Managers, regardless of which generation they hail from, have the job of translating communications from many sources so they can get the job done and maintain a cohesive work group. At aquatics facilities, we have to accomplish goals such as safety, good customer service and quality programming. We can’t afford to have conflicts caused by poor communication. Once managers understand how different generations send and receive information — and how to show them the respect they need and want — things will run smoother in the workplace. Let’s see how that can be accomplished.


There are so many ways to communicate these days that it can be overwhelming. And each generation has its own preferences, as the following “snapshots” show.

Boomers: This group generally prefers talking on the phone, with 92 percent having land lines. They also routinely send memos and email. But texting a boomer is not so effective — “LOL” is not funny to them because they tend to view it as a loss of the art of conversation.

Gen-X: This generation also likes phones, with 86 percent possessing land lines. They, too, utilize memos, email and texting. Gen-X’s don’t mind social media because using technology to communicate has been part of their lives — it’s not a problem.

Gen-Y: For this group, cell phones are preferred; only 33 percent have land lines. They like texting because it’s very private and to the point. They use social media and don’t care about paper memos. Being connected 24/7 is part of life, no questions asked.

Gen-Z: The Z’s receive their own cell phones between the ages of 12 and 14, on average. Technology is completely integrated into every aspect of their lives — everything will be in the cloud, portable and visual. Memos and fax machines will not exist when they enter the workplace.

If you take into consideration all of the generations’ preferences for communication and use it as a management tool, you’ll be way ahead of the game. Lifeguards of today tend to be Gen-Y employees, so we know that they prefer texting, don’t read email and are constantly online. Smart managers know they will need to employ the tools that will allow them to communicate with their employees effectively. A co-worker wisely pointed something out to me: “They (Generations X, Y and Z) will answer a text from the devil before they answer a call from an angel.” I now text all my staff if I really want to get a message to them.


The rules are changing. If you are a manager, it’s important to understand how to send a message, but the key is ensuring that the information is being received and understood. This means managers must have a way to evaluate employees and hold them accountable. This task is rapidly changing and, quite frankly, most organizations are not keeping up. Today many facilities are still processing employee evaluations once a year, or at the end of the season. Managers are required to dig up everything an employee has done over a long time period; document the good, the bad and the ugly; check off the goals set from last year; and formulate new ones.

“Sign here, see you next year” is a common refrain. But this method of feedback is no longer effective. Why? Because each generation processes information very differently. For example:

Boomers: “No news is good news because I am sure it’s great.” Boomers are often self-confident. They expect their service to be rewarded with money and title.

Gen-X: “Once-a-year summary; keep it informal.” Gen-X’s are more self-directed, but they prefer an informal environment. Giving them a lot to do and the freedom to do it is very important for them to succeed in the workplace.

Gen-Y: “Hey, BTW, how am I doing today?” Gen Y has a strong sense of self, and they want to know how well they are doing, with an emphasis on them and the positive. Their parents were the people transporting and scheduling them — it’s how they have been raised, and they like it. The transition from the first 16 or so years to adulthood is proving to be a bit rocky for the parents and Gen-Y. The parents are still hovering over them.

Gen-Z: “It’s there at the push of a button whenever I want to know.” This group of up-and-comers is going to be interesting in the workplace. They thrive on immediate gratification and if technology is not somehow integrated into motivation and feedback, communications will be difficult. A large part of their environment has been virtual all of their lives. The biggest difficulty will be for the generations before them to help them learn how to deal with people face to face, especially in the service industry, where being physically present is required.

Gen X was brought up on video games, putting their initials next to the high score their whole lives. Gen Y and the up-and-coming Z’s have had constant and immediate feedback. Their parents have been able to go online and see their children’s progress in school on a daily basis. After all, Y’s and Z’s were monitored by video cams in day care. The workplace is different than day care or a classroom, but it’s time managers look to those examples for ideas on how to monitor and give effective feedback to the next generations of employees if they want to attract and maintain the very best for their organizations.


Who has it, who wants it, and how do you get it? Those are important questions. Each generation views respect in very different ways. Identifying the core beliefs that govern how each generation defines respect can be enlightening for a manager, and lead to a more cohesive workplace.

Boomers: They want respect for their experience. They’ve spent their lifetimes working hard and being loyal. Boomers are probably the last generation to view keeping a job for a long period of time as a positive career attribute.

Gen-X: Respect them for the decisions they make. This group has always been self-directed and self-paced. Gen-X’s will have the difficult job of fostering a workplace transition from the ways of the boomers to the expectations of the Y’s. They have inherited all the work practices of the boomers, but for most Gen-X’s and all Gen-Y’s, many of those operations are obsolete. Right now, Gen-X is in the position of making it easy for everyone to access information and streamline industry policies and procedures to keep them relevant in the new millennium.

Gen-Y: Respect them for their ideas. Visual … short, sweet and to the point is how Gen-Y’s have been communicating with each other. Think YouTube (a video is 10 minutes, max), text messages (160 characters) and Tweets (140 characters). Gen-Y will boil ideas down to their essence to get them across. The elevator pitch is almost too long for a Gen-Y.

Gen-Z: Their suggestions should be recognized. They talk in terms of “how about …” or “you would think things could be done better if. …” Gen-Z has access to information at a speed and volume that is mind-boggling. They’re accustomed to instant access to information. Inconveniences and problems will be researched and identified immediately. Their suggestions for improvement will come from more than one source, with Gen-Z’s easily curating the information and the answer to the problem into a neat and tidy solution. In the mind of a Gen-Z, problems should be solvable quickly.

A young Gen-Y or Gen-Z does not give a lot of credence to the experience that means so much to a boomer because they personally don’t have very much experience. Boomers have difficulty acknowledging decisions made by a Gen-X because boomers have been making decisions for a long time. Decisions are easier to make with lots of experience. We all know respect is not easily given in any workplace; it has to be earned.

By taking the time to understand an employee’s generational viewpoint of respect, a manager will gain a valuable insight into how they can retain and motivate employees. Everyone in the workplace wants some sort of recognition — it’s a way to gain credibility and, ultimately, respect.


Speculating on future management challenges based on what we know about the various generations can be an interesting exercise. Forecasting is, of course, only conjecture. But who wouldn’t enjoy taking a peek into the crystal ball of management challenges in the future? So let’s give it a try.

Boomers: They’ll be re-entering the recreation field. They see themselves living an active retirement, maybe even trying to recapture some of the best parts of their youth. One way to do that is to be a swim instructor and, as it turns out, many boomers have past experience as lifeguards and swim instructors. Swimming is a lifetime skill, and teaching takes experience — so boomers will be great swim instructor candidates when they want to begin their active retirement years.

Gen-X: They are going to usher in a new kind of work/life balance in the workplace. It will be less about how full the calendar is and more about integrating recreation with family and friends. Work must be satisfying and challenging, but the Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s are already seeing to that, such as removing inefficiencies in providing services to customers.

Gen-Y: They’re demanding a better work/life balance. Their loyalty to an organization will be because the organization is flexible, challenging and can hold their interest.

Gen-Z: They already exist in two worlds — the actual physical world and their virtual world. If we in aquatics can find positive inroads to the virtual world while providing a pathway for the face-time world to intersect, we just might bridge the gaps better between the generations.

The last word

So here’s how things stand: Our lifeguards and swim instructors are primarily Gen-Y and are bringing with them a steady stream of changes in the workplace. If managers stay aware of how to use different channels in which to manage and communicate with Gen-Y, it will go a long way toward reducing conflicts at work. They also are the people who will usher in and begin the mentoring process for Gen-Z. The young Gen-Z’s will offer their own challenges for the Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s in the workplace of the future. And, most of all, don’t count out the boomers just yet. They’ll probably re-emerge as our front-line staff, such as swim instructors, lifeguards and shallow-water guards.

Tina Dittmar is the aquatic supervisor for the city of Laguna Niguel, Calif. She’s also a Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor Trainer, and currently is working on the American Red Cross' new Lifeguard Management Program as a technical editor. Additionally, Dittmar is president of the H2o[2] Foundation, an air and water safety group dedicated to safety education.