The pressure was on for Cindy Swigert.
It was 2010, and Swigert’s new employer, a growing Midwestern credit union, was preparing for a full core system conversion. Compounding the situation, half of the credit union’s employees had recently transitioned to a new system in the wake of a major merger and would have to go through the process all over again.
“Add to that the dynamics of the different generations [of staff] and it became a big scary monster,” recalls Swigert, now vice president of human resources at $331 million asset Day Air Credit Union in Kettering, Ohio.
Swigert and her colleagues tackled this challenge by forming multigenerational, multifunctional project teams. Their success provides a primer on how credit unions can leverage generational strengths to better serve members, and retain motivated employees.
A rapidly changing workforce
Today, employers face a landmark tipping point.
The millennial generation, comprised of roughly 76 million people born between 1981 and 1997, recently passed the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, as the largest segment of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center.
Just as significant, as boomers ease into retirement, millennials are entering the most stable and productive stage of their careers. In fact, millennials are expected to make up 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.
“This millennial workforce really wants to be engaged, and they want to feel like they’re making a difference,” says Steve Langley, senior vice president of member services/chief retail officer at $1.8 billion asset Schools Financial Credit Union in Sacramento, Calif.
But this desire to contribute sometimes leads to conflict with other generations in the workforce, particularly members of Generation X.
The nation’s 66 million Gen Xers, those born between 1965 and 1980, are sandwiched between the higher-profile boomers and millennials. Yet members of this generation are now moving into senior leadership positions, and in many cases will continue working for the next 20 years.
Based on immigration and mortality trends, the U.S. population of Gen X is projected to surpass that of boomers by 2028. The volatile dynamic between a Gen X workforce at the height of its powers and a massive and ascendant millennial workforce is causing tension at many organizations.
“Gen X needs to be a bigger part of the conversation,” says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer at The Center for Generational Kinetics and an expert on millennials. “They’re the ones moving into the senior leadership roles. Right now, the most conflict we’re seeing is millennial to Gen X because both generations are waiting to move up.”
“Gen Xers have put in their time over the past 15 or 20 years and they’re now in leadership positions,” says Josh Allison, senior consultant with FI Strategies. “At the same time you have the millennials, who have a fundamentally different view of the world. Rather than wanting a large paycheck or a prestigious career, they want purpose in the workplace.”
The typical member of Gen X doesn’t have the same motivations. “Millennials and the Gen Xers they’re reporting to are having conversations about development, and they’re speaking a different language,” Allison says. “As a result of that divide, there’s disengagement.”
Allison says this disconnect costs U.S. businesses between $450 billion and $550 billion each year in lost productivity. Employers struggle to foster loyalty in millennials, who tend to leave an employer if they don’t feel challenged or valued.
Even if they stick around, young workers will “check out” quickly if they believe they’re not being heard.
“I think the biggest challenge with millennials is they sometimes get very frustrated because they want to do more,” says Peter Stein, senior vice president of human resources at $1.7 billion asset Educators Credit Union in Mount Pleasant, Wis. “I’ve noticed that they’re not afraid of hard work. They don’t mind working overtime. But they want a quality of work. They don’t want to come in and just sit at a computer all day. They really want to be challenged.”
Lukewarm employee engagement can quickly lead to external disengagement—the death knell for service- focused cooperatives such as credit unions that count on member loyalty and commitment.