers.

Arousing the audience's curiosity with an unfamiliar topic affects baby boomers and generation Xers differently. Baby boomers respond to a signature story in a trusting and open manner. They listen, take notes and ask questions for clarification.

Generation X audience members - those born between 1965 and 1976 - are more apt to use their Blackberry or IPhone device to validate the signature story details by searching the internet during my seminar. This occurred a few times during 2010 and it caught me off guard. Upon my inquiry I learned that the motivation behind their internet search was rarely distrust - they are usually not double-checking my facts. On the contrary, their aroused curiosity demanded more clarification right now. This is a clear case of pragmatism, self-reliance and techno-literacy - all of which are generation X key values.

Often, a generation X audience member would approach me during a seminar break to show me what they found online which helped to support and validate the signature story details. Their on-the-spot research was then mentioned to the group after the seminar break. The result? Everyone in the seminar benefited from this extra effort.

Once while I referenced a history book about Genghis Khan to make a business point, a generation X manager double-checked my facts - all of which were verified and this boosted my credibility.

On two occasions, generation X audience members purchased the business book that I referenced in a signature story and then proudly told everyone else afterwards. Events like these serve as real-time integrity checks on me and my subject matter. It also drives me to maintain high standards of instructional design because audiences are no longer passive - the new and younger audiences are actively involved in the learning. This reality has also motivated me to bring my "A" game knowing that audiences are verifying my content. Generation X technicians view themselves as seminar participants rather than just recipients of new information.

Among some baby boomers, there is sometimes a bias about younger generations. I hear the tired old complaints about younger workers not understanding "the way things used to be" and sometimes I am guilty of similar criticism. Since things will never go back to the way they were, I'd say it's time for baby boomers to keep an open mind.

If multiple generations are to cooperate and thrive in the future workplace than more knowledge and less bias is required.

Steve Coscia helps Plumbing and HVACR companies make more money through increased customer retention, improved upselling and reduced on-the-job stress. He is the author of the HVAC Customer Service Handbook. A best selling author, columnist and customer service specialist, Steve presents keynote speeches and facilitates HVACR customer service workshops. To learn more about Coscia Communications go to or contact Steve Coscia at 610-853-9836 or

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