Part 9: Generations Unite!

As you may recall from Part 5: Demographic Differences, we reviewed two primary topics: generational differences and gender differences.  In today’s blog, I want to take what we discovered and talk about what companies and organizations might do to enhance their success when confronting these differences.  As these are broad in implication, I expect this blog will be broken into two parts: this week’s blog will cover generational differences while next week’s will cover differences in gender.

What Are the Generational Differences?

There are now up to five generations in the work place.  Business life was complicated enough when there were just two generations in the work place, so this adds several degrees of difficulty to the manager or business owner.  As most of the workforce is dominated by Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials at this time, our “What’s” will focus here, but we will also touch on Generation Z.  The reason for attention to Gen Z – even though there are not many in the workforce at this point – is that if you are going to make a change, you also need to focus on your future employees. Done correctly, a well-designed workplace will be able to accommodate future generations, and you can avoid making major cultural shifts when the next generation becomes dominant in the workforce.

Before I share some typical examples in each of these, let me remind and caution you against stereotyping your staff.  There are exceptions to each of the below. Each individual is different and not understanding your staff’s needs, attitudes and expectations on an individual level is a recipe for disaster.  Disclaimer covered – on to the stereotyping!

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

As of 2017, Baby Boomers made up about 25% of the workforce or about 41 million workers in the United States[i].  Boomers are characterized as being “extremely hard working and motivated by position, perks, and prestige,” as well as independent, goal-oriented, and competitive. [ii]  Many of the Baby Boomers are staying in the workforce much longer than most would have anticipated,  for a variety of reasons (lack of retirement funds, refusal to retire into a more passive existence come to mind).

Generation X (born 1965-1980)

At the end of 2017, Gen Xers made up 33 percent of the workforce or 53 million workers across the United States.  The common characteristics for Generation X according to The Balance (a career and personal finance website) include valuing a work/life balance, being technologically adept, being more resilient and flexible with respect to change, and as a rule are more individualistic.  (See Figure 1 below)


Figure 1: Gen X Professionals’ Common Characteristics[iii]

Millennials (born 1981-1996)

The bulk of the workforce as of 2017 is occupied by millennials. Thirty-five percent or 56 million workers in the U.S. labor force are between the ages of 22 and 37.  By 2025 they will represent 75% of all employees[iv] — that is only about six years away!  There has been much ado made about the Millennials primarily because they seem to operate in very different ways from prior generations.  This generation is tech-savvy, family-centric, achievement-oriented, team-oriented, attention seeking,  and are prone to changing jobs more often than has been seen in the past.[v]

Generation Z or iGen or Zoomers (born 1997- )

A word about Gen Z.  This is the first generation to have spent their entire lives with a smartphone, but don’t count them out just yet.  Dr. Jean Twenge (San Diego State University) says, “They are more willing to work overtime to do a good job and less likely to have unrealistically high expectations.”[vi] That being said, they are also expected to be less-positive than the Millennials.

What to do? Align the Environment

Alright, so we got the basic attributes out of the way.  Now, what do we do with these three (not forgetting the upcoming iGen) different types of workers all trying to live with each other’s various styles and priorities?  Here are a few tactics to employ.

COMMUNICATION: The most important thing (and frankly it has always been so) is to ensure clear communication is occurring.  If you are communicating clearly you will improve the chances of getting what you expect, and you will learn early if your expectations are misaligned with your audience(s).  Ensuring clear and accurate communication is always worth the investment.

FLEXIBILITY: Be sure your work environment allows for the various needs of each of the generations.  Every group typically has some similar and different needs. Find ways to offer flexible work hours, break times and, if possible office layouts.  Look for different types of behavioral or performance rewards – you’ll be surprised how many of the Boomers will be choosing some of the options intended for Millennials.

DIVERSITY: I can’t say enough about the benefits of a ‘safe’ and open environment to share ideas and solutions.  The greatest benefit of this era is the very fact that we have so much diversity in the workplace.  You must find a way to leverage this.  Encourage your teams to interact and respect both the new and the old, the established and the hair-brained, the continued course as well as the moonshot objectives. The solutions you will find will be better than any you have hitherto discovered with a less diverse group…just ask James Surowiecki[vii]

Stay tuned to next week when we will explore the “What’s” around gender differences in the workplace.


[i] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/

[ii] https://www.thebalancecareers.com/baby-boomers-2164681

[iii] https://www.thebalancecareers.com/common-characteristics-of-generation-x-professionals-2164682

[iv] https://relate.zendesk.com/articles/generation-y-takes-charge/

[v] https://www.thebalancecareers.com/common-characteristics-of-generation-y-professionals-2164683

[vi] https://www2.calstate.edu/csu-system/news/Pages/Move-Over-Millennials-How-iGen-Is-Different-Than-Any-Other-Generation-.aspx

[vii] https://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki-ebook/dp/B000FCKC3I

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