THE X FACTOR
Five generations working together
With five generations working side-by-side simultaneously in the workforce for the first time in history, it’s important to be aware of the incredible range of preferences, skills, working styles, and sensitivities at play. Taking these differences into account when considering their convergence in the workplace will continue to be a critical success factor for employers. Covid-19 made many of these generational differences in the workplace more apparent, requiring some adjustments to mitigate pitfalls and maximize best practices.
By engaging and supporting multiple generations in the same workforce, a company can bring together the best of expertise, experience, values, and diversity of thought. A truly inclusive workplace fosters an environment where all employees “bring their whole selves to work,” ultimately optimizing the organization’s performance and their ability to make impactful solutions for their clients, customers and communities. We’ve collected data from multiple projects and workshops that clearly demonstrate the difference in working style - and interaction with the workplace - between these various generational groups1.
So who does the work?
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) has written extensively about a specific group of older workers: the traditionalists2. HBR argues that companies can support society and benefit from bringing older people back to work and give them meaningful, important jobs.
Here are key elements to navigating a mutually-beneficial working relationship with this generation:
Eager to engage.
In the wise words of Stephen Hawking: “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” Countless individuals in their 60s and 70s are actively engaged with their careers, and many will never embrace formal, full retirement. Smart employers will consider the traditionalists as a coveted addition to their workforce.
Provide technology support.
While an advantageous employee group, modern career, payroll, recruitment and assessment systems are designed with inherent bias against onboarding an aging workforce. Investing in support systems for technology - or providing more analogue options - will greatly enhance the traditional work performance and employee experience.
Curiosity or capability.
For most people, knowledge and expertise - the main predictors of job performance - keep increasing even beyond the age of 80. There is also ample evidence to assume that traits like drive and curiosity are catalysts for new skill acquisition, even during late adulthood. When it comes to learning new things, there is no actual age limit.
As the global economy ages, ageism and related bias will become a more important issue for employers to address. If companies create an inclusive, fair, and meaningful work experience for older employees in addition to younger team members, they’ll find the workplace becomes more innovative, engaging, and profitable over time.
Baby boomers (1946-1964)
Baby boomers are a generation characterized by a very strong work ethic, and they are generally motivated by gains in position, workplace perks and external acknowledgement.
Employers should bear the following key attributes in mind to support this generation:
Baby Boomers grew up in an era of reform and believe they can contribute to changes in the world; as such, they are not afraid to challenge established practices when necessary.
Inclined to advance.
Overall, Baby Boomers tend to be achievement-oriented, dedicated and career focused, and welcome exciting and challenging opportunities. Within the current workplace landscape, they often hold executive or leadership positions and due to their positions, are the primary individuals engaged in the decision-making process around workplace location and design.
Generation X (1965-1980)
Generation X is an independent, resilient group that offers tremendous value to organizations with an understanding of how to harness and maximize their potential. As a business owner or manager, your Gen X employees may prefer that you give them space and autonomy to fix problems, or to propose solutions to problems.
If you have Gen X staff members (as you're likely to, since they make up 35% of the modern workforce), here are ways to support and cultivate your working relationship with them:
Allow them to work autonomously.
Gen Xers are highly independent and thrive when given responsibility for their work. You might ask them to lead a project or design their workflow.
Respect their time.
Gen X workers place a high priority on using time effectively. At work, respect their time by ensuring that meetings start and end on time, that meetings are productive, set and keep firm deadlines, and keep emails concise.
Provide a strong work-life balance.
Many Gen X employees have families and active lives outside of the workplace. To support your Gen X employees, offer a generous paid time-off (PTO) policy, flexible working hours, and respect employees' time off.
Communicate openly and honestly.
With Gen X, keep your messages direct and succinct so they can move forward efficiently with their work and won't feel that you're wasting their time.
One of the easiest ways to annoy a Gen X employee is to micromanage their work; don’t worry, as direct communicators, they will come to you if need be. Gen Xers are highly independent, and value being left to their own devices to solve a problem or complete a project.
Provide learning opportunities.
Gen Xers grew up during a time of great advancement and learning; they are eager to continue their education and to further develop their competencies, even as an experienced worker. As their employer, offer varied training and opportunities to attend conferences and symposiums.
Value their experience.
It is becoming increasingly likely that Gen Xers will be managed by Millennials versus a fellow Gen Xer, a dynamic in which respecting differing experiences, values and preferences will become increasingly important
By 2026, approximately 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials. By far the largest generation in the workplace, millennials heavily influenced the evolution of the workplace employee experience in recent years, and employers need to understand how best to support their workplace experience:
Need for stimulation and engagement.
Millennials value work that stimulates them and resonates with their goals and values.
Focus on ESG.
Millennials also expect their employers to focus on core social issues such as climate change, income inequality, public health and diversity and inclusion. To be an attractive employer to millennials, companies will have to clearly state their core values and develop policies and practices that align with those values.
Additionally, Millennials do not believe overall that excessive work demands are worth sacrifices in their personal lives, and they want flexibility in their working locations and hours even if it means sacrificing pay increases.
Comfort with technology.
Millennials embrace technology in the workplace to enhance efficiency and save time. Interestingly, despite their comfort with technology, Millennials seek out face-to-face connection at work – a determining factor in their commitment to their company, their overall job satisfaction, engagement and long-term retention.
About 25% of younger Millennials (aged 25-30) reported to Deloitte4 last year that they had been laid off or placed on unpaid leave from their jobs. Another 27% reported they were working fewer hours. As a result, Millennials are remarkably concerned about their long-term professional and financial stability which is sure to factor into their career planning and, more specifically, which employers will appeal to them.
Generation Z (1996-2012)
Generation Z is expected to surpass Millennials as the most populous generation on earth (they are currently more than one-third of the world’s population).
Gen Z was just beginning their career journeys as the pandemic escalated and the world economy shut down, and those in school were confined to their homes. Like Millennials, Generation Z is hungry for face-to-face human connection, and they value input and feedback.
Income earning potential.
Almost one-third of Gen Z lost a job during the crisis, compared to 19% of Millennials, 18% of Gen X, and 13% of Baby Boomers. This abrupt shift impacted their views of the workplace and, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York5, potentially damaged their earning potential, as well as hampering their ability to develop on-the-job skills in real time.
Gen Z represents the most tech-savvy generation in the workforce. They are accustomed to the high speed of technological advancement, which enables them to work efficiently and adapt quickly, a valuable skillset for any company in any industry. They benefit from learning overall business skills and practical experience from earlier generations, while adding value by mentoring their older coworkers in tech-based skills.
Prefer in-person collaboration.
Most Generation Z workers spend much of their time at work, and their social group is largely comprised of work colleagues. This influences their attraction to workplaces with interactive amenities and collaborative workspaces6. Flexibility and diversity in the workplace and associated programming are paramount considerations for this group7.
Explore the X Factor
1https://hbr.org/2019/08/generational-differences-at-work-are-small-thinking-theyre-big-affects-our-behavior 2https://hbr.org/2019/09/the-case-for-hiring-older-workers 3https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15950-who-is-gen-x.html 4https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.html 5https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/10/your-lifetime-earnings-are-probably-determined-in-your-twenties/ 6https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/understanding-generation-z-in-the-workplace.html 7https://www.hrexchangenetwork.com/employee-engagement/articles/generations-in-the-workplace