Generations in the workplace is a popular topic among HR leaders, who try to gather as much information as possible to better understand recruits and employees. Obviously, knowing about different generations – their experiences and collective point of view – provides a backdrop for talent management. Knowing about different generations can serve useful as HR leaders plan for employee engagement and experience.
However, HR leaders must be careful not to generalize too much. In the end, indivduals are all different, and no one group is a monolith. But these points about the generations can provide some perspective and general insight to those managing talent.
Here is a breakdown of each generation in the workplace:
Baby Boomers, born between 1947 and 1964, are the oldest generation in the workforce today. Many of them are 65 or older, which means they are eligible for retirement. Even though some seemed to have left the workforce when the pandemic began, many are returning. Still others never left and do not intend to retire unless they begin to feel physically or mentally unwell.
This reluctance to retire may relate to the fact that Baby Boomers grew up during a time when Americans defined themselves by their work. While many of them challenged authority in their youth, they have great respect for their bosses and managers. They value having face time with colleagues.
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In other words, they prefer return to office (RTO) as opposed to work from home (WFH). Baby Boomers have also had the least experience, over the course of their life, with technology. In fact, many of the new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence may intimidate Boomers.
They tend to have a strong work ethic, and they have valuable experience upon which they can draw. Many of them hold leadership positions. However, there are some who are cutting down on their hours or pursuing passion work in these later years of their life.
Generation X represents those born between 1965 and 1980, and it is often referred to as the forgotten generation. People kind of ignore its existence, probably because it is sandwiched between the two biggest generations: Baby Boomers and Millennials.
Recently, Gen X has clapped back and demanded attention. When a CNN contributor and author failed to mention Gen X in a segment in which he referred to all the other generations, his comments – and responses from Gen X – went viral.
This is the first generation that did not achieve the financial success of their parents. They listened to sad grunge music and watched movies like Reality Bites. But they have proven to be loyal workers, both in their professions and on the homefront. Many of them are caring for both their children and elderly parents at once. They have an entrepreneurial spirit and a resiliency, which likely came from living through harrowing events like 9/11, the Great Recession, the pandemic, and various wars.
They witnessed the transition into the digital age, and know how to use technology well. But they also know how to do things manually. They have experience working in the office, and they had mentors and learning opportunities long before the pandemic arrived. Yet, they can adapt to WFH, too. They are digitally capable and can often serve as a bridge between Baby Boomers and Millennials.
Millennials, born from 1981 to 2000, have gotten lots of attention, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Baby Boomers have a negative perception of them. They see them as not wanting to work and feeling entitled. As a result, there is sometimes tension between Boomers and Millennials. This can cause rifts in the office. Boomers might be more traditional and formal in their choice of office attire, for instance, whereas Millennials might embrace more casual looks.
Often, Millennials are misunderstood. It’s not laziness or even a poor work ethic that has them keeping certain hours or using paid time off (PTO). They simply value work-life balance. They want to be there for their children and pursue their passions while they are still young.
In fact, many of them came of age during the Great Recession. This is the time that they entered the workforce and launched their careers. It has shaped their approach to work. HR leaders should know that Millennials value benefits that can help them maintain financial security and weather any storms.
Yet, they do not want to define themselves by their work in the way Boomers did. They would like their work to compliment the other parts of their lives. Millennials want to find the meaning in their work. Remote work fits in well with their lifestyle because of the convenience it affords. Of course, they were raised during the internet boom and are quite comfortable with screens.
Gen Z represents those born between 2001 and 2020. The oldest part of their generation is just beginning to enter the workforce, and HR leaders are anxious to get to know them. These workers are facing struggles because their careers are starting amid the pandemic and a time of great change in the workplace.
Sometimes, this generation seems at odds with everyone else in the office. They do not know of life before the internet. They embrace all forms of technology and are comfortable working remotely. This experience makes them more adaptable to digital change. Some of them, however, have expressed an interest in conducting in-person work as a means of gaining training, a network, and mentors.
They want to find jobs that give them a higher purpose. They sometimes delegate, even to managers, which can be off-putting. Workplace norms, like leaving one’s kids and pets at home, do not matter to them as much.
Like Millennials, they are aware of the potential of financial insecurities, so benefits like tuition reimbursement speak to them. They are looking for customized learning experiences and employers who show empathy and care about their individual career progression. And they also want their employers to match their values. Employee activism is becoming ubiquitous, and Gen Z expects their bosses to support causes, like diversity, equity, and inclusion, which move them.
Undoubtedly, they will bring even more technology into the workplace. It’s just been so much a part of their lives. However, most experts realize that it is too soon to know all the influence that Gen Z will have on the workplace because many of them are still in elementary school or even infancy. The last of Gen Z was born when the pandemic began, so the future is wide open.