With a growing population and more employees postponing retirement, for the first time ever, 5 different generations are represented in the workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Naturally, employees from different generations come to work with different values, shaped by the times in which they’ve lived and worked. They bring with them a diversity of perspectives and experiences.
However, in our fast-paced society, quick advancements in technology and culture have created significant generational divisions. To overcome these challenges and foster a thriving, age-diverse workforce, organizations must implement a multipronged approach that considers generational issues relevant to the workplace and adjusts accordingly to engage with employees of different backgrounds.
Still, we must acknowledge that every employee has a unique history of their own. Understanding and welcoming differences across generations requires some thinking outside the box too.
The 5 Generations That Make Up Our Workforce
Below is a brief look at each of these 5 generations and their common traits, as identified by generational expert Dr. Bea Bourne, DM.
- Traditionalists (born 1925 – 1945)
- Motivated by respect, recognition, and providing long-term value to their company.
- Prefer in-person communication and handwritten notes to digital communication.
- Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
- Motivated by loyalty to their company, teamwork, and strong sense of duty.
- Prefer whatever style of communication is most efficient, including face-to-face conversation or phone calls.
- Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
- Motivated by diversity, even work-life balance, and their personal interests.
- Like Baby Boomers, Gen X values efficiency and is comfortable communicating face-to-face or by phone. Gen X is generally tech-savvy as well.
- Millennials (born 1981 – 1997)
- Motivated by responsibility, meaningful relationships with their team, and opportunity for unique work experiences.
- Prefer to communicate digitally through IMs, texts, and emails.
- In 2016, Millennials became the largest generational cohort in the labor force.
- Gen Z (born after 1997)
- Motivated by diversity, personalization, individuality, and creativity.
- Like Millennials, Gen Z prefers to communicate digitally through IMs, texts, and emails.
With an understanding of these generational differences, how can you engage best and most effectively with your employees? How can you attract, develop, and maintain generationally diverse talent?
To recruit a multi-generational pool of applicants, expand your company’s reach. While Millennials and Gen Z job seekers frequently consult social media and online job boards for employment opportunities, older generations may not be as familiar with these resources. To cast a wider net and provide equal opportunity to talent of all ages, look for candidates in a variety of places, including traditional job boards and community networking events.
Additionally, when assembling job descriptions and benefits packages, consider the different standards each generation may expect in regard to flexibility, work-life harmony, and compensation. Stay up to date on current trends and ensure your benefits reflect the needs of people in every stage of life. Determine what your company can offer in regard to educational and development allowances, parental leave, and retirement planning.
When assessing candidates, keep potential generational differences in mind, especially during the interview process. Inevitably, you’ll observe differences between what Baby Boomers and Millennials think is important to highlight on a resume, or what values they seek in their workplace. While setting interviews, consider each individual’s comfortability with different interview styles, including phone, video conference, and in-person. You may find that older candidates are less comfortable video conferencing and favor interviewing in-person, or that they became well-acquainted with Zoom during the pandemic and prefer it. Don’t make assumptions about the so-called “digital natives” of younger generations either; researchers recently identified Gen Z’s unexpected preference for in-person communication. Cultivate confidence amongst candidates of all ages on an individual basis so best decisions can be made in the hiring process.
Generational factors can also influence how we process information and learn. When first joining your team, you may find younger employees prefer self-paced, self-service training, while Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen X lean toward a more structured, guided approach. While self-paced training may seem most convenient for your organization, take the time to incorporate methods that serve a variety of learning and processing styles.
Age diversity doesn’t only present obstacles to overcome. Cross-generational collaboration and mentorship opportunities can provide valuable experiences for employees – younger employees benefit from the wisdom and skills of their older peers while offering older employees a valuable new perspective of their own.
Every employee should feel a sense of belonging and investment in their role and within their company. How can managers gauge these sentiments amongst their teams? Indications of goal-setting are a hopeful place to start. (Remember, the professional goals of Traditionalists and Baby Boomers preparing for retirement likely look very different than those of Gen Z employees first entering the workforce.)
There is no catch-all solution to retaining employees, but your general approach can be simple. What keeps people engaged and happy at work? For Gen Z employees who have only experienced an uncertain job market, it may be a solid development plan with a clear career path. For Gen X and Millennials in their mid-career and mid-life, it may be enhancing the workplace flexibility introduced during the pandemic and sometimes necessitated by our heavy cultural mood. For Baby Boomers and Traditionalists whose hard-working nature deters them from retirement, it may be providing rewards for their loyalty and recognition of their expertise.
If there is an ongoing disconnect or conflict and you’re struggling to understand its cause, try considering things from a generational perspective. Is an employee being asked to compromise their generational values? How might the employee’s lived experiences influence their behavior or perspective at work? What type of communication is this employee most receptive to and familiar with? Considering generational perspective will help you build stronger, lasting relationships with your employees while nurturing the success of your generationally-diverse organization.