For the first time in US history, the labor force is comprised of four generations; from the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers to the Generation Xers and the Millennials (or Generation Y). Each generation with its own set of characteristics, ideals, strengths and weaknesses. Having a multi-generational workforce can pose issues for managers if they do not understand each group’s preferred working and communication style and what motivates them to perform at high levels. Although not all workers will exhibit these characteristics, below are a few tips that may help you bridge the generation gap and support your recruitment, performance, and team building initiatives.
The Traditionalist also called the Veteran, Mature, the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation is anyone born before 1946. This group today only makes up about 5% of the American workforce but because of longer life expectancy and the desire to keep active and productive, more people are staying in the
workplace well after reaching normal retirement age.
This generation values authority and structure, adheres to the rules, and believes in hard work. They are also very loyal employees, often staying with one employer throughout their entire working experience. They do not require ongoing praise for their work because to them, they are just doing what is expected.
Traditionalists tend to be technically challenged and prefer one-on-one communication via phone, meeting, or direct memo over email or virtual meetings or chats.
What motivates this group is security and stability so this generation values retirement and/or pension plans very highly.
Anyone born between 1946 and 1964 is considered to be a member of the Baby Boomer Generation. Currently the largest generation of active workers at about 39%, the Baby Boomer Generation holds most of the senior-level management roles and controls much of the decisions made within an organization.
Baby Boomers are often considered to be strong minded, competitive, extremely focused on work, and possess a strong work ethic. They still prefer one-on-one contact and tend to lean towards meetings or phone calls over emails or virtual chats.
Unlike their parent’s generation, they prefer to be recognized for their efforts in the form of public praise, compensation or change in title. Because they are newly retired or approaching retirement they value strong retirement or pension plans.
Generation X consists of those born between 1965 and 1980 and make up approximately 32% of the US workforce. Members of this generation are often defined as being cynical, independent, resourceful, and flexible. Growing up in rough economic times and when broken families were common, they are less committed to one employer and constantly re-evaluating their career paths.
They are technologically adept and feel comfortable working with and communicating via email, virtual chats and cell phones.
They do prefer immediate feedback and value freedom and responsibility. They do not like being micro-managed and display a casual disdain for authority. Although they work hard, they work to live, not live to work like their Baby Boomer parents. They appreciate fun in the workplace and tend to seek work/life balance.
Millennials, born between 1981 and 1999, are the newest generation to enter the workplace. Although many are still in high school or college, they already make up about 24% of the labor force in the US. Millennials, also known as Generation Y, the Internet Generation and the Echo Boomers, are characterized as being tolerant, goal oriented, independent and optimistic.
They grew up with technology so it comes natural to them and prefer to use it to communicate. With computers and smartphones never far from their fingertips they’ve gotten accustomed to being able to get what they wanted instantly. This expectation is reflected in the workplace in that they prefer instant feedback and recognition.
They value mentorship, a balanced life style, teamwork, and being challenged and respected for their ideas.
Like Generation X, they lack loyalty to the workplace and strive for work/life balance. Flexible schedules and unrestricted telecommuting is appreciated.
How to Accommodate Each the Generation
- Provide benefit packages that speak to each generation. For example, place an emphasis on retirement plans that will attract the attention of the Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers while offering Generation Xers parental leave and dependent care and Millennials flexible schedules. Consider a variety of healthcare packages to meet the needs of each group.
- Train employees on generational characteristics and how to embrace differences and on what each generation can bring to the table.
- Clearly define and communicate company policies and expectations.
- Utilize multiple types of communication tactics such as meetings, memos, email, instant messages, etc.
- Use multiple training styles such as discussion groups and one-on-one coaching. Offer feedback and recognition in different ways so that each employee feels valued while still being reminded of how they are or are not meeting expectations.
- Acknowledge the experience of mature workers, while respecting the talent of newer workers.
As an employer it is important to understand the generational differences so you can better motivate, manage, and retain your staff. This diverse workforce allows for an exciting and well-rounded workplace so be sure to embrace it and lead your staff into doing the same.