Thomas Greek, vice president of learning, development and communications for Navy Federal in Pensacola, shared the secrets of his credit union’s success at balancing generational differences.
Greek was the featured speaker at the Studer Community Institute’s Sept. 15 workshop on bridging generational gaps in the workplace.
Navy Federal has been recognized by Fortune magazine as a great place to work for Millennials — something Greek says begins with a culture that sees the value in what every generation has to contribute.
“It is a crowded workplace today, with four generations sharing space,” Greek said. “There’s a tendency to look at the next generation with disdain. Every generation has done it to the one that follows it.”
Greek, a Generation X-er himself, said that research shows by 2020 there will five generations in the workplace.
— Traditionalists (4 percent of workforce).
— Baby Boomers (32% of workforce).
— Generation Xers (30%).
— Generation Y, the millennials, (34% and growing).
— And Generation Z, becoming known as the “iGen” for the way they grew up surrounded by technology, social media and touchscreen computer interfaces.
While acknowledging the frustrations that can arise when the generations bump up against each other, Greek cautioned business owners not to fall victim to the “Blockbuster” scenario.
As the now legendary business story goes, in 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, approached the owner of Blockbuster, then a thriving video rental business, offering to sell what was then a niche mail-order DVD rental business.
Former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco declined. As to story goes Netflix essentially was laughed out of the room.
Now who’s laughing.
“Netflix is worth 10 times what Blockbuster was at its peak,” Greek said.
It’s a harsh example of what turning a deaf ear to the changing tides can mean.
Navigating those waters means listening — really listening — to all of your employees, especially those in Gen Y and Z. They crave feedback and want to feel that their input matters.
Navy Federal has had a Gen Y team for years, at the corporate level. Greek says it was a smart business decision that informs not only the way the credit union develops its workforce, but also the way it serves their customers.
“We have to create an engaged workforce,” Greek said. “If you aren’t creating the right environment for Gen Y workers, they’ll go elsewhere.
“Half of our customers are Gen Y or Z already. If we aren’t focused on what they need, they have choices also.”
Greek led a Gen Y team for four years at Navy Federal.
What did he learn?
— They aren’t job hoppers. They will be loyal to your company if you make it worth their while. The nuance is they are looking for the next big thing, but it doesn’t have to be a promotion, Greek says.
To address this Navy Federal uses a career lattice, rather than a ladder, that allows employees to rotate to other areas of the company, learn new skills and stretch their skills.
— They can talk to you without technology, but they want to use the tool that suits them best. Gen Y grew up with technology and they use it nimbly. “They want to use all the media when it’s appropriate,” he says. Meanwhile some leaders never even sign in to instant messaging or use video chat, opting instead for a phone call.
— They do work hard, but they expect something different in return. From virtual working, work weeks of four, 10-hour days, they want to work to live, not live to work, Greek says.
They believe in work-life balance.
“They will use their leave time, and they don’t want to feel guilty about it,” he says.
“The ways Gen Y has changed the workplace are enhancing the workplace, not degrading it,” Greek says.
The key to making all of these group work together is opening the lines of communication among them.
“Mentoring should be a two-way street to build up both generations,” he said.