How are you defined? Are you a Baby Boomer? Perhaps you’re a Generation X or a Millennial (formerly known as Gen Y). About to enter the workforce will be Generation Z.
Each generation is influenced by different events, technology, and economic circumstances, among other factors. Broad generalizations are never a good idea. There may be some truth to the generational characteristics we’re reading so much about lately. An April 2018 report by the Pew Research Center indicates that as of 2017 – 56 million Millennials were working or looking for work. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor force. And it was well ahead of the 41 million Baby Boomers, who represented a quarter of the total. Millennials surpassed Gen Xers in 2016.
Baby Boomer Generation
The Baby Boomer workforce is aging but that is not deterring them from continuing to work. According to a study done by Boston College, 66 percent of Baby Boomer workers plan to work past age 65, if they retire at all. More than half of them intend to continue working after retirement. Baby Boomers are extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks, and prestige. Baby Boomers relish long work weeks and define themselves by their professional accomplishments. The term “workaholic” came into fashion when describing this generation. Baby Boomers are confident, independent and self-reliant.
This generation grew up in an era of reform and believe they can change the world. They question established authority systems and challenge the status quo. Do you remember the late 1960’s and early 1970’s? One traumatic event followed another. There was a wide array of social and political trends that had been building for years and reached critical mass. Baby Boomers are achievement-oriented, dedicated and career-focused. Since Baby Boomers equate work and position with self-worth, they are quite competitive in the workplace. Boomers believe in hierarchical structure, rank and titles. They may have a hard time adjusting to workplace flexibility trends. They believe in “face time” at the office and may fault younger generations for working remotely. The most important things Boomers look for in a job are meaningful work, commute time, employee benefits and job security.
Generation X is independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient. They value freedom and responsibility in the workplace. Many in this generation display a casual disdain for authority and structured work hours. They dislike being micro-managed and embrace a hands-off management philosophy. The first generation to grow up with computers, technology is inextricably woven into their lives.
Many Gen Xers lived through tough economic times in the 1980s. They saw their Baby Boom parents lose hard-earned positions. The economy suffered a double whammy of two recessions between 1980 and 1982. There was one during the first six months of 1980. The second lasted 16 months, from July 1981 to November 1982. Unemployment rose to 10.8 percent in November and December 1982, the highest level in any modern recession. The stock market crash of 1987 saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average fall 22.61% in a single day. The U.S. entered a recession in 1990. It was characterized by a sluggish employment recovery, most commonly referred to as a “jobless recovery.”
Generation X tend to be less committed to a single employer as a result. They’re more willing to change jobs to get ahead than previous generations. They adapt well to change and are tolerant of alternative lifestyles. Generation X is ambitious and eager to learn new skills but they like to accomplish things on their own terms.
Much has been written of late on Millennials and deservedly so. Millennials already are the largest segment in the workplace. Within the next two years, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of Millennials. It will be 75 percent by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Millennials are the first generation to grow up using the internet and information technology from a very young age. They are typically confident due to highly involved, affirming parents. In the U.S. and affluent nations, their early lives were overscheduled making them comfortable with multitasking. Millennials expect lots of feedback and rewards in the workplace. They are considered to be idealistic. They work to live, not live to work. Work/life balance is more important to them than salary and they want to do work that improves society, putting emphasis on corporate social responsibility.
They crave more frequent learning and advancement opportunities. This may stem from Millennials feeling more stable economically but they aren’t convinced this stability will last. They have weathered three recessions in their lifetime. Few have confidence the economy will stay strong. Millennials are also facing record levels of student debt. They are technology experts. Millennials are also more likely to take on work that is meaningful them. They tend to blur work and life together, often checking emails and remaining “on” during after-work hours, reports Inc.com.
Generation Z are our recent college graduates and summer interns. They possess many of the same characteristics as Millennials with an emphasis on flexible lifestyles, feedback and rewards. Similarities may end there. There is the belief they are more financially focused with a discerning eye to a steady income and benefits.
Generation Z is very competitive perhaps more so than their predecessors. Theyhave grown up in a very diverse world. While Millennials are more fond of
collaboration and working in teams, early indications suggest Gen Z prefer working independently.
What does this multi-generation workplace mean for leadership? Remember that these characteristics do not necessarily apply to all members of a generation. It is important to remember that individual professionals are just that—individuals. All professionals expect their experience to be specific to their personal preferences and goals. While generational trends can point us in a direction, an employee’s experience should be a unique path. It’s important to get to know the individual rather than rely on stereotypes. Accept individuals based on their merits, rather than as “typical” members of particular generations.
Adapt your leadership style for each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, wants and needs. Regardless of the generation, how well do you know your team as individuals. How well do you know their behavioral style, their driving forces and their emotional intelligence (EQ). Behavioral assessments, such as DISC, are an excellent tool helping leaders worldwide better understand and connect more effectively with their workforce, raising engagement and productivity. DISC is an acronym that stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. The science of DISC explains the “how” a person does what they do. It can be a strong predictor of future behavior. Using a tool as powerful as DISC eliminates much of the guesswork for leaders. It can provide a game plan from which to best communicate with employees. Without bringing these human capabilities to bear in the workplace leaders won’t realize the potential to capitalize on their most valuable resource.
Regardless of the generation, there are some fundamental qualities they all look for in a leader:
- Keeping your word
- Empathic listening
- Respect for the individual
- Mentoring and support
With at least four generations in today’s workplace, organizations should look to achieve a strategic advantage by embracing diversity of thought and style among generations and creating an environment that values each generation’s and individual’s unique contribution.