The Four-Generation Workplace

With four generations working together, a large number of potential candidates in the market, and a huge segment of the population set to retire in the next five to eight years, every employer faces both hiring and transitional challenges.

What do the four groups want?  How can any employer keep them all engaged, productive – and working together?

Traditionalists (born before 1945) are:

  • Loyal
  • Honest
  • Hardworking
  • May be part-time workers, or in second careers

From an employer, they want:

  • Stability and integrity in both the employer and individual managers
  • Flexibility in work days, hours and schedules
  • Clear rules and procedures
  • Traditional forms of acknowledgement:  watches, certificates, lunches

Baby Boomers (1946 to ~1964) are:

  • Idealistic
  • Driven
  • Outcome-oriented
  • May be approaching retirement; many planned to retire early

From an employer, they want:

  • Advancement opportunities and choices
  • Flexibility in work days, hours and schedules
  • Processes and tools that increase their productivity and help them reach goals quickly
  • If approaching retirement:  public recognition of their achievements

Generation X individuals (~1965 to 1985) are:

  • Realistic to cynical
  • Creative
  • Relationship-oriented
  • Strapped:  many are both raising children and supporting aging parents

From an employer, they want:

  • Flexibility in work days, hours and schedules
  • Choices among projects and roles; these offer them chances to learn new skills against the next round of layoffs (which are, of course, inevitable)
  • Results-oriented coaching and feedback
  • Time off, over any other form of recognition

Generation Y individuals (1986 to 2005) are:

  • Technologically savvy, but uncomfortable networking, attending meetings, or promoting themselves professionally
  • Intellectually generous (a “knowledge is free” mentality persists here)
  • Environmentally conscious
  • Drawn to the attitudes and values of their parents

From an employer, they want:

  • A work environment that is team-focused and social
  • Flexibility in work days, hours and schedules
  • A sense of true corporate and social responsibility (to be part of something greater than themselves)
  • Coaching and feedback that integrates well with their lives

How can an employer meet these challenges?

Continue to hire all generations. Members of all groups will continue to leave the workforce (as the first two groups retire, as the last two move on to other companies or leave to raise children).  The older two generations have strong attributes that the younger two don’t – or have placed on the back burner, for now, as they focus on their families and personal development.

Develop a corporate identity that has meaning and integrity. If your company’s mission doesn’t hold together, if it is not borne out by the actions of the lowest level manager, Generation Y and the Traditionalists will notice.  These are the people who spot dissonance between what a company says and what it does.  If the Traditionalists see it, they will call you on it and expect it to change.  If Generation Y sees it, they will walk.

Create shared spaces where people will want to gather while at work. An empty space with a table and chairs off an elevator lobby will not be the one people will use as a shared space.  It might not even become one if you add a pool table.  But add an activity, like Happy Hour or a volunteer event once a week – and give people the time off to take part in it – and they’ll probably join in.

At the same time, create opportunities for people to work remotely. Every single generation wants flexibility:  they all want to work for an employer that does not expect them to be there from 8 to 5, every single day.  A workplace becomes more attractive when it offers things like job-sharing, part-time plans for returning parents, or telecommuting options at least one day a week.

Respect diversity, but reinforce the unity of the team. Differences are critical to the identities of those on your team, but placing one member above the others creates friction.  Allow room for employees’ differences (time off for family obligations and religious observances, etc.), but maintain focus on your common ground:  current projects, sources of fun, shared achievements, annual objectives, and goals.


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