For the first time in modern history, there are five generations in the workforce: The Silent Generation (born 1925 to 1945), Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Generation X (born 1965 to 1980), Millennials (born 1981 to 2000), Generation Z (born 2001 to 2020). Such a multigenerational workforce is a nurturing ground for new ideas and diverse  perspectives, but it also has its fair share of  challenges.

Organizations across the world have been trying to identify common traits across each generation, in hopes of finding the right balance in multigenerational leadership. Nonetheless, these common characteristics and traits remain debatable because of multiple factors that can impact every generation’s upbringing, such as their geographical location, especially that some countries had a larger impact from wars and pandemics. Each generation has unique goals, experiences, and perspectives but they all seek a culture of belonging and inclusion that allows them to feel comfortable and psychologically safe.

Although each generation can display similar patterns, pretty much like a cultural trait, some people might not identify with their generation group and there are several exceptions like in any group profiling. 

Below is a brief description of each generation and what they might value from employers

The Silent Generation (Traditionalists): The smallest population in the workforce today

  • Lived through the Great Depression and World War II
  • Known to be dependable, loyal, and value respect
  • Very traditional with a need for hierarchy and structure
  • Value obedience over individualism
  • Employers with traditionalists should focus on consistency, stability, and loyalty as a priority. Traditionalists want satisfying work and take pride in the opportunity to contribute

Baby Boomers: New babies born right after the end of World War II

  • Lived through the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate
  • Characterized as optimistic, team-oriented and workaholic
  • Motivated by duty and loyalty and will often do whatever it takes to meet deadlines and achieve goals
  • Employers should look for ways for baby boomers to act as mentors since many are on the cusp of retirement

Generation X: Where we start to see a shift in loyalty to employers

  • Lived through the AIDS epidemic, the dot-com boom, and the Cold War 
  • Currently constitutes a large segment of the workforce
  • Shares a diverse perspective and can be quick to change employers if their needs aren’t met
  • Value independence, flexibility and informal work environments
  • Employers should provide coaching, immediate feedback, flexibility and work-life balance

Millennials (Gen Y): The next generation of leaders in the workforce

  • Lived through 9/11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars
  • Are civic-minded, purpose-driven and motivated by achievements
  • Tend to seek challenges and personal development
  • Value personal life and personal experiences over allegiance to companies
  • Employers need to get to know millennials on a personal level, even more so than previous generations
  • Respond well to real-time feedback and thrive with flexibility and autonomy
  • Employers should  focus on how to develop millennials’ leadership skills as they are likely the next future leaders in your organization

Generation Z: Characterized as an “activist” generation

  • Lived through the global pandemic, the 2008 financial crisis,  and the fast-accelerating climate crisis
  • Grew up with devices and technology embedded into every facet of their lives
  • The most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet
  • Highly educated and highly purpose-driven
  • Cares deeply about social, environmental, and governance (ESG) issues
  • Highly motivated by diversity, creativity, and individuality
  • Employers should provide a workplace that values individuality and allows them to show up to their jobs as who they are as people, not just employees. This generation is already making radical changes in the workplace and companies should empower these employees to succeed in ways that work for them

Steps to becoming a multigenerational inclusive leader

  1. Leverage data to your advantage: Many companies are gathering data to understand the entire workforce tracking tenure, movement, performance evaluations, and attrition, as well as qualitative data to improve engagement. This data can be linked to generational differences and can provide insights on several issues that need to be addressed.
  2. Communicate effectively and consistently: Research has shown that younger generations expect communication to happen at hyper-speed: real-time, two-way communication that accepts input from everyone, followed by fairly immediate action. Companies should ensure that teams are communicating through channels most comfortable for them whether online or offline. Sometimes, this means integrating a few technologies. One example is anonymous micro-feedback platforms and follow-up feedback, which can provide visibility into issues and solutions and promote a culture of continuous improvement.
  3. Develop a culture of mentorship: Several people thrive on collaborative work and support from colleagues. Personal relationships are essential for companies who are looking for ways to bridge gaps across generations and enhance retention rates. Assigning mentors to new employees can have a positive impact on their on-boarding experience and can help employees develop a sense of belonging.
  4. Find new paths for professional growth: All initiatives that promote professional development are a plus. These activities should help accelerate employees’ careers through opportunities to develop skills, to network, and to manage projects through “extracurricular” initiatives inside or outside the company.
  5. Create A Healthy Work-Life Balance: Striving to cultivate a healthy work-life balance will have a positive impact on employees of all generations.
  6. Focus on a Common Purpose: Regardless of age, employees should all be aligned on a shared purpose that is inspirational and that is aligned with their beliefs and values.
  7. Embrace Diversity and Unique Talents: Companies can identify practical ways to capitalize on the unique talents and valued skill sets these different generations have to offer. By embracing generational diversity, companies can utilize cooperative communication to find out what makes each generation thrive.
  8. Develop A Culture Of Inclusion, Diversity and Belonging: In today’s five-generation workplace, the key to fostering inclusion, diversity and harmony is to create a culture that reinforces a sense of belonging within all employees. Leaders should make it a part of their mission to spread awareness about the dangers of  negative age stereotypes and to break the conscious and unconscious biases within their teams.

As we look for ways to bridge the generational gap, we must keep in mind that every employee in the company, no matter what generation they belong to, wants to feel seen and heard. It all begins with communication and an open mind. When we learn to consciously avoid making assumptions about people based merely on their age, we are able to break barriers, stereotypes and biases that limit us and deprive us of highly valuable learning opportunities.

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