Baby Boomers, Generation ‘X’ and Generation ‘Y’ in the Workplace: A Melting Pot of Expertise
Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever, as most corporations’ demographics span across multiple generations. The dynamic that exists amongst this diversity is both fascinating and challenging. This historical coexistence is unprecedented in the workplace, resulting in a sort of corporate melting pot of beliefs, cultures, and work ethic. How do so many different generations – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z – coexist in the workplace?
According to a CIO study, relations among the generations seem to be at a low point. Millennials (defined as people born between 1981 and 1996) think Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) are a bunch of whiners; Gen X sees Millennials as arrogant and entitled; Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) consider themselves to be the hardest-working generation; and everyone thinks the Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) are self-absorbed luddites. Even slight differences in work ethics and priorities can create tension in the workplace, but they do not have to. By better understanding the strengths and experience of each generation, workplaces with high age diversity can yield strong positive results.
For decades, the Baby Boomer generation defined an entire era and the shape of the US workforce. This generation has held the lion’s share of managerial and c-level roles due to their wealth of experience. While Boomers are retiring in increasing numbers, the ones who remain in the workforce carry critical knowledge and wisdom of decades’ worth of industrial, economic, and corporate changes. Although they represent a sense of history within their field, they can unfortunately be viewed negatively by their younger counterparts. Baby Boomers were raised on the brick-and-mortar philosophy of productivity: if you are at your desk, you are working. Differences exist with Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z on acceptable proportions of work-life balance, quality of work vs. quantity of work, and most of all, flexibility, especially as Baby Boomers fade out of the workplace and Gen X and Millennials begin to take on more positions of power within organizations. Without question, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z tend to be more flexible in where and how they work, while Boomers prefer to have staff in the office, face-to-face, every day.
There is also a significant gap in the application of technology for corporate communications. Boomers are slower to embrace social media sites such as LinkedIn, and even more hesitant to fully support or Twitter in the workplace. Just 17% of Baby Boomers report using Twitter, while 24% report using LinkedIn, compared to 68% report enjoying Facebook as a way to maintain relationships with friends and family.
Additionally, Boomers tend to believe in tried and true communication methods of face to face or voice to voice – their usage of email, texts, posts or tweets for corporate communication is far less than that of their generational counterparts. They also value background information and details in their communication, and their drive for success has led many to operate with a door-open mentality, where they appreciate when coworkers seek their advice. Authors of Bridging the Generation Gap, Linda Gravett and Robin Throckmorton, say their research shows that 68% of Baby Boomers feel younger people do not have as strong a work ethic as they do, and that makes doing their own work harder
Gen X is viewed as independent, as many grew up taking care of themselves due to both parents working, learning to become resourceful, responsible, and self-sufficient. Many in this generation prefer autonomy and flexible work hours and embrace a hands-off management philosophy. As a generation, they tend to value work-life balance much more than their predecessors, and even over Millennials.
Having grown up with and around technology, Gen X is not afraid to embrace the plethora of new hi-tech innovations, especially mobile technologies that allow them freedom in their work. Email is their go-to tool for communications, and many can be perceived as either blunt or direct. As a generation, Gen X tends to push back on superfluous in-person meetings to optimize their work time, as they strive for work-life balance.
With Baby Boomers retiring in increasing numbers – many were forced into it due to the coronavirus pandemic – Gen X becomes the natural successor with the experience and knowledge younger generations will need to lean on in order to continue to help businesses succeed.
Often stereotyped as being impatient, demanding, and feeling entitled, the Millennial generation (also sometimes known as Gen-Y), now makes up roughly one third of the US labor force. Millennials grew up in a time of relative peace and prosperity. Unlike their successors, Gen Z, they were not born with the internet in their pocket via smartphones but witnessed the digital revolution during their childhood and adolescent years: everything from the invention of Google Search to social media. For that reason, this generation is a tech-savvy workforce and are often called upon by older generations to troubleshoot when technology stops working.
While they grew up in a time of general prosperity, many Millennials were either early in their careers or just entering the workforce around the time of the Great Recession. Few entry-level jobs were available to them when they entered the workforce, which in many cases lead to a slower or stalled launch to their careers. This, compounded with high levels of student debt, has resulted in many Millennials leading a career-focused life. Many, even well into their 30s, continue to focus on their burgeoning careers.
More than earlier generations, tend to value continued learning, upward mobility, and regular feedback from their employers. Especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many also expect greater work-flexibility, work/life balance, and continued remote work options, and and would even choose those perks over financial reward. They expect the organizations that employ them to be as tech-savvy as they are and to provide technology options that support their mobile lifestyles.
As Gen Z enters the workforce in greater numbers, the generation known for their dedication to social responsibility is emerging with high aspirations for their success. Raised during the Great Recession, many watched their parents lose jobs, houses, and savings, which instilled the values of hard work and preparedness during their formative years. Despite this, Gen Z tends to value salary less than every other generation. They will often choose interesting work that pays less over a better-paying job that they might deem ‘boring.’
Also important to this generation is the notion of working for an organization that operates ethically, sustainably, and is committed to combating societal challenges. Diversity is also a driving factor for Gen Z. Race, gender, and inclusivity are important workplace factors. In short, Gen Z does not only care about the work they do, but they want to feel good about who they are doing it for.
When it comes to Gen Z’s workplace preferences, despite being the generation that grew up with smartphones in their hands, they surprisingly tend to prefer in-person work over remote. A generation of contradictions, they also value autonomy over their work schedule and are more likely to reject company cultures who require a strict 9-5.
Many Generations, One Workforce
Since today’s corporate environment is so multi-generationally expansive, many challenges will inevitably arise, but this type of diversity can also bring unexpected benefits to the blended workforce. Recognizing and tapping into the history, experience, and wisdom the Boomer generation has to offer is an excellent mechanism for knowledge transfer and team building, while Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z can work with Boomers to realize greater efficiencies with mobile technologies. The workplace of today is a historic, rich blend of culture, knowledge, and experience that we may not see again for decades to come.
For advice and assistance navigating and increasing the age diversity on your team, reach out to Resource 1.