Generations in the Workplace

Generations in the Workplace

Now more than at any time in history before we are seeing the widest range of generations in the workplace. With up to five generations making up work statistics there are a considerable number of issues to consider and expectations to manage. 

Tackling the nuances of each different generation is a tricky one. Not least because each one’s shared experience can be vastly different given the speed of development in technology and how the ‘wants and needs’ vary with older generations versus new.

Getting it wrong when it comes to managing a multigenerational workforce is a recipe for disharmony and head-shaking across the board. Businesses who manage this challenge the right way will reap the benefits of generational diversity, experience, and encourage engagement.

We’re going to take a look at each of the five different generations in the workforce today and what values they typically encompass.

BREAKDOWN OF THE FIVE GENERATIONS:

  • The Silent Generation — born 1927 – 1946
  • Baby Boomers — born 1947 – 1964
  • Generation X — born 1965 – 1980
  • Millennials — born 1981 – 2000
  • Generation Z — born 2001 – present

The Silent Generation

Traditionalists like the Silent Generation make up a very small proportion of the workforce today, estimated to be around 3%. Those who remain are either working because they can’t afford to retire, working because they don’t want to stop being active in the workforce, or more likely be head honchos who oversee legacy businesses until they see fit. Interestingly this final grouping tends to be prevalent in the law sector where they are often still partners, managers, or are involved in a ‘counsel’ capacity to other employees.

They are loyal, hardworking, and tend to stick with one company throughout their lifetime. Respectful of authority and conformist, this was a generation at work as a product of the Second World War.

These employees are problem solvers and can make budgets stretch. On the flip side, they can be resistant to change and find adapting to new processes and technology difficult. They rely on interpersonal skills over technological means.

Baby Boomers

With the end of the Second World War, there was a population spike coupled with rapid economic growth and defined by possibility and opportunity. This generation benefited from this and become wealthy with unprecedented disposable income.

Sociopolitical upheaval coincided with rampant consumerism and the Boomer generation yielded countless business leaders many of whom are still relevant today. Despite much of this generation rapidly retiring year on year today, they were the first to witness much of the goings-on in the world with the advent of television and became the first to become magnets of marketing. 

“OK, Boomer” isn’t just a Millennial catchphrase coined for laughs. It relates to a steadfast way of thinking and limited flexibility, as in their way or the highway. They tend to be very confident in the workplace, but least enthused by teamwork. They too are hard workers like their parents as they grew up watching their work ethic. But they can also be competitive to the point of cutthroat. This would be the last generation to be ‘tech-free’ in the at-home digital sense of today.

Many Boomers who aren’t able to retire just yet financially are taking to freelance consulting roles. Many organisations don’t fancy trying to translate their new tech to more mature employees and they have found it harder to find work as a result.

Generation X

A generation close to the author’s heart, this cohort had uncertainty growing up. The never-ending optimism party of their parents had to end at some point.

This group forms a generation where at the beginning there was no tech when gender inequality was far greater than today, and when issues of race were at the forefront (still relevant today sadly). By the end of this generation, there were things we take for granted like video game consoles, microwaves, VHS, and cable TV in the majority of homes. 

Generation X is what the author likes to call the last generation to have seen an analogue childhood but who are tech-savvy since they witnessed the birth of the digital age as we know it today. 

Women were out in force in the workforce, divorce skyrocketed, and kids were labelled ‘latchkey kids’ because they came home to an empty house and were self-reliant. This is a generation of responsible, independent thinkers who crave autonomy.

At work, this translates to workers who value a work-life balance because they do work hard. Loyal to a profession but less so to an organisation, Gen X-ers naturally straddle the balance between Boomers and Millennials. They work hard but are diplomatic and good listeners who are able to change and are people-oriented. 

Millennials

Ah, Millenials. They’re a hot topic for many in business. The generation who doesn’t know life without technology and who have a real handle of global reach and diversity.

Most Millennials don’t know what it was like to grow up without a home computer, or what it was like not to have the internet. Their economy boomed once again as Silicon Valley transformed everything from PCs to phones as well as awareness about the planet and the human impact on it since industrialisation.

Sometimes labelled ‘snowflakes’ for being sensitive and self-entitled, this group causes the most consternation with the Boomer generation. Given that there are now many of both of these generations in many businesses, this is an area where management comes into play to help bridge the divide.

Millennials are known for ‘job-hopping’, and many expect to work with many different companies and indeed have various careers compared to their predecessors. Many function as freelancers giving them the freedom not to be tied down.

They enjoy collaborating, are very people-oriented, and seek purpose and values from the organisations they choose to work for. Since they are forecast to make up 75% of the work population by 2025, businesses need to understand their own work culture in order to attract and retain this generation at work.

Generation Z

This is the latest crop of tech-savvy natives. Generation Z has only ever known mobile technology and practically came out of the womb with their thumbs scrolling. This is a generation with a short attention span, and who values individualism like no generation before it. 

Labels and definitions they don’t do. They avoid stereotypes and defy historical statistics. Inclusive and always connected, this is a generation for whom Earth truly is a small place. Connection is important socially for this group, and they are addicted to feedback, no doubt a product of the impact of social media from the get-go.

This is a generation in the workforce concerned about long-term finances. This is also a generation that has been impacted by the pandemic more negatively than any other. Unable to forge an adult life developmentally by the stagnation and isolation as they should have been while transitioning to independence, time will tell what the long-term impact will be.

How do you manage these work generations in the workplace?

Team building that engages multiple generations together across departments helps. Creating projects and new processes that require input from all levels of expertise can also be productive. 

Ensuring that the employees you do have are fully aligned with your Purpose, Vision, and Values is also essential. And if you haven’t got those figured out, you need to act fast!

Investing in ways to maximise the benefits of a multigenerational workforce is your best bet for organisational harmony. Get to a deeper understanding of what management styles make these generations tick, focus on communication, and recognise that each generation will respond to different benefits. 

It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all model that will see your business future-proof and retain talent. 

Seizing upon the needs of your employee’s demographics will make the workplace a far more rewarding place of ‘all’ versus ‘us and them’.

 

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