Norwich - A middle-aged boss - call him a "team leader" - presides over a business meeting. Arrayed before him is a multigenerational staff whose members range in age from their 20s to well into their 60s.
On one side of the room, a 28-year-old "millennial" is texting feverishly while on the other, a 35-year-old member of Generation X is squirming in his seat.
What's a manager to do?
Jim DeMaio, a management consultant who's trained thousands of Fortune 500 managers across the country, posed the scenario Wednesday at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Business-Education Council of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. The event, held at Three Rivers Community College, focused on "The Multigenerational Workplace," a phenomenon researchers have been studying.
"We wouldn't have been talking about this 10, 15 years ago," DeMaio, president of Wallingford-based Learning Dynamics, told his audience.
But by now, he said, workplaces typically include members of as many as four generations: "traditionalists" born before 1946; "baby boomers" born from 1946 to 1964; Generation X-ers born from 1965 to 1981; and millennials, or Generation Y-ers, born since 1982.
Such diversity has its drawbacks but also its advantages. The idea, DeMaio said, is to "leverage the diversity for good."
Each generation has certain characteristics. Traditionalists, shaped by the Great Depression and world wars, tend to hate waste and prize frugality. Boomers, competitive and given to workaholism, are the most stressed. Gen X-ers are likely to be independent. They're often hypersensitive to being micromanaged, multitask well and expect to balance the demands of work and their private lives.
Then there are the millennials, a technologically savvy group who frequently question things. Self-starters, they've been exposed to the latest trends in education and, in some cases, to "helicopter parents" who hovered over them.
When there's an IT problem, the call goes out to them, DeMaio said to knowing laughter: "Where's a Gen Y-er when you need one?"
Members of a panel represented each generation.
Denny Hicks, the commerce chamber's director of strategic planning, said he asked his son, a 45-year-old Gen X-er, what generational issues he's encountered in the workplace.
"Your generation has plugged up the system (by working longer than previous generations)," Hicks said his son told him.
Gen X-er Nicholas Spera, principal of the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, said 30 years separate the youngest and oldest of his teachers. Generational differences aside, he said, students must still be taught to shake a hand firmly and to look a person in the eye when making direct contact.
DeMaio had some advice for the boomer boss addressing inattentive millennials and Gen X-ers.
Try forgoing meetings on Fridays, he said, and vary the ways in which meetings are conducted. Invite people only to those portions of a meeting that are relevant to them and strive to keep the meeting moving.
"They shouldn't last more than an hour," he said.