I often hear businesspeople lament over the difficulty of working with millennials. This usually results in an eye roll and sigh from me. Maybe it’s because I personally have a bit of an identity crisis over what generational group I fit into. I’m on the border of Gen X and Gen Y (gasp! Shall I dare admit I’m a millennial?), but most of my closest friends and colleagues are Gen X and boomers. They’ll say things to me like, “What?! You’re a millennial? Don’t worry! You act far more like Gen X.” I assume it’s intended as a compliment, but honestly, I think I simply act like myself.

Is it really fair to put such sweeping generalizations on a group of people, especially negative ones, suggesting that the newest generation is destroying the workplace as we know it? After all, hasn’t the youngest generation always been a pain in the you-know-what for the generations before them? It makes me think of pictures and stories I’ve heard about my own dad. Back in the day, he was a long-haired, bass-guitar-playing, authority-questioning young man. Some might have even classified him as a hippie. Pretty cool, right? While he was really talented, he couldn’t always pay the bills by playing music professionally. So, he had to get a day job. I guarantee he was full of ideas on “better” ways of doing things and difficult to manage until he really found his way professionally.

At a recent manufacturers’ event packed with educational sessions, there was a huge focus on the future of our industry and how we will print in the years to come. Cue the generational talks. But, this time the topic really piqued my interest. One speaker pointed out the unprecedented breadth of generations in the current workforce. While we’ve all been talking about millennials, Gen Z is arriving on the scene, and baby boomers are still going strong. This means we’re on the verge of managing four, and in some cases five, generations at once. Yes, this might seem like a lot to align, but maybe we should embrace the positives in this situation.

There are a number of studies pointing out that diversity drives businesses to perform better than they would in a non-diverse or groupthink-type setting. Often, interactions in these diverse groups “feel” more difficult because so many perspectives have to be explored, but the actual result is a better product or business process than what would have been achieved in a homogeneous group. A generational spread can lead to those unique experiences and perspectives that are so significant to business growth. Balancing the new ideas of the younger generations with the experience of the older generations can go a long way in creating more value for our customers.

So what did I learn about Generation Z — our workforce of the future? Enough to be excited about their arrival. There are some positive qualities to share about this new generation. My favorite is that they hate the idea of waste. This really resonates with me because of my own dislike of waste. The more of us demanding less waste from those whom we buy products, the better. You can read some of my thoughts around eliminating waste from MPS engagements here.

The younger generations, with their dislike of waste and preference for environmentally and socially impactful business practices, have re-energized many resellers to seek and invest in workflows that streamline the elimination of waste, as well as, drive sustainability efforts in their own businesses and managed print practices. Some areas to consider are supplies replenishment, ongoing fleet maintenance and right sizing, as well as programs that offset paper consumption in end-user environments.

Automating supplies replenishment has many positive outcomes for resellers, end-users and the environment. When left to manage their own print environment, end-users tend to order more supplies than needed. They also tend to remove cartridges with as much at 15 to 20 percent of the supply remaining in the cartridge. You might have a hard time convincing current customers that this is something they should consider when choosing an MPS partner, but I have a good feeling the office worker of the future will expect that you help keep their waste down to an absolute minimum.

The same goes for taking care of their existing fleet. Proactive maintenance of a fleet can go a long way in helping to preserve the customer’s current print environment. Does your program help pinpoint like devices that are over and underutilized? Moving those devices periodically to balance the workload, coupled with regularly scheduled preventative maintenance, can result in a much healthier print fleet. This way, they only need to replace devices when it really makes sense for them operationally and financially, minimizing the environmental and financial waste that can come from ineffective management.

Do you have sustainability features built into your offering? I believe the customers of the future are going to come to expect this from their providers. Building options into your MPS program allows your customers to feel good about partnering with an organization who is thinking about them not only now, but into the future.

There is no doubt that change can be a challenge in any business. Those that use change to reflect on their own business practices — making adjustments and improvements to adapt to that change — are laying a foundation for long-term success. I look forward to the opportunity to grow and learn from all generations around me, drawing on their experiences of the past or exploring new ideas for the future.

is Director of Services and Solutions – Supplies Network. Sarah joined Supplies Network in 2001 and has held several positions over the years; advancing through the ranks within the sales team before taking on the role of MPS Program Advisor where her expertise and leadership were key to accelerating MPS growth. In 2012, Sarah was promoted to MPS Solutions Manager leading a team of Solutions Advisors responsible for MPS engagements and ultimately equipment sales and related services. Currently serving as Director of Services and Solutions, Sarah leads a team of MPS Solutions Advisors, Equipment Advisors, Contract Coordinators, Fulfillment Analysts and a Technical Operations team focused on break-fix service and software solutions. Additional responsibilities include providing critical direction and design of program enhancements and vendor integrations. Sarah received a M.B.A. and a B.A. in Management from Webster University.