Today’s workforce spans several generations, from the not-yet-retired “Greatest Generation” and the Baby Boomers to fresh-faced Gen Z. Each of these generations brings something unique to the workplace, thanks to differences they’ve faced in their education and in the world they’ve grown up in. How can organizations understand and support these different generations? Let’s take a closer look.
In most workplaces, Baby Boomers are the senior generation, although some “Greatest Generation” or “Silent Generation” employees, born in the mid-to-late 1940s and earlier, are still working in some organizations in smaller percentages. As of 2018, Boomers made up about 25% of the U.S. labor force. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to some significant changes among working Boomers. Over the two years from 2020 to 2021, 3.5 million more adults aged 55 and older have retired – a significant uptick from the usual number of 1 million new retirees per year.
With their longer workplace experience, Boomer employees may hold more traditional views about workplace roles, benefits, and hierarchies. They like security and stability, and they are often great sources of expertise that they’re happy to share. Their values may include attributes like team loyalty, hard work, and going above and beyond without being asked. It’s a perspective on work as the extension of the self, with a sense of satisfaction and worth derived from a job well done.
In 2018, Gen X made up approximately 33% of the workforce, making them the second-largest generation, just behind Millennials. These employees were born on the cusp of the digital revolution, between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, and they’ve probably experienced major shifts throughout the whole of their careers, from technology to social and political movements.
For many Gen X employees, autonomy, flexibility, and work/life balance are among their major values. They have established careers, are somewhat risk averse, and expect their knowledge to be respected by management and other authority figures. While they may not be as “flashy” or “trendy” to recruiters as Millennials and Gen Z’ers, Gen X’ers can be a huge boon for a workplace. They’re resilient, entrepreneurial, dedicated to problem-solving, and quite loyal – only 14% reported considering leaving their jobs during the Great Resignation.
Millennials are currently the largest demographic in the workforce, and growing. As of 2018, they just barely edged out Gen X, with 35% of the total labor force, and their share continues to grow. Their coming of age coincided with exponential growth in technology, meaning that many of them are especially adept at rapidly adjusting to new ideas and tech. They also entered the workforce during or just after a major recession, which affects their risk-taking and their long-term view of career development.
For many Millennials, loyalty and solidarity within their team and to their colleagues is even more important than loyalty to an organization overall. Millennials often report being more willing to look for new opportunities, but not out of flightiness – they’re pursuing work that truly aligns with their values, although getting caught up in the hustle can lead to an overwork mindset. A positive culture, a sense of individuality, and a sense of purpose and positive impact are important to them, and they’re willing to leverage their position in the marketplace to get there.
Gen Z, which typically refers to the generation born in 1996 or later, is the newest generation to age into the workforce. In 2018, their share was relatively small, at just 5%, reflecting the fact that the oldest members of the generation were just graduating college. Similar to Millennials, they’re adept at handling rapid changes and seeking a more respectful, person-oriented workplace.
In some ways, Gen Z is a bolder, more confident version of Millennials. They want many of the same things – diversity and inclusion, a sense of purpose, clear paths to career development – but they’re even more up-front about asking for them, and even more willing to leave a job that doesn’t meet their needs. In fact, a LinkedIn study found that job transitions among Gen Z were up 80% year-over-year. Where Millennials have a tendency towards more of a “hustle” mindset, Gen Z is more willing to ask for much-needed rest. They’re young enough to still be learning workplace norms, and while they’re helping reshape those norms, it may take some time and require some meeting in the middle.
By Tom Zeleny, NHA
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