Five generations are actively in the workforce. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation-X, Millennials and Generation-Z bring different mindsets and expectations to the office. It’s easy to slap a stereotype label on each cohort. The eye-rolling, cliche tropes are that Boomers are set in their ways and afraid of new technologies; Gen-X couldn’t care less about what people think about them; Millennials want a trophy for everything they do and Gen-Z—the largest generational demographic in the United States at more than 90 million strong—aspire to be TikTok influencers.
How The Generations Feel About Work
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, positions on social issues and workplace flexibility are important factors in recruiting and retaining talent, according to a 2022 EY U.S. Generation survey about corporate culture. More than 90% of employees self-reported that culture impacts their decision to stay with their company.
Baby Boomers are not very consumed with the company’s culture, with less than 30% saying it didn’t have much impact on their remaining at the organization. On the other side of the generational spectrum, Gen-Z and Millennials report that culture plays a big part in their intent to stay with their employer at nearly 40% for the two groups.
Gen-Z workers are interested and concerned about committing to community support via corporate responsibility efforts, volunteering and being part of employee resource groups. Social and political issues are critical to younger employees. Nearly half of the younger workforce and LBGTQ+ employees say that their company’s positions on trending social issues make a difference in staying or leaving. To a slightly lesser extent, Millennials report that they would leave their employer if the company isn’t aligned with their personal viewpoints.
A commonality among the different groups aligns around receiving competitive pay and benefits, hybrid and remote work options, career-advancement opportunities and flexible work styles.
The Office Melting Pot
Careers have become more dynamic and complex, loosening the historic correlation between age and career progression. Rapid technological and organizational change means that workers must now reinvent themselves multiple times throughout their working lives. At the same time, the broader business culture has shifted to make it acceptable—sometimes even desirable—to promote younger individuals into leadership positions. We are in a work world in which a 60-year-old intern is being mentored by a 27-year-old, dispelling the antiquated mindset that only senior employees can be managers.
The Challenge Of Balancing Interests
Communication is the key. Bosses will be managing older and much younger employees. They’ll need to learn and understand the mindsets of the different groups. You don’t need five separate management styles, but rather cultivate effective communication. Ask your employees about what they need to succeed, what is important to them and what their expectations are.
The inherent challenge is that leadership needs to balance these wants. One person’s take on a political issue—no matter their generation—can be vehemently opposed by others. This could create chaos and animosity.
Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, a cryptocurrency platform based in Silicon Valley, told his employees that they could not argue politics at the office. Armstrong bluntly said that he’d gladly offer severance packages to employees who aren’t comfortable with the new corporate policy of “political neutrality” in the workplace. In a memo to his employees, the chief executive wrote, “Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about. Hopefully, this package helps create a win-win outcome for those who choose to opt out.”
How To Make Things Work
To bring harmony into the workplace, engaging in self-introspection about how you perceive others who are different from you is critical. You want to be cognizant of any preconceived prejudices that you may have. If you bring certain conscious or unconscious biases to the office, it will impact your co-workers. It could be helpful to start with a clean slate. Don’t rely upon knee-jerk cliches and stereotypes. Instead, view everyone from a fresh perspective.
Take the next step to engage with employees in different life stages compared to where you are now. Have open and honest conversations to learn about how they think, act, process information, their skills and their preferred methods of communication and work style.
You can learn from each generation. It makes things more interesting when you’re involved with people who bring unique experiences and ideas to the table. Set aside the well-worn tropes, such as older workers are technologically inept and younger folks only want to be TikTok famous.