Our Generation X-pert series continues with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. I first met Laurie when I was a marketing manager for a financial services firm and Laurie joined the organization as SVP and Director of Investments. When our first official meeting evolved into an hour-long discussion about ’80s music, I knew she was my cup of tea. We have both since moved on from the firm but she remains one of my dearest friends. Her 25-year career in finance has given her a ton of experience in managing employees (and clients) from different generations. Part One of our conversation about her career path, the finance industry and of course Generation X follows, edited for clarity.
The GenX Manager: You and I talk all the time about being part of Generation X. What does that mean to you? What do you think of?
Laurie Haelen: When I think of Generation X, I think of coming of age in the ’80s, a time that celebrated a certain type of person, an “Alex P. Keaton,” if you will.
GXM: A yuppie.
LH: Yes, and if you weren’t a yuppie, then you were “somebody else.” And somebody else felt disenfranchised and distant from the consumerism that was happening. I remember feeling like there was all of this stuff going on in the world: the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “just say no to drugs” campaign and the AIDS crisis. I felt like there was a divide between people moving forward in their yuppie way and the people who were cynical about it.
GXM: How do you feel about where GenX is today—in work and in life?
LH: I think that, in many ways, we’re lost a little in translation. I think the Baby Boomers have been such a defining generation in the workplace, with their work ethic and habits. Everybody knows what they stand for. And everyone seems to know what the Millennials stand for, but no one seems to be talking about Generation X. I remember taking a leadership class on dealing with the generations, and it’s interesting because all I remember is how to deal with Millennials and how to deal with Baby Boomers. I can’t remember what the plan was for us.
GXM: Fewer meetings?
LH: Right. And email them. Now I’m remembering. But I’m on the early edge of GenX, closer to the Baby Boomers, and I prefer in-person communication. What I see from Generation X, especially being in finance, is that education and credentials are not the most important things to them. There’s some cynicism around that. Having more of a real relationship is more important to them.
LH: Exactly. That’s interesting because that’s very important to Baby Boomers. GenX-ers were also the first ones to view work as “doing work,” not a place or a time frame. So, if it takes a GenX-er five hours to complete an eight-hour project, they’re like, “I’m done.” To GenX, that’s OK, whereas to Baby Boomers it’s not OK; you’re going to sit there and get the eight hours in. So, that’s one thing I think is true. I hate the “bean counting.” And I, too, am less impressed with someone’s credentials than I am with how they treat people. I am impressed by the type of person they are. I don’t care about the letters after their name.
GXM: Do you remember from that leadership class what the advice was for managing Millennials?
LH: Oh, I do. It was to make them feel special. If you’re their boss, Millennials might want you to meet their parents. Communicate the way they want to communicate, texting, etc. And give them recognition—meaningful recognition.
In my experience managing Millennials, all of this has been true. And for us as their managers, we need to be very clear about what we expect from them and to let them know how they’re doing—where they’re at, where they’re going, what the path is and how to get there.
I’ve had lots of conversations with Millennial employees about money, about title, about status. They ask very early on, “How did you get where you are? How can I do what you do?” And in my head, I’m thinking, “It took me 20 years to get here!”
GXM: We did pay some dues, our generation. Certainly the Boomers did, and they value that. So, it is kind of new territory for us to see people who don’t know about paying dues or that there are no dues to pay anymore.
LH: And I’ve had some experiences with Millennials where I’ve given them more money, more schooling, or more opportunities and they took them without hesitation and then moved on very quickly. In my generation, and certainly in older generations, we tend to stick to things. But now as you know that loyalty between employer and employee is gone—on both sides. And so I can’t really blame them. That is a characteristic of our generation—trying to see things from both sides.
GXM: What do you feel you’ve learned from Millennials?
LH: They’re great at advocating for themselves. I did not advocate for myself at their age, and I did think it was kind of amazing and cool that they would have the audacity to tell me they need to make more money. The way they use technology, that’s something I try to stay on top of. There are tools that exist to improve efficiencies, and Millennials can many times do things faster than some other generations. But I respect the advocacy, and I respect the courage they have to advocate for themselves. I have also found that when criticism is dealt, they get over it quickly.
GXM: What about managing Baby Boomers as someone younger than them? What was it like for you to supervise people older than you early in your career?
LH: In my early career, it was like all these people are my dad. That made it very hard to say no to them or really give them any kind of negative feedback. It made it hard for me to finally stand up to them and say, “Wait a minute. You might have more years of experience, but I am in charge and this is my call.” That was hard. It took years for me to be able to do that. Confronting them felt like confronting a parent.
Now, it’s much different. It’s more, “I understand where you’re coming from, and I really value you.” That’s really meaningful to them. And I do everything in person with Baby Boomers, especially if I think it’s going to be particularly disruptive or violates their values. I am very mindful now of how I give feedback, and I’ll adjust my communication style based on generational considerations.
Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Laurie and get her take on how the financial industry is responding to generational needs, her career path and her advice for people interested in a career in finance. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!