In this historic time in our lives, five generations occupy the workplace — with a sixth-generation on the way.
Now is the time for women to stand out and shine as leaders. It’s time to see the importance of being self-aware. We must understand our work styles, avoid the urge to foist our approach on others and communicate in the interests of efficacy, innovation, and collaboration. How can we collaborate with so many generational differences?
Let’s start by highlighting the five generations in the workplace that are with us today: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z.
The Silent Generation, also known as the Traditionalists, were born before 1946, somewhere between 1925 and 1945. People from this cohort learned to respect authority and value conformity. Very few in this cohort are still active in the workplace. Those who are still active often find themselves in consulting, partner, or, for instance, senior support roles. They were ‘silent’ because back in the day, children were expected to be seen rather than heard, to do as they were told and be good. They are commonly known for the following characteristics:
- Hardworking: This generation grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. They think of work as a privilege and are known for their strong work ethic.
- Strong willpower: This was a logical consequence of growing up and having to survive in tough times.
- Loyal & respectful towards authority: Traditionalists have often stayed with the same employer throughout their careers. They do, however, expect the same loyalty from their employees.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. The Baby Boomers are those who follow the Silent Generation. Boomers are a rapidly increasing part of the aging workforce. Common characteristics include:
- Goal-oriented: Boomers had more opportunities than previous generations in education and finances, making them more achievement-oriented and career-focused.
- Competitive: Baby Boomers also tend to be hardworking and often define themselves by their professional accomplishments. They are relatively competitive in the workplace and believe in a hierarchical structure.
- Value relationships: This generation greatly values human relationships. While growing up, Boomers made phone calls and wrote letters, strengthening their interpersonal skills. While they now use cell phones and tablets, they mostly use them as productivity tools (instead of connectivity tools).
Gen X was born between 1965 and 1980. As a result of a period of birth decline after the baby boom, generation X is considerably smaller than the previous cohort. They also tend to be more ethnically diverse and better educated than the Boomers. Despite the high numbers of Boomers and Gen Ys, Generation X has an undeniable impact across the global workforce. Characteristics include:
- Flexible: Gen X saw their parents suffer through economically challenging times in the 80s, which is why Gen Xs are less committed to a single employer and adapt well to change.
- Work hard, play hard: Gen X was the first cohort to put a more significant emphasis on the much-talked-about work/life balance. Work is essential, but they prefer working to live rather than the opposite.
- Individualistic: Gen X grew up in a time when two-income families were on the rise. Women increasingly started to join the workforce, creating a generation of so-called latchkey kids. As a result, Gen X is independent, self-sufficient, and resourceful.
Gen Y was born between the early ’80s and mid-’90s. Generation Y, often referred to as Millennials, is currently the largest cohort in the workforce, comprising 35% of all employees. Millennials fill all sorts of roles across all industries. Among a long list of characteristics, you’ll find:
- Value collaboration & teamwork: While their predecessors can be individualistic and competitive, Gen Y values collaboration and teamwork.
- They change jobs often: Previous generations focused on proving their worth and putting in the hours to move up the corporate ladder. Millennials think of applying to new jobs as the most efficient way to advance. In addition, they seek companies that fit their values and offer them the ‘right’ job.
- Salary isn’t everything: As a logical consequence of the above, not all Millennials think of salary as their number one priority. The total package, including various employee benefits, perks, personal development opportunities, and the right job for them, matters more than the money alone.
Gen Z was born between 1996 and 2012. The youngest among the current five generations in the workplace is Generation Z. Many Generation Zs have just started to enter the workforce. Therefore, many are working in entry-level internship positions or graduate programs. Here are a few characteristics:
- Tech-savvy: More than any other generation in the workplace, Gen Z has no difficulty whatsoever using the latest apps, technology, or platforms; it’s what they do.
- They value job security: This is another generation that saw their parents suffer the consequences of a significant financial crisis. They want a job that provides them with a secure personal life, and appreciate economic wellness benefits such as advice about loans and savings.
- They are autonomous: Whenever a “Digital Native” encounters a real-life issue, they search for a solution online. With the help of a YouTube or other guide, they tend to solve the many problems themselves.
Women who can appreciate the differences in generational characteristics and adapt to new changes create incredible value in the workplace. Let’s look at the benefits of generational diversity:
- It drives innovation: Diversity is a crucial driver of innovation. A diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds are essential for creating and developing new ideas.
- Skill diversity: As mentioned above, Baby Boomers strengthened their interpersonal skills by making phone calls and writing letters. The younger generations tend to have more vital digital skills. The beauty of a multigenerational workforce lies in that every generation brings a different set of skills to the table. These skills will often be complementary, which creates an excellent opportunity for intergenerational team bonding.
- Having multiple perspectives: Each generation has a distinct thought process thanks to their own experiences. Therefore, a multigenerational workforce will be a source of various perspectives on every subject and idea.
To take advantage of supporting others across the generations, here are five essential tips:
- Understand the needs of each generation and demonstrate sensitivity. Do this through listening to understand each other’s skills and perspectives with discussions that speak to their interests.
- Create a two-way mentor program that helps share talents both ways. Mature talent can share knowledge, experience, and skills with younger generations and vice versa. Mentoring can ensure the transfer of essential skills. A benefit is helping to equip younger employees to take over when the time comes to advance. Meanwhile, the older ones enjoy their role as valued mentors.
- Communicate based on the individual. Not everyone has the same priorities and work styles, regardless of their generation. It’s easy to make assumptions, but you must consider what motivates this individual.
- Challenge harmful stereotypes. Each generation is the way they are for a reason. You may want to blame them if you perceive any one quality of an individual to be difficult in the workplace, but ask yourself whether you would want to be judged based on your own generational cohort. This includes thinking such as, “Oh, those Millennials!” Watch out for stereotypes.
- Get ready for the next generation. The Alpha Generation were born between 2010 and 2025. This generation will want to be part of an effective team or go on their own. Within two years, they’ll outnumber the Baby Boomers. Many of them will live to see the 22nd Century and be the largest generation in history. Get ready!