Four Generations in the Workplace


Human Intelligent (HI) Workplace
Helping Leaders Help Themselves

February 26, 2015

“If you want happiness for a lifetime – help the next generation.”

Chinese Proverb

Four Generations in the Workplace (no really five)

Presently in the U.S. we have the Veterans (ages 61 and above) that make up 5% of the workforce; the baby boomers (ages 43-61) and make up 45% of the workforce; the Gen X (ages 30-42) and make up 40% of the workforce; and the last is Gen Y, Millenials, or Net Generation (ages less then 29) and make up 10% of the workforce. In addition there are some that say we’ll actually have a fifth generation that includes those born after 1997 known as Gen 2020.

All of these generations come into the workplace with different perspectives, experiences, and expectations. While these four generations work to co-exist and work together in the workforce there are two that seem to be having a bigger impact on organizations that are the Millenials and Baby Boomers.

The Net Generation (aka-Millenials) is presently making and will continue to make a dramatic impact in the workplace. They are the present and future workforce. They prefer to work collaboratively with a need for freedom, they seem to have a better emphasis on family relationships, more active on citizen engagement, comfortable with the global touch, are into corporate integrity and openness, innovative, and are all about speed and having fun at work.

They’ve been labeled as being spoiled, wanting everything now versus waiting their time and earning their keep along the way, technologically savvy, into themselves, and just being plain spoiled (if true then some would blame their “helicopter”-aka baby boomer parents). Not surprising they see themselves as completely different then the perception (or stereotypes) of them.

The different perspective of this generation could not be more obvious then in a recent study of HR professionals. 14% of HR professionals perceived this generation to be less people-savvy while 65% of this group perceived themselves more. 86% of HR felt they were more tech-savvy while only 35% this group rated themselves this way. 82% found themselves to be loyal while only 1% of HR saw it this way. And last 86% considered themselves to be hard workers, while only 11% of HR professionals believed this. This is interesting because in another study 98% of them believe from a career development perspective that working with a mentor is a good thing and 89% of them believe that it is important to be constantly learning. They are expected to make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020.

In reality, depending on what or whom you read, you find out that they are not that different then their baby boomer parents (when they were growing up, rebelling against “the establishment”). They want to have a career (with whomever), want to make a difference in society, and to provide for their family. Growing up they have watched their baby boomer parents get downsized, laid off, re-organized, stressed out, and just over-worked. Hopefully they’ll learn something and make a difference vs. repeat their parent’s experiences.

A second generation that is still having an impact is the baby boomer generation. They are getting closer to retirement (the first wave has started to retire already) and with this have the opportunity to transfer knowledge to the upcoming generations (especially their Millennial kids). This is important because for every two experienced and knowledgeable baby boomer that retires there is one in-experienced employee joining the workforce.

They have seen it all (or at least a lot) to a certain extent. Wars that they thought were wrong, layoffs, downsizing, growth, financial success (and sometimes failure), credit cards and debt, the boom and drought of real estate (as their homes went up and down in prices). They’ve seen the creation of the Internet, cell phone evolution through the technology revolution, four generations in the workplace, diversity and the U.S. changing demographics, along with many others.

They’ve watched their children journey through things they never did. They’ve experienced the ups and downs of life, including our own recent U.S. Continental Pearl Harbor in the tragedy that took place on 9-11. They’ve seen their 12-inch TV go to 50 and 60 inches and beyond with something now known as HDTV. They’ve watched the competition to traditional movies by being able to watch Netflix and online from the comfort of their homes while enjoying it in surround sound. They’ve been exposed to laws that they would have never imagined when they were in their 20’s, like “don’t text and drive” and to ensure you have a “designated texter”. In summary they’ve seen things they never even imagined when they were in their teens.

I’ve pointed out only two of the key generations in the workforce. The reality is that organizations will be challenged and have an opportunity to integrate this workforce in a way that can enable their organizations to exist at the top of the competition. Organizations will need to proactively address how to capitalize on this new and changing workforce.

How organizations and leaders integrate this changing workforce can provide a competitive advantage for them. How organizations capitalize on this diverse workforce (from an age perspective) will enable them to differentiate themselves from their competitors. However if this varied aging workforce is not managed right, it can serve as a major loss for organizations not only from a worker perspective but also from a client/customer perspective. In the end, the proactive pursuit of engaging their diverse workforce will serve as a catalyst or detractor for their future success and existence.

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