“OK, boomer!” This catchphrase has become a rallying cry for intergenerational conflict. More than a meme, it’s also spawned countless think-pieces about the frustration we feel as a nation — and who is to blame. But there is one place we cannot bang our drums or mute our peers: the workplace. So instead, let’s talk about how we can best manage the new multigenerational workforce.
Companies today have an unprecedented problem. They must attract, engage, motivate, and unite four very different generations of employees under one roof.
Given the current political climate, aren’t we already divided enough? Add generational differences into the mix, and you’ve got a challenging equation to solve. Keep reading to learn more about navigating the waters of multigenerational workforce cooperation — and how to do it successfully.
The Generations behind a Multigenerational Workforce
We’ve all heard stereotypes about the various generations — but is there truth to the common narrative? Below, we offer an overview of the generations in question — and discuss what these characteristics mean for a multigenerational workforce.
Baby Boomers (born 1947 to 1964)
Until recently, baby boomers dominated the nation through the sheer power of their numbers. They continue to hold the majority of workplace leadership positions and remain America’s most powerful voting block. Baby boomers make self-sufficient, competitive, goal-oriented, and work-centric employees.
As the oldest generation still largely in the workforce, they bring a wealth of experience to their organizations. And as they approach retirement age, boomers remain motivated by financial perks, challenges, acknowledgment, and high levels of responsibility and prestige.
Generation X (born 1965 to 1980)
When it comes to size, Generation X is much smaller than the generations that flank it on either side. Perhaps this is why Gen X is so often left out of conversations about intergenerational conflict.
Even so, members of Generation X make up an important part of the workforce. They’ll soon step into many leadership roles currently occupied by retiring baby boomers — and they’re projected to outnumber their predecessors in the workplace by 2028.
Fortunately, because they’ve been members of the workforce for 30 to 40 years, Gen Xers bring significant expertise to their roles. Additionally, they are more diverse, better educated, and more technologically advanced than the prior generation. As employees, they are motivated by flexibility, work-life balance, leadership and mentorship opportunities, and financial perks.
Millennials (born 1981 to 2000)
Millennials are the first generation of “digital natives.” As such, they contribute great knowledge and know-how to a workplace long dominated by “digital immigrants.” Unsurprisingly, millennials also comprise the most studied generation.
Stereotypes about millennials characterize them as being simultaneously lazy and motivated, and claim that they expect excessive acknowledgment. Whatever the stereotypes, millennials tend toward confidence and optimism — and they thrive on coaching rather than supervision. Moreover, employees of this generation place great value on company culture. They are also motivated by learning opportunities, flexibility, feedback, and social responsibility in the workplace. Finally, they prefer stock options to other financial perks.
Generation Z (born 2001 to 2020)
Generation Z comprises a larger generational block than either baby boomers or millennials. Indeed, as one-quarter of the American population and the first fully digital generation, Gen Zers fill a large void in the multigenerational workplace. Also beneficial? This generation’s high level of comfort with diversity and engagement with social issues.
Employees from Generation Z expect flexibility and technological competence in the workplace. Additionally, their strongest motivators include social rewards and responsibility, structure, personal growth opportunities, and constructive feedback.
Multigenerational Workforce: Key Insights
The multigenerational workforce model has been a hot topic within corporate management for several years now. But what does it mean for workers? And how should employees navigate this new and changing work environment? Below, we share four key insights to help you improve multigenerational workplace culture — not just for yourself, but for your colleagues, too.
1. Prepare to Step Up
As baby boomers approach retirement, critical leadership roles will open in numbers that Generation X alone cannot fill. So, millennials and even Gen Zers should prepare to plug the resulting leadership gap — and the loss of expertise that accompanies it.
Startup culture is also shaking up traditional management structures with the rise of young, innovative leaders. And the nation has seen incredible growth in self-employment throughout the Covid-19 pandemic — which means that many business owners now answer to themselves.
So, what’s the takeaway? Workers of all ages should be ready to step up and take the reins — no matter whether their workplace has 100 employees or 100,000. Because those days of working for decades to win a spot at the top? They’re in the past.
2. Live, Work, and Act with Awareness
Acts of workplace discrimination – including ageism – are a common source of frustration and difficulty for many employees. And with the media trotting out intergenerational conflict as a hot talking point, it’s no wonder that times are tense. Additionally, we’re in the midst of a growing political and social divide between generations. And it has brought our differences in values and expertise to the forefront.
Are we blowing this generational divide out of proportion? That point remains up for debate. Regardless, you should do your part to ensure an inclusive and considerate workplace. Be conscious of your attitudes and assumptions about your colleagues, and be aware of your communication style, too.
3. Listen and Learn from People around You (No Matter Their Age)
Ever heard of — or thought about — intergenerational knowledge transfer? The basic idea is that each generation brings unique skills to the table, and you can best capture them all through communication and collaboration.
An essential but challenging goal for corporations, intergenerational knowledge transfer can also be a critical source of personal development. After all, leadership is shifting from one generation to the next — so it’s especially important to understand the challenges and triumphs that came before. That way, you can recognize any errors that need to be addressed while building on progress already made.
All in all, effective intergenerational knowledge transfer can:
- Improve business function and productivity
- Help you understand and build relationships with coworkers of all ages
- Improve your knowledge base for both your current and future positions
What’s not to love?
4. Consider Your Own Career Development
Gone are the days when hard work and unwavering loyalty could earn any worker a respectable lifelong position. Nowadays, you need to be aware of the market and take responsibility for your own professional development.
There are numerous ways to go about doing this. For instance, you can proactively advance your personal growth with individualized online learning programs.
All think-pieces and jokes about generational battles aside, the multigenerational workforce is a thing of the present. So, it’s more crucial than ever that people of all ages learn to work and live in harmony. Offering empathy to your colleagues — and making an honest effort to understand them — can go a long way in bridging generational divides at work. You might even learn to enjoy the benefits of working in the most generationally diverse time in history!