Many people would argue that the workplace has changed significantly in the past couple of years. A lot of individuals credit this change to COVID-19 because of the instant shift to online work. COVID-19 forced companies online with little to no prep time. This was a clunky adjustment, at best, for some industries but for others, it was a smooth transition that ended up sticking around. Some companies have chosen to permanently adopt work-from-home policies while others have shifted back to pre-COVID-19 practices. Regardless of how individual companies are operating today, the workplace shift that was forced upon us during COVID-19 exposed the general public to the benefits of working from home.
While COVID-19 did play a significant role in the workplace shift, it isn’t the only contributing factor. Today’s workforce is now the most age-diverse workforce to date with five different generations contributing to the whole. This is an exciting change! More age diversity in the workplace creates room for different ideas and perspectives. However, this exciting change doesn’t come without its challenges. With five generations, there are now five different approaches to work.
Five Generations of Today’s Workforce
Purdue lists the five generations of today’s workforce as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
As the oldest generation, Traditionalists make up the smallest portion of today’s workforce at 2%. They are generally motivated by respect and value consistency and stability. An in-person conversation is usually preferred over an email and less emphasis is put on the individual self. Most Traditionalists subscribe heavily to the chain of command and see age as a huge contributing factor in determining seniority.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
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At 25% of today’s workforce, Baby Boomers have helped form many current practices of the workplace we know. Driven by loyalty, the larger team, and hard work, Baby Boomers are efficient and expect the same urgency to be shared by others. They value success and believe that it can only be achieved through sacrifice and hard work. They believe in ‘paying your dues’ and that each individual has a responsibility to their employer.
Generation X (1965-1980)
Generation X currently accounts for 33% of today’s workforce. They were the first generation to push for diversity and work-life balance. They’re focused less on company loyalty and more on their personal-professional growth and interests. They push back on company change if it results in changes outside of work and are quick to move on if a company is not meeting their needs. Even though they value flexibility in the workplace, they tend to prefer to communicate with co-workers in person.
Also known as Generation Y, Millennials make up the largest portion of today’s workforce at 35%. Millennials are known for being the generation most shaped by access to the internet. They are the first generation to prefer communication through instant chats or emails. Trust and autonomy are desired in an employer and they respect managers who allow room for that. They desire a fun environment, inside and outside of work and have continued pushing for work-life-balance within the workplace. They desire flexibility and will leave an organization that is unwilling to adapt.
Generation Z (2001-2020)
Rounding out the five generations, Generation Z makes up 5% of today’s workforce. While today they make up a small portion of the workforce, that number is growing each year as more and more Generation Z become employed. They are shaped by access to technology from a young age and constant access to information. They tend to communicate through instant chats and social media, instead of face-to-face. A Millennial manager is preferred by Generation Z employees because they typically provide the flexibility and independence that they desire. They see themselves as unique individuals and desire to be treated that way in the workplace.
Each of these five groups bring different working styles and preferences to the workplace. Without careful considering, the merging of different generations within the workplace could cause friction and frustration. However, there are ways to use the wide generational experiences to our advantage. While generational diversity has caused a huge shift in the workplace, it can be used as a tool to make us better.
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