What Employers Should Know About Generational Differences in the Workplace

There have always been generational differences in the workplace, but never has there been a wider span of age groups in the workforce than there is today. This diversity presents unique challenges for employers, and an understanding of the values, beliefs, and motivating factors of each group is needed to bridge gaps between them to help a business improve in a number of ways.

A recent infographic by Purdue University highlights the five generations currently working side by side in businesses spanning many industries. While that may sound like a bold claim considering those generations represent nearly a century of workers, the number of people working into older age is steadily on the rise. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the labor force participation rate (the number of people working or actively looking for work) is expected to increase fastest in the age groups 65-74 and 75+ through 2024.

This means that there are indeed members of each of the last 5 generations actively working including: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Each of these represents a core group of the workforce that can contribute to the ongoing needs and success of any business. And while the generations at either end of the spectrum may only make up a small proportion of employees, knowing how to effectively encourage and better manage each of these age groups can allow for increased productivity, cohesion, and ultimately success.

Key Differences Between Generations

A quick look into each generation in the workforce and the key differences between them can provide insight into how your organization can adopt management and communication tactics that are effective across the board. Much of the information referenced below comes from the research of Dr. Bea Bourne, DM, who is behind the Purdue University infographic linked above. Dr Bourne’s research intends to provide a valuable resource for HR executives, managers, and business owners to help them better implement multi-generational strategies to improve the hiring, administration, and value of employees.

Generation Z represents the youngest segment of the workforce and those born between 2001 and 2020. This generation is more entrepreneurial and progressive but generally less focused. They are comfortable and skilled with modern electronic devices and often communicate exclusively through messaging, texts, and social media. Independence, innovation, and the latest technologies are important to Gen Z and can greatly shape their worldview. They will thrive in a workplace that allows for independence and a good work/life balance and can do well working on multiple projects at the same time.

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, represent the largest portion of the current workforce at 35%. This group is anyone born between 1981 and 2000. This generation also prefers to communicate electronically through emails, text, and other forms or messaging. They are competitive and goal-focused while also appreciating diversity and community engagement. Millennials will do well with responsibility and challenges – so long as there is growth potential and a good work/life balance. High-quality management and unique opportunities will help this group thrive. Employers should know that they will do well when given immediate feedback and with flexibility in schedule and deadlines. A personal relationship between employer and employee is also important.

Generation X is the second largest segment of the current workforce at 33%. This group represents the majority of startup founders and those who were born between 1965 and 1980. The have a more rounded approach to communication and tend to prefer whatever form is most effective, with better phone and face to face skills than younger generations. They will appreciate diversity in and out of the workplace and put great importance on ambition and interest in their personal lives over the interest of a company or organization. Work/life balance is also important to Gen X, and they will be fast to move on if a work situation is not meeting their needs. They will thrive with a flexible work environment and opportunities for growth but can be somewhat resistant to change.

Baby Boomers represent an aging generational group but still make up around a quarter of the current workplace. This generation marks those born between 1946 and 1964. Boomers also communicate well through direct face to face interactions while being effective at navigating electronic forms as well. This is a competitive group that will work hard and remain optimistic with a team-oriented mindset. They are loyal as employees and believe that time, hard work, and sacrifice are necessary for success. Clear and direct goals will help Boomers thrive, and they will do well in management and mentorship roles. They will also do well with motivational feedback that encourages rather than reprimands.

Traditionalists are the oldest generation in the modern workforce and represent those born between 1925 and 1940. They do well with more direct communication over emails and texts while being trustworthy and dependable employees. Loyalty and commitment are core values that Traditionalists seek in employment with respect and honesty expected in return. They also value the process of achieving seniority through hard work. A commitment to climbing the ladder within an organization is common. They will thrive in situations that provide ample opportunity for contributions and take pride in work they find satisfying. Stability is another big motivating factor for Traditionalists.

The key differences and motivating factors mentioned above can help distinguish the five generations in the workforce and provide your business with some food for thought on how to approach management, workflow, and company cohesion. And while this information is good to know and keep on hand, equally important is an understanding that our globally connected and ever-expanding digital world is also diminishing the differences between generations – to some degree.

What is not diminishing is the need to provide employees with the tools and knowledge to keep electronic communications, personal information, and other valuable forms of data safe and secure. These generational differences reflect a diverse past that now blend together to pave the way for the success, solutions, and security that will shape the future.

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