In today’s business work environment, there are five generation styles at work: Traditionalists, Baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z. According to a Pew Research Report, in 2017, there were 3 million traditionalists, 41 million boomers, 53 Gen Xers, and 56 million millennials, and 9 million Generation Z workers in the labor force. Out of all generations, millennials have become the largest working generation in the U.S.
Because of this generation diversity, employers struggle in ensuring that employees understand each other’s generation styles’ values, motivations, and beliefs. Understanding the generation diversity in the workplace enables you to appreciate working with people from different age groups. Doing so can help employees overcome ageism and unconscious generational bias. And, it can make companies become more efficient.
What are the 5 generation styles you will encounter at work?
Traditionalists are also known as the silent generation, this includes employees born between 1925 to 1945. Parents expected traditionalists to be silent and do whatever was asked without question. And, for this reason, this generation became known as the “silent generation.” The Great Depression and the end of World War II influenced traditionalists. During the era, autos, indoor plumbing, movies, and the radio were the latest innovations. Values attributed to this generation include:
- Following rules
- Hard work
- Discipline and strong willpower
- Loyal, trusting, and respectful toward authority
Traditionalists prefer to communicate in person and feel comfortable in using personal touch such as hugs and pats on the back. They are likely to prefer writing handwritten notes and letters rather than email.
Baby boomers or “boomers” includes employees born between 1946 to 1964. This generation is called “baby boomers” because in 1946, after World-War II there were 3.4 million babies born, making it the largest generation of all. The Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and Watergate influenced Boomers. In this era, diversity started to increase with more women and diverse individuals in the workplace. Values attributed to this generation include:
- Personal gratification
- Equal rights
Boomers prefer communicating using channels that can reduce misunderstanding such as in-person conversations or phone calls.
Generation X or “Gen Xers” includes employees born between 1965 to 1980. This generation is known as “Gen Xers” because they did not want a label for their age cohort, and the “x” reflects that. The fall of the Berlin Wall, Gulf War, and the Iranian hostage crisis influenced Gen Xers. They experienced the dot-com boom. In this era, computers were the latest innovation. Values attributed to this generation include:
- Instant feedback
- Personal development
- Independent and self-sufficient
- Work hard, play hard
Gen Xers prefer to communicate either in-person or via phone calls.
Generation Y or “Millennials” includes employees born between 1981 to 2000. Millennials were influenced by 9/11 or the War on Terrorism and Columbine. In this era, social media and the Internet became the latest innovations. Value attributed to this generation include:
- Curious and open-minded
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Job hopping for career advancement
Millennials prefer email, texting, and instant messaging when possible.
Generation Z or “Gen 2020” includes employees born between 2001 to 2020. The Great Recession, technology innovations, increased national diversity, and the current COVID-19 pandemic. influenced Gen 2020 Values attributed to this generation include:
- Action-oriented and progressive
- Educated and accepting on diversity
Gen 2020 prefer to communicate using a smartphone using texting, instant messaging, and via social media.
Workforce in 2030
The Department of Labor predicts that four generations will emerge by 2030. Traditionalists would no longer be in the workplace, while the numbers of boomers and Gen X employees will decrease. Most workers will be millennials who will dominate and greatly influence the work environment. Gen 2020 workers will begin to increase in numbers in the workplace.
Overcoming Generational Differences
While there are generational values and communication differences that characterize each generational cohort, it’s important to avoid generational bias and seek mentorship.
Avoid Generational Bias
Research studies have tried to empirically test the different characteristics of generations, but have found little support. While American pop culture has embraced these generational differences, the actual differences are more slight than originally thought. For this reason, Dr. Bobby Dubby, a professor from King’s College, London, authored a book “The Generation Myth” because they are based on perception biases and opinions. And, these generational styles place people into stereotypical categories. For instance, an older manager might label a certain generation as “lazy” or “entitled,” and these negative perceptions might interfere with how this manager treats the younger employee. Or, when a technical problem occurs at work, a worker might ask a Gen 2020 employee to solve the problem. But, it could be the case that his employee might not be “tech-savvy” and might not know how to fix the technical problem.
These generational biases can harm workplace relationships when differences are used to stereotype and label others due to their age. For this reason, it’s important to understand these differences. However, take the time to get to know employees across age groups to know their unique workplace characteristics and work patterns.
If you are starting a job with workers with different ages from you, it’s important to seek their mentorship. Workers from other generations can offer invaluable insight and feedback, which can make you improve your overall work performance and job satisfaction. For instance, a Gen 2020 employee can ask their direct supervisor to be assigned a mentor who can show them the ropes at work. Alternatively, an employee can request a meeting with a senior employee of choice, and the employee can ask if the person is willing to serve as a mentor. Senior mentors have years of experience working for the company, have strong work relationships, and have access to the grapevine, or the informal interactions of the company.
Cliques typically develop around age groups, with younger employees hanging out with other younger employees, which reduce inter-generational communication. Leaders can also choose to form generation work teams by including members of all age groups to enable them to learn about each other and to build trusting relationships. Employees quickly learn to appreciate the unique skills, abilities, and knowledge that each person brings to the table. Leaders can also set a mentorship program at their organization to ensure that younger and new employees receive mentorship from employees from different age groups. By providing incentives or perks to older employees, this will ensure that the quality of the mentorship is sustained. For instance, leaders might provide annual mentorship certificates or awards, or sponsor a luncheon to celebrate mentor-mentee relationships.
As future employees and managers, it is important to understand generational differences. A successful organization will include the skill set of employees across age groups. Each cohort has experienced different upbringings with a variety of struggles and historical traumas. It is wise to appreciate and learn from workers across all age groups.