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The SESCO Report – October 2013

Generations in the Workplace: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Due to individual economic realities, for the first time in American history, employers are facing the challenge of managing a workforce spanning four generations: Generation Y (born between 1984 and 2002), X (born between 1965 and 1983), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), and The Mature sometimes called the silent generation (born between 1925 and 1945).

Employers are having a difficult time in managing their extremely diverse workplace because of the drastic differences which exist among generations. Differences include communication styles, how they view and value careers and what benefits best meet their personal and family needs. X-ers, for example, like to text, Boomers like to communicate in person, Y-ers are used to talking, typing and surfing simultaneously and Matures prefer to address one task at a time.

When it comes to understanding how employees view their careers, you could say the younger employees work to live and older people live to work. Generations X and Y saw their parents lose jobs despites years of dedication and loyalty, leading them to be less trustful of employers. Matures who remember the end of the depression and the difficult war years know what it's like to live with limited means. They are committed and hard-working.

In addition to managing, communicating, motivating and leading these diverse generations, employers are also left wondering how one set of employee benefits can satisfy these work groups. However, we know that regardless of age, most of today's employees, regardless of generation, need and want flexibility in their benefit plans. Although finding a balance that will keep all four (4) workplace generations happy seems like a daunting, if not impossible task, the situation provides one big advantage: diversity. "Most companies in America recognize that there are significant advantages to diversity in the workplace. By integrating workers from diverse ages, their workforce becomes stronger." The key to leveraging workplace diversity, as with a multi-generation workforce, is understanding and embracing differences and tailoring management style to all four (4) generations. We must fill the "generation gap" with positive and informative leadership skills. As if managing wasn't hard enough, we must now learn to manage and meet the needs of four (4) different and diverse generations.


Mature workers have worked with only one or two companies working their way up the corporate ladder. This generation is characterized as loyal, hard working, conforming and oppose taking risks. Employees in this category want to be valued for what they know as well as what they do. They like receiving memorabilia such as plaques, photos with important people and trips to resorts. Matures may need time to care for ailing spouses or meet other family needs. They may seek to gradually reduce their work hours as they near retirement and many want to work past retirement sometimes creating an issue between wanting to work and the ability to meet work expectations either physically or mentally.


Baby Boomers currently represent a majority of middle and upper management in organizations. Boomers are often seen as success-oriented, placing the career first and are committed to the company. They have brought team-based leadership to organizations, are willing to share responsibility and communicate more frequently than their predecessors. Boomers will often work past retirement age, but employers must work hard to provide incentives such as retirement planning, flexible retirement options and training. This group enjoys gestures of appreciation such as public recognition, status symbols and trips to resorts. Baby Boomers find themselves needing to take care of aging family members as they find themselves "sandwiched" between the needs of their children and many times grandchildren and that of their parents. Additional time is needed to serve as caregivers.


Generation Xers are independent, resourceful, self-directed and goal-oriented. They want a flexible and pleasant work environment, a sense of accomplishment, self-identity, training, money and benefits and to have fun. They often seek out superiors who are mentors and coaches, who lead more by effective persuasion than by command. Xers have a strong sense of determination and are willing to work hard, but not at the expense of their personal lives. They value diversity, global thinking and problem solving. This generation appreciates access to the best office technology, adventure travel, family-oriented rewards and time-off. Gen X-ers demand a work-life balance. They put their time in at work but need time away from work. This frustrates managers who are Baby Boomers or Matures as they believe long hours equals success.


Generation Y or Millennials are comfortable with high-tech, fast-paced activities, and are practical problem solvers, connected to the world and concerned about the environment. They seem to enjoy tradition and be more optimistic than the Xers and Boomers. This generation values civic duty, achievement and diversity. They appreciate and enjoy educational and skill building opportunities, company outings and events, outdoor concerts, the theater and similar activities. Most importantly, they want flexible work hours. They are highly confident, many times disrespectful, yet very efficient and technologically literate. They do not respond to "tell me what to do and I'll do it" they prefer to collaborate and be creative.

Despite various generational challenges from a management perspective, the differences can actually be used to strengthen the culture and overall effectiveness of team. The key is for manager's to find common ground in the areas where each group has priorities and to address them through workplace strategy and design. Three examples of such areas are meaningful work, collaboration, and learning. While the generations might have different points of view on what is meaningful, how they like to collaborate, and the kind of learning they seek, they tend to agree on the importance of these three areas. Ultimately, it is up to the manager to identify the needs of the individual employee and the team to best blend strengths and weaknesses of all four (4) generations for ultimate communication and teamwork.

Each of these generations can easily share a pleasant work environment as long as they acknowledge and respect the fact that each has very different views on the past, present and future. Knowing more about the generations can foster that respect and improve communications, which is key to positive employee relations and teamwork.

It is recommended that all managers and supervisors be trained on understanding and appreciating the differences of managing the realities of the multi-generational workforce. Through a better understanding and appreciation of these differences, managers can leverage each generation's strengths while at the same time avoiding significant frustration (and liability) as to the challenges each generation poses.

Common Misconceptions About Exempt Employees

Exemption mistakes mean enormous liability for employers, yet many put surprisingly little effort into their classification decisions. Even when they are sincerely trying to comply with the law, many employers misunderstand or misapply exemptions.

The following identify the most common mistakes and fallacies regarding FLSA exemptions:

1. Employees who are paid a salary are exempt. (First of all, exemption decisions are based on the job duties and responsibilities, not on the fact of being paid hourly or by salary. There is a category of employees who are "salaried nonexempt." These employees are not paid extra for the hours they work over 40 in a week; however, they are due the overtime premium when they work overtime.)

2. If an employee's job title is that of manager, supervisor, or administrator, he or she is exempt. (Title is not determinative; again, the job duties, not the title, determine the exemption.)

3. Highly-compensated employees are exempt. (Highly-compensated employees are more likely to be exempt, but that is not the determining factor.)

4. Employees who are college educated and perform white-collar office work are exempt. (Again, job duties, not education or clothing, are the determinates of the exemption.)

5. Employees who have advanced degrees are exempt. (Same story.)

6. If employees prefer to be paid a salary and do not want to record their time, it is OK to treat them as exempt. (Employees can't give up their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act. And employers have to maintain their obligations under the Act, including tracking hours worked and paying overtime.)

7. If employees who have been classified as exempt don't work overtime, it doesn't matter if they are misclassified. (Perhaps their amount of pay won't be affected, but the employer will still be violating provisions of the FLSA. For example, the recordkeeping requirements of the FLSA must be adhered to, and there are other tricky situations relating to meal periods, breaks, time off, and leave that will cause trouble (and cost big money) eventually

SESCO conducts Wage-Hour compliance assessments for clients across the country.

SESCO Client Inquiry — Staff Response

Question: Is compensation the most important factor in considering a new employer?

Answer: Lee Hecht Harrison surveyed more than 400 workers throughout the U.S. via an online poll asking, "What's most important when considering a new employer?" The results were as follows:

Relationships — 38%
Stability — 36%
Compensation — 15%
Advancement — 11%

When attracting top talent, it's important for organizations to understand what workers value. Compensation is normally not what attracts new applicants. However, if it is, compensation will only be a short-term interest. Quickly, culture (communication, leadership, relationships) will be the factor that retains employees long-term.

SESCO Client Feedback

"Bill, I, again, want to thank you for your services this past week. All who were there enjoyed your presentation and some said they could have enjoyed eight (8) hours more." ~ Norm Gaither — Dealer Strategic Planning, Inc. — Virginia Beach, VA

"Just a note to say thank you for what your company does to help people do a better job in managing the business. My hope is anyone reading your updates will immediately incorporate them into their daily practices until it becomes the culture." ~ Art Ramey, President — ARC Solutions — Atlanta, GA

"Bill, thank you for your presentation last night. I believe our guys were enlightened more than I would have imagined about the topics discussed. Good session. We might want you to tackle more topics in the future." ~ Junella R. McClellan, PHR, Human Resource Manager — The Regional Eye Center — Kingsport, TN

Special Thanks to New SESCO Clients!

Ayers Health & Rehab Center
Trenton, FL

Proud Eagle, Inc.
Charleston, WV

Bristol, VA

Blackbird Bakery
Bristol, VA

iTrust Federal Credit Union
Memphis, TN

The Patrick Auto Group
Ashland, VA

SESCO's Fall Seminar Series 2013

Richmond, VA

November 14, 2013
Human Resources — The Advanced Course
Virginia Community Healthcare Association

Bristol, VA

November 7, 2013
Human Resources — The Advanced Course
Courtyard by Marriott

SESCO HR, Leadership, Sales and Customer Service training programs are available for purchase for in-house use. Contact Bill Ford at 423-764-4127 or by email

SESCO Product of the Month

Affordable Care Act Compliance Manual

SESCO has recently updated "An Employer's Guide to Healthcare Reform" providing a detailed overview of what is required by the law, including a timeline indicating when different provisions are to be implemented. This white paper is available for $30.00 ($20.00 for retainer clients) and may be ordered by phone at 423-764-4127, by clicking HERE from our Online Publications store, or by email at

What Managers Need to Know about the ADA

When you're faced with an employee or applicant who may have a physical or mental disability, your legal antenna should go up right away. That's because the complex Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives qualified disabled people special rights in the workplace. Here's what a manager needs to know about the ADA:

Who is protected?

The ADA covers more than just people who are deaf, blind or in wheelchairs. Technically, people are "disabled" under the ADA if they have a physical or mental impairment that "substantially limits one or more major life activities," such as sleeping, standing or working.

Depending on the person's condition, that can include ailments such as epilepsy, diabetes or arthritis, plus mental impairments, such as major depression and bipolar disorder. The ADA protects people with a history of such impairments, such as an employee whose cancer is in remission. And in 2009, a new law broadened the definition of "disability" even further, thus allowing more employees to request accommodations and file lawsuits.

What are you required to do?

With limited exceptions, you must keep confidential any medical information about applicants or employees. If a person is "disabled" under the law, we must provide reasonable accommodations to assist that person.

Can you ask about disabilities?

The ADA says employers can't ask questions about a person's disability during the application process.
That includes direct questions about the impairment, questions about medications they take or questions about the person's workers' comp history.

You can, however, make business-based inquiries, such as:

Whether they have the right experience, training and skills.
Whether they can satisfy the job's essential functions.
How much time off the applicant took in past jobs (but not why).

After making a job offer, you can then ask any disability-related questions and conduct medical exams, as long as you do this for everyone in that same job category. You can't pull back a job offer simply because you discover a person is disabled. That would be blatant discrimination.

You can, however, withdraw a job offer if it's clear after the medical inquiry that the person can't perform the job's essential functions with or without a "reasonable accommodation."

What's a "reasonable accommodation?"

If an employee is a qualified disabled person, you must make "reasonable accommodations" to help him or her perform the job's essential functions. Some examples:

A diabetic employee may need regular breaks to eat properly and monitor blood levels.
A person with a back problem may need a stiff-backed chair.
A person with cancer may need leave to have radiation treatments.

When potentially disabled employees approach you with accommodation requests, they set in motion the ADA's "interactive process."

It's important to be able to identify such requests as possible ADA-covered requests and then alert HR. You should begin laying a paper trail now to show a good-faith effort to comply with the law.

Employers don't have to go along with every accommodation request. Requests are unreasonable if they cause the organization an "undue hardship," meaning it's too difficult or too expensive to provide.

What if a disability threatens safety?

The ADA allows you to ask questions related to a disability and even require a medical exam if an employee's medical condition appears to be causing performance or safety problems. You can also reject a job applicant (or terminate an employee) with a disability for safety reasons if the person poses a direct threat to others.

What about drug and alcohol use?

Current illegal use of drugs isn't protected by the ADA, so you don't need to hire or retain someone who is using illegal drugs or fails a drug test. Also, employees who are found drinking on the job can be fired for company violations.

At a glance: Americans with Disabilities Act

Prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities during hiring, firing, promotions, pay and training. (Some state laws apply to smaller employers.)

You can't ask about a person's disability during hiring.

Job offers can be conditional on a medical exam, as long as all applicants take the same exam.

The ADA defines a disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."

Employers must make reasonable accommodations for the person's disability unless doing so would create an "undue hardship" for the organization.