A workforce that finds success in diversity doesn’t only accept all races and genders – it accepts every generation. Having a wide range of ages on your team is a fantastic way to utilize a varying set of strengths to reach higher heights and hear new perspectives.
The modern workforce is currently made up of four full generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, Millennials, and Gen Z-ers. Given the last century’s rapid changes in technology and culture, these are perhaps the most distinct generations our society has ever seen – and that’s awesome.
As Generation Z starts to fill up the youngest portion of the working population, employers are beginning to wonder how they can take into consideration the age gaps and ranges that develop in their companies. Some people have a tendency to focus on the negatives of other generations and complain about those older and younger than them. Instead, let’s focus on the positives! Rather than avoiding weaknesses, employers should seek out strengths, welcoming everyone and boosting employee engagement.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
While Baby Boomers may not all be the most tech savvy, they bring a foundational anchor that is undeniable. They represent the “office traditionalists”, believing that the solution to a problem is usually following a structure or speaking face-to-face.
As veterans of the office, they’ve also got an extremely strong work ethic that can get themselves labeled “workaholics”. Boomers will often be okay with a schedule that may overwork them, accepting the challenge and even doing it without complaint if it means that it will be good for the company and the team.
Along with their drive, they can also act as great mentors to those younger than them. Whether they’ve got 5 years or 35 years on a colleague, the advice they offer to others can be especially helpful in a time where younger workers are unsure about the direction to take. The presence of Boomers in the office who are dedicated to working 40+ hours without complaint (or being distracted by their device) also works as a helpful indirect type of motivation.
While most Boomers have entered retirement, it’s estimated that they still make up 16-19% of modern teams, usually higher on the ladder.
Gen X (1965-1980)
Generation X is known for being headstrong and independent, but not to a fault. That’s why they make up the majority of startup founders in the United States, at 55%. They can find themselves comfortable both assimilating with a bustling office and exploring new technology, exhibiting skills from those older and younger than them.
With an age range of 40-55, a lot of well-established companies find their staff to be mostly made up of people from this generation, given that they make up 35% of the American workforce. They can expect a reliable crew that’s settled into their careers and knows their way around the office.
Additionally, we likely don’t have to fear Gen X becoming “out of touch” with technology as they get older. They’re still very familiar with the internet and its culture, and those younger than them will undoubtedly help them grasp any new devices or concepts.
As revealed in Deloitte’s “2020 Millennial Survey”, Millennials are fiercely independent and concerned about how they can use their autonomy to enact change in society. What this means for your workplace largely depends on your culture and management style.
If your organization works towards a cause that Millennials find important, like new tech or social justice, you can harness their passion and independence to make great strides. However, if they see themselves as another cog in the capitalist wheel, they might just head out. 49% of Millennials are planning on leaving their jobs in the next two years.
Their influence in the workforce is getting bigger by the day; they represent about 40% of the workforce, a number that’s going to keep growing. It feels like just yesterday that we were all making fun of them for living on their new-fangled smartphones – and now they’re the biggest segment of the American workforce! Don’t get left behind by Millennials; create a culture that they’ll thrive in by getting to know their strengths and passions.
Gen Z (1997-2012)
The first thing that comes to mind about Generation Z – for better or for worse – is their adherence to technology, the internet and social media. For most businesses, this can be a great asset. For one, they’re always within reach on any form of online communication, from email to chat to Zoom to Slack. Their familiarity with the digital realm makes them great candidates for taking charge of online opportunities, grasping new programs and taking the lead on internet marketing campaigns.
While they’re among the youngest on any team, they can actually offer advice to older generations that don’t quite get new technology or trends. Younger workers that are willing to guide older colleagues in such subjects are very important to moving your company forward.
You also might not have known that Gen Z is particularly ambitious, with about 2/3rds of them saying they’d like to reach the top of their profession/field. Don’t be quick to characterize them as lazy – they can multitask, learn, and rise up the ranks as quickly as anyone else. They may only be 5% of the workforce at this point, but their impact is about to start growing very quickly.
While the characteristics of these generations can be pretty distinguishable, the ways you utilize their strengths isn’t always as clear-cut. Try to consider what crowd your organization should be drawing based on what you need to accomplish. If your company has a more traditional structure with limited flexibility and distinct departments, older groups like Boomers and Gen X may feel more comfortable and can help younger workers operate.
Of course, Millennials and Gen Z are more adept at tech forward organizations and can excel at internet/social media tasks, but that’s not their only specialty. Younger workers are quick learners, and will find themselves excelling at positions in shifting verticals like ridesharing and new social media. They can also help introduce new ways of doing things to more traditional operations that are ripe for change. The last twenty years have brought constant new ideas and evolutions for business – it’s what they grew up with. Anyone that switched from dial-up internet to smartphones in under five years is ready for rapid change.
Finally, be mindful of the way each generation collaborates with one another. Different age groups can bring out the strengths in each other, and having representation from each one gives you access to all of them. While employees often work best with coworkers close to their age, Baby Boomers are great role models for those who want mentorship from someone who’s a veteran in the field. That said, age doesn’t always determine someone’s aptitude – in an industry like tech, a millennial could be the office’s foremost scholar, guiding colleagues older than them. Experience and approach is often more important than age.
Knowing how to utilize the assets of different generations of workers brings an entirely new dimension to teamwork, coaching, mentorship and hiring. It also boosts employee retention! Putting the right people in the right positions for success is one of the most important aspects to developing employee engagement and creating an efficient and happy workforce – a good range of generations in your office can get you there.