How do the different generations think about work? What motivates them? How do they prefer to communicate and collaborate? To answer these questions, you must understand the generational values and attitudes that drive their behavior.
The current workforce engenders five generations (SHRM, 2021):
- Traditionalists (76 to 99 years old)
- Baby Boomer (57 to 75 years old)
- Generation X (41 to 56 years old)
- Millennial (26 to 40 years old).
- Generation Z (25 years old and younger)
This blog explores the four generations that comprise the majority of today’s workforce and provides insights on managing each. The article also discusses some of the challenges faced by employees in multi-generational organizations. So whether you’re a new manager or an experienced business owner, don’t miss out on this invaluable guide to generational values in the workplace.
Theory of Generations (Karl Mannheim,1928)
According to Karl Mannheim, significant differences exist between generations. Mannheim’s 1928 Generations Theory asserts that individuals born during a specified time period are influenced by the economic, social, technological and political context that they were raised in. Examples of events that influence generational perspectives include war, recession, economic growth, technological advances, new medicines, a pandemic, terrorism, social movements, etc.
A given generation or demographic group typically shares values and viewpoints about the world because of their exposure to similar technological, social, political and economic influences during their formative years. As new generations enter mainstream life; values and perspectives naturally evolve versus previous generations as local/global dynamics change. In sum, Mannheim’s Theory of Generations asserts that every generation understands and experiences the world differently.
The “generations” perspective helps us understand demographic groups, motives, values, perceptions; and to use the knowledge for business purposes. However, individual experiences are more important than those of an entire generation or group of people. Thus, it is important to understand that the values and beliefs of an entire group are not necessarily shared by all individuals born into that particular group or generation.
Multiple Generations Working Together
A landmark study conducted by AARP of multiple generations in the same workplaces found that:
- 60% of workers report the presence of generational conflict
- 70% of older employees dismiss the work habits and abilities of younger people
- 50% of younger colleagues dismiss the abilities of older coworkers
What is the meaning of the generation gap?
A generation gap is a chasm separating the beliefs and behaviors of members of different generations. More specifically, a generation gap describes the differences in thoughts, actions, and tastes exhibited by members of younger versus older generations.
Why is it important to understand generational differences?
According to GlobeSmart, companies that are generationally diverse in their management teams experienced 19% higher profits than those with less diversity on those same teams. Moreover, to reach the above mentioned level of success requires a mutual awareness of generational views and values.
Acceptance of diversity allows different generations to improve their interactions and communication with one another. This, in turn, leads to more synergetic relationships and improved collaboration as people understand each other’s viewpoints and motives.
Baby Boomers – People born between 1955-1964
Baby boomers emerged after World War II when birth rates worldwide increased rapidly. The sudden influx of new babies became known as the baby boom. During the boom, 76 million infants were born in the United States alone.
The baby boomer generation was raised with the idea of the American dream, pushing themselves to reach their goals. Baby boomers are often optimistic about future prospects. This generation has confidence in themselves and their abilities. They are profoundly influenced by American national culture and the relative economic prosperity and belief that hard work makes a difference.
Note: the generational differences between baby boomers and previous generations, such as the silent generation and the great generation, contrast in many ways. And yet, they found ways to work together harmoniously.
Baby Boom workplace values (The Head Hunters)
- Extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks, and prestige
- Prefer structured organization but challenge the rules and yet are cautious about change
- The first generation of “workaholics” view work as a means to success
- Believe the new generations should pay their dues before climbing the ladder
- Tend to see younger generations as lacking work ethic/commitment
Generation X – Sandwich Generation 1965-1980
Generation Xers, also called Gen Xers, were the first to grow up with minimal adult supervision, quickly learning the value of independence and work-life balance. Many Gen Xers also grew up during economic instability and entered the workforce during recessionary times. As a result, many in this cohort became entrepreneurs or have side hustles to stabilize their financial positions.
In addition, many gen X-ers appreciate informality and are technologically adept, flexible, and highly educated. In organizations, gen Xers understand the pre-digital and post-digital workplace and can bridge the generational gap between the Baby Boom generation and younger generations.
Who are members of the sandwich generation?
Family life issues uniquely impact adults who are part of the sandwich generation. For instance, many in this age group have living parents aged 65 or older and at the same time are raising a child under 18 or supporting young adults and thus are pulled in many directions.
Generation X workplace values (MyBusiness)
- Self-reliant, results-oriented, and hardworking with a tendency to be quiet achievers
- Grew up witnessing significant technological advances, in particular, the transition from analog to the digital age
- Tend to perform better under minimal supervision
- Embrace social responsibility, and value a healthy balance between work and personal pursuits
- Adapt well to change and appreciate an informal work environment
- Entrepreneurial spirit, educated, independent thinkers, embrace technology and social media.
- Value diversity, challenges, and accountability also enjoy creative input and are resourceful problem solvers.
Generation Y – Millennials 1981-1996
Many researchers have examined the millennials’ attitudes and opinions across a spectrum of contemporary issues. Most millennials show evidence of a highly educated, self-confident, technologically savvy, and ambitious generation.
Unlike previous generations, Gen Y is the first generation to grow up with the internet, cell phones, and digital communication. “Digital natives” is a term often used to describe people who grew up tech-savvy. Hence, Gen Yers are comfortable learning and using the latest software releases.
Generation Y Workplace Values (Talentor, 2016)
- Insist on a good work-life balance, flexible working hours, and respect for diversity (policies).
- Expect to rise rapidly through the organization and move up the ladder very fast
- Value social & corporate responsibilities and will leave employers who do not share these values and perceptions
- Embrace the digital world, and they will take advantage of it.
- Need to represent or communicate their image via personal statements
- Personal learning and development are more critical to them than financial rewards.
- Constant use of social media/social networks anywhere and at any time
Generation Z – iGen or Centennials – 1997-Now.
Generation Z, also known as iGen, Centennials, etc., starts with those born in approximately 1996. Many members of gen Z grew up watching their parents take significant financial hits during the Great Recession. Thus, having witnessed their parents’ monetary struggles, this generation is driven by economic pragmatism and job security. (The oldest members of these age groups are now entering their 20s)
Gen Z is the fastest emerging generation of employees, consumers, and trendsetters. Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with access to the internet throughout their formative years.
Generation Z Workplace Values (BetterTeam)
- Ambitious, value opportunities for career advancement and job security
- Essential to highlight the company’s efforts at celebrating workforce diversity & inclusion
- Engaged by a company culture that encourages and embraces transparency vs. earlier generations.
- Thrive on social media and other forms of digital communication.
- Accustomed to diverse environments vs. older generations
- Value workplace diversity and social responsibility
- Influenced by the pandemic, inflation and high divorce rates
Remember, each generation has varying experiences and perspectives that can clash in the workplace. Unaddressed generational differences in the workplace can lead to poor communication, decreased productivity, leadership miscues, reduced synergy, and more.
As we have demonstrated, it’s essential for business owners, leaders, and managers to be aware of the different values and expectations of each generation in the workplace. Ignorance can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and even conflict in the office. By understanding what shapes generational values, managers can take steps to manage employees more effectively and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and productive.
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