For the first time, the workforce is made up of five generations. On the one hand, this multi-generational workforce translates into a diversity of skills, experience and perspectives that is deeply enriching.
On the other, each generation tends to have different attitudes, aspirations, priorities and ways of communicating.
This represents a major challenge for HR professionals.
Until we truly understand – and embrace – these differences, we can’t leverage the full potential of this multi-generational workforce.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a two-part series on understanding, embracing and leveraging the multi-generational workforce. This, part 1, offers an overview of each generation in broad-brushstroke terms. When it comes to hiring workers from different generations, be sure you’re using our free online recruiting software! Recruiteze makes tracking talent and hiring easy.
The Multi-Generational Workforce: An Overview
The Traditional Generation, or the Silent Generation, refers to those born before 1946. Some of our most powerful business leaders are from the Traditional generation, and many companies will have Traditional Directors on the Board.
Traditionalists are generally characterized by conformist attitudes and unwavering respect for authority. For most Traditionalists, rules are made to be strictly adhered to. Patriotism and an emphasis on teamwork are other major characteristics.
Traditionalists tend to be granular, disciplined, conformist and patriotic
Traditionalists tend to be granular and detail-orientated. They’re disciplined, and tend to favour hierarchical structure where younger generations might lean towards a more horizontal working environment.
It’s easy to ignore the Traditional generation as being of little relevance as the workforce changes, but bear in mind that these people are the ‘baseline’ of many a company. Traditionalists in senior positions are responsible for setting strategic direction, so understanding where they’re coming from is critical.
Baby boomers are the post-war generation born between approximately 1946 and 1964.
Post-war optimism and opportunity is generally understood to have inspired a generation of hope, aspiration and ambition. Baby Boomers in the workplace are understood to be collaborative, adaptable, confident and hard-working. They often tend to be goal-orientated, and bring a level of experience unique to their generation.
Baby Boomers in the workplace are understood to be collaborative, adaptable, confident and hard-working
More than half of Baby Boomers cite a preference for working beyond retirement age based on non-financial factors. Bill Coleman of RetirementJobs characterises Baby Boomers as seeking “stability, something to do, reasons to be useful, and ways to interact” (Via Inc. Magazine).
He points out that Baby Boomers tend to be “more empathetic, better communicators and more comforting”.
The Baby Boomer generation tend to be very hard working, enjoy contributing for its own sake, and take pleasure in helping others succeed. Their invaluable experience paired with these skills makes them a valuable asset.
Baby Boomers can productively help mentor and nurture younger generations coming into the workforce – and will tend to enjoy doing so.
Born in 1965 – 1980, Generation Xers are very different from the Baby Boomers before them. As Baby Boomers explored the opportunities granted them post-war, Gen X were left to fend for themselves. As such, Gen X is generally seen as highly independent, thriving when given autonomy. This stands in contrast to previous generations for whom respect for authority took precedence.
Gen X know the value of hard work. Facing tough economic times, Gen X weren’t gifted the opportunities Baby Boomers had been. Drive, determination and resilience are qualities Gen X tend to have in spades.
Gen X is generally seen as highly independent, driven and resilient, but also more likely to prioritise work/life balance than previous generations.
You’ll also find Gen X tend to prioritize work/life balance and flexible working more than previous generations. Where Baby Boomers are often characterized as being work-obsessed, Gen X often prioritise family life in a way their parents did not. Lifestyle becomes important for Gen X.
Meaningful work tends to be particularly important to Gen X
Gen X tend to look for fulfillment in the workplace, with recognition being an important motivating factor. They tend to value the relationship with peers and look for a working environment where they’ll be more than just a ‘cog’. If you need help hiring Gen Xers, try using our free online recruiting software. You’ll love how Recruiteze saves you time and money!
Otherwise known as Millennials, Gen. Y are those born between around 1980 and 2000.
They tend to see work as insecure, and feel more empowered than other generations to pursue atypical opportunities such as freelancing. They tend to be less loyal, and job-hopping is often considered both normal and desirable. You could almost characterize Gen Y as opportunistic.
Where previous generations have a deeply instilled sense of loyalty and respect for authority, Gen Y tend to believe respect should be earned. Nonetheless, Gen Y tend to work better in a team environment and are generally motivated by collaborative, diverse cultures. The idea that respect is given on a time-served, not meritocratic, basis chafes with Gen Y.
Gen Y are often seen as collaborative, but more likely to question authority.
You’ll likely have heard the stereotype that Gen Y are entitled. In some senses this is true, as they’ve generally been ‘coddled’ by Baby Boomer parents, praised and nurtured and taught they deserve the world.
To look at this through another lens, Gen Y can be seen to believe that their potential is unlimited, and nothing is beyond their reach. This ambition and imagination can be potent when harnessed correctly, although employers must balance this by teaching accountability for poor results.
Dogmatism and bureaucracy will rarely go down well with Gen Y
A generation characterized by emerging technology, Gen Y are used to being able to do things quickly and easily. This doesn’t mean they’re lazy, but that bureaucracy and inefficiency in the workplace will get short shrift.
Dogmatic ways of doing things are unlikely to go down well with Gen Y, who prefer to be judged on their destination instead of the path they took to get there. Hand-in-hand with this comes a belief that progression should be fluid, and that ‘outside the box’ thinking should be valued.
The oldest of Generation Z are only just entering the workforce now, and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in coming years.
Unlike their Millennial counterparts who grew up in the calm, prosperous 90’s, Gen Z launched into a world that was already insecure. Brought up under no illusions of peace and prosperity, Gen Z are said to be tough, smart and relatively self-reliant.
Brought up under no illusions of peace and prosperity, Gen Z are said to be tough, smart and relatively self-reliant.
Of course, you can’t mention Gen Z without thinking of technology. Millennials have nothing on Gen Z, who were born in a post-Internet, post-smart phone era. Instant gratification is the norm. Everything is easily accessible, quickly, simply and generally for free.
This too makes Gen Z more self-reliant. They’re used to having everything they need at their fingertips. The flipside though, is impatience. In fact, Gen Z attention span is said to be lower than that of a goldfish…
One of the most positive things Gen Z are set to bring to the workplace is an attitude of entrepreneurism. Growing up with uncertainty and a troubled economy has seemingly bred a do-it-yourself, make-or-break entrepreneurial attitude.
Gen Y could be the most entrepreneurial generation yet
Paired with an innate understanding of emerging technology, Gen Z could be a potent force for good. We might expect Gen Z to harness new technology in innovative, creative ways to make the workplace, and world, a better place.
Gen Z might also be characterized for their open-minded approach to diversity. Looking back to the more rigid values of the Traditional generation, Gen Z are much more likely to take LGBT issues in their stride. Traditionally gender-bias roles (Doctor, Engineer, Midwife, Receptionist, for example) could be broken down by Gen Z, who are much less likely than their forebears to see gender as a barrier.
Gen Y are likely to break down traditional boundaries, of gender, of authority and of anything else they come across
On the flip-side, though, Gen Z are less likely to pursue ‘traditional’ roles in the first place. For a generation brought up on zillionaire social media success stories, the typical career path might not be attractive. For a generation for whom education costs are spiraling, the typical career path might not be attainable.
These profiles, of course, come with a proviso. Individuals are individuals, and we can’t so simply slot people into categories. You might hire an apprentice from Gen Z who’s very traditional in nature, or your Board of Directors might be made up of forward-thinking, tech-savvy Traditionalists. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of tarnishing all Gen X, Y, Zers with the same brush.
Saying that, it is productive to look at the broad overview of each generation, because there are certainly generalities that can be informative. These insights can help us hire, retain and leverage multi-generational talent more effectively.
Click here for part 2. We’ll start to translate this information into meaningful, actionable insight. We’ll look at ways to fully embrace the multi-generational workforce, tailoring your talent acquisition, talent retention and workforce performance strategies to each.
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