CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Today's supermarket workplace has become one of the most likely places to find four generations working of people working together, and it's important for retailer management to be sensitive to the experiences and viewpoints of each, according to an employment trends consultant who spoke here at Super Floral 2000.
"Retirees are bagging groceries to avoid being completely retired, and Gen Yers are working part-time after school to earn money," noted Judy Marston, president of Marston Communications, also based here. "If managers will foster those relationships, between Gen Y and the World War II-era veterans; if they'll let Xers suggest policies and perks that benefit everyone, the grocery work world can be a happy place."
She began the general session by defining the four working age groups currently active in the marketplace. The Matures, ages 59 to 90-plus, value duty, honor and country, she emphasized, and the Baby Boomers, 35 to 58 years old, have adapted their parents' work pride into a work-as-worth ethic.
"Baby Boomers define themselves by what they do for a living. They coined the term 'workaholic,' and see work as self-fulfillment," Marston said.
"Generation Xers, those 21 to 34 years of age, on the other hand, are the first generation to see work strictly as a means to support their leisure time," she added. "Given a choice between more money and more time off, they'll usually take the time off."
Marston noted that shared values and experiences are the criteria for identifying any single generation. To that end, perspective differences can be found in the historical events that each generation can identify with immediately -- those crystallizing moments that define each age group, according to Marston. For the Matures, it's Pearl Harbor; Boomers all know where they were when Kennedy was shot; Challenger exploded in the eyes of every Generation Xer; and Gen Y sees the Columbine school shootings as coming very close to home.
Of the four working-age groups, Generation X is the most influential group in the work force today, and the first in 50 years to look at work differently.
According to the consultant, most Gen X members will have 12 distinct jobs in their lifetimes, and will be unemployed at least five times during their careers. Fully half of the Gen Xers in this country will attempt to run their own businesses by the time they're 30.
And then there's Generation Y, at 20 years old or less: optimistic, team players and great admirers of experience. "Gen Y thinks the Matures are really cool," Marston said.
A lone 30-something fellow interrupted Marston from the audience at that point, disagreeing with her profile of Generation X as self-involved and challenging the notion that Gen Xers are out to reinvent the workplace. "You Boomers are in a working rut, yet you insist that everything is the way it should always be," he shouted.
The interloper turned out to be Cam Marston, Judy's son, also with Marston Communications, who proceeded to share the stage with his Boomer mom and illustrate management methods for creating harmony among the ages in the aisles.
Using slides and comments from the Super Floral Show 2000 exhibition floor, Cam Marston demonstrated the difficulty generations have in understanding perspectives outside their own eras.
He recalled one respondent polled who recalled that "My first job was peeling onions at a diner for 50 cents an hour, and for that I got to eat a hamburger and a milk shake every day. That was quite a perk."