Four distinct generations make up the American workforce: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (aka Millennials) and Gen Z. Each group grew up with its own set of circumstances that shaped their personalities, values, and beliefs. So let’s take a look at some of the statistics around the different generations in the workforce, their skills and experience, and how employers can maximize a multigenerational workforce.
What are the four generations in the workplace today?
Here’s the breakdown of each generation:
- Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964
- Gen X: born 1965 to 1979
- Millennials: born 1980 to 1994
- Gen Z: born 1995 and after
According to Pew Research Center, in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), Millennials surpassed Gen X as the largest generation in the U.S. Labor Force. At that time, there were approximately 53.5 million Millennials, 52.7 million Gen Xers and 44.6 million Baby Boomers. Gen Z had yet to make its emergence in the workforce.
Skills and experiences by generation
The differences between generations aren’t simply about age. Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., gives presentations to accounting firms around the country on managing generational differences. She says that each generation is influenced by different events, technology, economic circumstances and parenting philosophies. Let’s look at each group and how those experiences manifest in a multigenerational workforce.
Born in the aftermath of World War II, Boomers enjoyed an unprecedented level of peace and prosperity. Their generation coined the term “having it all.” Like their parents, they respect authority and work hard. However, they also lived through the social upheaval of the 1960s, including the Vietnam war and Watergate, which gave them a natural distrust of authority.
Gen X was the last generation to experience a childhood without personal computers and cell phones, although they adapted quickly to that technology as young adults. Most were by two working parents, and understand the concept of hard work. They are highly motivated and have worked to earn leadership positions. Gen X is also the first generation to exhibit a major shift in priorities. Their parents lived to work, but they were the first generation to actively seek work/life balance.
Gen Y / Millennials
Millennials experienced the terrorist attacks of September 11th as children and young adults, shaping their outlook on national security. Directly affected by the economic crash of 2008, they entered the workforce during the Great Recession. While they began their careers more educated than previous generations, they also had to endure high levels of unemployment, and learned to be resourceful in their job hunt. They are more diverse and collaborative than prior generations, and their comfort with technology and relaxed attitudes have majorly impacted flexible and remote work policies.
The youngest generation doesn’t remember a time before social media and twentysomething billionaire entrepreneurs. More tech-savvy than previous generations, Gen Z is adept at web-based research and self-education. Gen Z is highly entrepreneurial, and its members want to create their own companies. Because they are used to living in a hyper-connected world, they tend to be impatient. This is also a pampered generation, used to being comfortable and getting what they want.
Maximizing a multigenerational workforce
Wiley recommends the following common sense strategies for building respect among different generations:
- Adjust your attitude. Everyone doesn’t fit perfectly into their generational profile. Don’t assume that all Boomers will oppose change or that all Millennials want ping pong tables. Make sure that you are treating each person as an individual and try to keep personal prejudices out of the mix.
- Listen with openness. One of the most important strategies you can use – no matter your age – is listening with the intent to learn. It’s amazing how much more you can hear with you are trying to learn rather than trying to tell.
- Communication training. Many employers invest a lot into training for technical skills, but time should be spent on teaching communication skills is just as important. Awareness of how to communicate openly, honestly and with a purpose in mind is imperative to team building success.
- Produce a “win/win” attitude. Listening skills and open communication breed a win/win attitude. When this attitude prevails in your workplace, you will find that discussion of “generational issues” will become less and less and the discussion of “what is best for our company’s future” will emerge.
It’s key to build teams with diversity in mind. Trust, respect, and value can be found when you are inclusive with team members. All generations should be included in the important projects and initiatives at your company. If you want to dive a little deeper into how to do this, check out our latest white paper.