With more generations working side-by-side than ever before, it’s crucial for companies to understand generational differences to effectively cater to their specific needs. Click. caught up with generations expert Dr Eliza Filby to discover the characteristics that define each cohort in the workplace, along with the opportunities age diversity presents businesses.
Click.: When it comes to working, what are the main differences between generations?
Filby: Currently we have, really in an unprecedented way, four generations operating in the workforce: baby boomers, gen Xers, millennials and gen Zers. Each of these generations have different modes of communication, contrasting expectations, and varying skills that employers should recognise.
First off, you have the baby boomers - who I classify as anyone born between 1942 and 1964. We’ve seen a sharp rise in the last ten years of over-70s staying in the workplace, and the trend towards working longer and retiring later is going to be long-lasting. This generation was very much shaped by what I call classic corporate culture. They are used to a very stable, traditional workforce and are often committed to a company for the long term.
Next up, you have gen X - anyone born between 1965 and 1980. This generation has witnessed two important shifts in the workplace: the mass entry of women into professional roles and the transition to a more globalised workforce. gen X is also the first tech generation - not millennials - as they were the ones who entered the workforce as technology started gradually changing office operations.
Thirdly, we have millennials, who are now managers, parents and maturing adults. They aren’t as young as we continue to stereotype them to be. There are three main things that have shaped the millennial life experience: the invention of the smartphone and the way it blurred the lines between work and play; the mass expansion of cheap travel and the way in which travel has become a core part of this generation’s identity; and the mass expansion of higher education, with millennials now the best-educated generation in history.
Lastly, there’s gen Z - those born between 1997 and 2010. They are the social media generation and very fluid in how they see their offline and online self. They’re also incredibly entrepreneurial; Harvard Business Review estimates that 70% of American gen Zers earn their pocket money in non-traditional ways - such as buying and selling things online. Using their entrepreneurial skills in new and innovative ways is an inherent part of their learning identity and something they want to transfer to the workplace.
Click.: Do these differences in generations apply globally?
Filby: The concept of a generation is a generalisation of people; often you’re talking about the mainstream and, in some circumstances, about the west. For example, baby boomer culture was generated in America and is very specific to the west. When you start talking about gen Z, however, you’re actually talking about global youth culture. Because of technology and globalisation, there’s a commonality and a greater sense of generalisation that you can apply to gen Z that you can’t apply to baby boomers. It’s important for businesses to dissect these generalisations to understand global differences and discover the local context of your market.
Click: What are the advantages of a multi-generational workplace?
Filby: Creating a multi-generational workplace is important because you need that combination of experience and enthusiasm. Both wisdom and youthful exuberance are key to creating a dynamic that shapes a successful company. Each business should have a diversity of voices, ideas and values to move the company forward. I’ve seen companies that have a millennial dominant workforce and recognise they need the experience and skill-set of older employees. Equally, I’ve worked with companies that recognise they may have a multi-generational workforce but they’re not empowering the various generational talents and the company is suffering as a result.
Click.: And the challenges?
Filby: One of the biggest challenges businesses face today is prejudice. It’s crucial to break down generational barriers and educate employees to understand that each generation has been forged out of certain circumstances. Companies can do a lot around generational intelligence to help employees learn how to better interact and work with various age groups. This is also where a number of initiatives - such as informal inter-generational mentorships, reverse mentoring and skill-swap sessions - can be extremely beneficial.
Click.: What’s your advice when it comes to managing a diverse workforce?
Filby: One of the most important things a company can offer employees of all ages is the opportunity to upskill. If you think about the challenges and changes that are going to affect the workplace in the next 30-40 years, it’s crucial to create an educational environment for employees in order for them to thrive and be agile enough to adapt to the fundamental changes that are coming.
It’s also important to ensure employees understand what modes of communication are most efficient when communicating with different generations. The really successful people in this world are the bridges - the ones that can talk across all ages and bring people together. It’s important to recognise that everyone’s a product of their time and learning their language can really help to understand the value each generation can bring.
- Each generation has different modes of communication, contrasting expectations, and varying skills that employers should recognise
- Generational differences should be embraced by employers because both wisdom and youthful exuberance are key to creating a dynamic that shapes a successful company
- It’s crucial to break down generational barriers and educate employees to understand each generation
- It’s also important to understand what modes of communication are most efficient when communicating with different generations