These days, one of the common studies among experts in any field dealing with people is the similarities and differences of the three generations that currently make up a majority of the American workforce. Advertisers, psychologists, educators and the like all are trying to better understand these people. As a talent management professional, I’m obviously intrigued by how these generations affect the process of hiring, developing and retaining employees. Let’s start with a quick rundown.

Baby Boomers represent the largest of the three groups, accounting for approximately 40 percent of the workforce population. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 by post-WWII parents who gave birth at a “booming” pace. This is the group at the heart of the impending labor shortage that will start in 2008, the first year that the Baby Boomers hit the average retirement age in the United States of 62½.

Generation X is the smallest of the three groups, representing roughly 16 percent of the workforce population. These people were born between 1965 and 1980. The smallness of this group magnifies the Baby Boomers’ impact as they march toward retirement. Most Gen Xers work under the supervision of a Baby Boomer, and this alone has been the root of many performance management issues.

Generation Y, sometimes called the “Baby Boomer Echo” because they are the children of the Baby Boomers, represent 25 percent of the workforce. They were born after 1980 and provide some support in numbers, but they are at the heart of the skills-deficiency crisis, especially in the maintenance industry where so much of the critical skill sets are locked in the heads of Baby Boomers.

So, what does all this mean to you and your organization? Are they just fun facts or do they translate into real talent management issues?

Assuming you are concerned about how these groups compare and contrast, let’s use recruiting as an example of how your organization can be more proactive in your talent management strategies.

Recruiting Baby Boomers: These people grew up with the philosophy that you can do anything and be anyone you want to be. They have a strong work ethic and aren’t afraid to work long hours. They place a high value on status and are career-path focused. They are the toughest to recruit if they are in a “passive” recruiting mode because they tend to have a strong sense of loyalty to their employer. They are the most willing to put in long hours at the office, whether it’s to get the job done or to just put in the hours. They are attracted to titles and career paths and place less value on vacation time, flex time or even money (provided their financial needs are met).

Recruiting Generation X: This is probably the least understood of the three groups. These people are sometimes viewed as lazy and as whiners. The truth is that this group started the whole “work/life balance” concept that has come to benefit everyone in the workplace. They aren’t lazy, nor do we, I mean “they,” whine. Gen Xers simply don’t believe you have to work 60 hours a week to get ahead in life. Instead, they believe in value. They’re attracted to flexible work schedules. They’ll take less money if they can only work 40 hours and have time off to spend with family, take a vacation or participate in their favorite hobby. They’ve seen the Baby Boomers get laid off. They’ve seen their friends lose big money in the dot-com era. And, they don’t believe they’ll benefit from Social Security. As a result, they want their money now in the form of salary, 401(k) and bonuses. Stock options and deferred compensation have less appeal to this generation.

Recruiting Generation Y: This group is the most diverse. These people are the most technologically savvy, and the word “instant” is their mantra. This is the group that wonders how the world functioned on dial-up or without cell phones or instant messaging. They have a strong ability to relate to one another without face-to-face interaction. If you need to recruit employees from this group, you must have technology and be incredibly flexible with their work schedules.

As you can see, the similarities and differences among these three generational groups can be subtle and significant. My hope is that you at least take these differences into account when you are recruiting new plant employees or managing employee performance so that you can maximize your talent management strategies.

John Ha is the president of Reliability Careers, a provider of workforce solutions for the reliability and maintenance industry. This business not only provides traditional staffing services for companies but is dedicated to help customers better understand and identify their needs, produce talent through on-the-job and apprentice programs, and provide ongoing training requirements to keep the workforce on top of its game. For individual career seekers, the firm finds top-flight career opportunities in the reliability and maintenance field. Contact John at 918-388-2438 or e-mail info@reliabilitycareers.com.