Generational differences undeniably impact your employees’ experiences in today’s workplace. From your leaders to your emerging talent, members of each of the five generations cooperate and collaborate every day, whether in office or remote.
Smart leaders recognize the strengths and challenges of these generations, uncover what drives each toward success, and build teams that will thrive in the ever-evolving world of work. Each generation has experienced defining moments that shape their perspectives. From Gen Z to the Silent Generation, each cohort brings its own attitudes, work styles, and expectations to the modern workplace.
Create space for all of your people to thrive and cultivate a healthy and successful work experience. Let’s explore why generational differences in the workplace are surprisingly beneficial and how you can boost these strengths in your organization.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Five generations collaborating
- Generational differences in the workplace
- How to bridge generational gaps
- Benefits of a multigenerational workforce
- Flexible benefits for every generation
- Support that spans the generations
Five generations collaborating
Deferred retirement plus the newest generation entering the workforce means the modern workplace plays host to the interplay of five incredibly distinct perspectives. The disconnect between what each generation wants from work and what their bosses think they want is real. And when supervision happens across generational lines, managers often default to their own generational expectations.
The top five generations in today’s workforce span a huge range of birth years. The most tenured were born before 1945, and the youngest in the early 2000s. And we can expect perspectives to range just as much as the varied generations they represent.
A multigenerational workforce requires a flexible and people-centered workplace model. Regardless of age, your people are probably a lot more like you than you might expect, and each has unique strengths to offer.
Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012)
As the youngest generation, Gen Z is an essential catalyst for change in today’s workplace. The generation who in 2023 are between the ages of 10 and 25 today make up more than a quarter of the US workforce.
Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history. When it comes to recruitment and retention, Gen Z is calling the shots. Deeply impacted by the pandemic, this generation embraces the idea that productivity trumps hours spent at their desks, and they value flexibility.
Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996)
Millennials are between the ages of 26 and 42, and by 2025, they will make up 75% of the global workforce. Millennials are the largest living cohort and second only to Gen Z as the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in US history.
Yet as present and impactful as they are, the paradox of Millennials in the workplace seems to confound other generations. With a wide range of workplace attitudes and values, this cohort varies greatly in personal values. Yet they align in the expectation that their workplace lives their ethics and with corporate and social responsibility in mind.
Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
Sandwiched between the two most populous generations (Baby Boomers and Millennials), Gen X is considered the middle-child and lost generation. While Gen Xers’ impact is tempered by the sheer size and energy of Millennials and Gen Z, Gen Xers still account for the majority of tenured leadership roles. And with an average of 25 years of workforce experience, GenX has many great years to contribute to the workplace.
Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
Although many of this generation have retired, Baby Boomers are still a force in the workplace. And some of them have no plans to retire. They are purposeful, have high expectations for themselves and others, and push hard to reach their goals.
Flexibility and fun at work don’t always rank with Baby Boomers. Not known for prioritizing a work-life balance, Baby Boomers often question the work ethic of younger generations – an inaccuracy that has been proven again and again. More accurate is that younger generations have considered how history directly affects their day-to-day. They just work differently.
Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945)
The Silent Generation offers a wealth of experience, knowledge, and a deep understanding of their industries and professions. They are known for their meticulous attention to detail, accuracy, and precision. Highly respected for their wisdom and expertise, Silent Generation members are more likely to defer to those in positions of power and be less comfortable challenging authority.
Understanding generational differences in the workplace
A concerted effort to understand the needs and motivations of each generation is mission-critical. Understanding bridges the disconnect between leadership and their teams and increases engagement and employee retention. Overcoming challenges with people-centered solutions is essential to helping the multigenerational workforce connect, cooperate and thrive.
Get to know your people individually. While generalizations abound, there’s a lot of variation within generations. We know that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to healthy, thriving companies. Multigenerational representation means each cohort can learn skills from the others. Be aware of generational tensions and help your people recognize that they each have unique strengths, skills, and challenges.
Connection and empathy
Millennials and Gen Zers are characterized by their desire for meaningful work with a sense of purpose. They place a high value on inclusion, diversity, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability at work. They consider these values a prerequisite for engagement at work.
While Gen Xers are self-sufficient, they do value collaboration and communication and understand empathy builds trust and connection with colleagues.
Baby Boomers value face-to-face communication and personal relationships in the workplace. With a prioritization of hierarchy and authority, they may see empathy as important but not necessarily the top priority.
Collaboration and teamwork
Millennials and Gen Zers tend to be highly collaborative and value teamwork. They often prefer working in teams where they can share ideas and work together towards a common goal.
Gen Xers value self-reliance and independence. Many prefer an individualistic work environment or working in small, self-managed teams where they can have more autonomy and control over their work.
Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation tend to value individual contributions and recognition but also recognize the importance of working together towards a common goal.
Technology is the single greatest impact of generational differences in communication.
Gen Z workers are true digital natives who grew up with smartphones and social media and use technology to influence the world around them. Millennials also are naturally using tech for communication: Slack and Zoom are familiar tools, while older generations may prefer or place higher value for in-person meetings.
The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and older Gen Xers may prefer a more formal communication style, while Millennials and Gen Z tend to favor a casual approach.
Baby Boomers tend to connect productivity with hours spent in the office, so more is better. However, more tenured team members also tend to have more paid time off accrued to recharge.
Balance is one area where “to each, their own” isn’t effective. Total well-being means your people take time to rest and manage personal responsibilities. It’s essential that expectations for balance are clear and everyone on your team, no matter their generational expectations, observes boundaries around work-life and personal life.
How to bridge generational gaps
Avoid the pitfalls of generalizations and get to know your people. Team-building and community activities, rewards and recognition, volunteer programs, and Employee Resource Groups boost employee engagement and empower your multigenerational teams to operate effectively.
A nuanced approach to leading the different generations acknowledges their complexities and uncovers surprising strengths. Varying modes of communication tailored to your team’s needs can ensure everyone stays in the loop and communication is clear and transparent.
A nuanced approach to leading the different generations acknowledges their complexities and uncovers surprising strengths.
Leadership must make an effort to understand what each generation wants and needs to help teams bridge generational understanding. Asking the right questions and learning about attitudes and expectations will elevate and build trust between leadership and each generation. Promote a psychologically safe workplace by encouraging employees to contribute ideas and appreciating their willingness to speak up.
Once you’ve learned about your people and their needs, creative problem-solving is essential. Younger generations want to have their voices heard about challenges and solutions. And what they lack in tenure, they make up for in energy and a willingness to try new things. Listening to their creative ideas can help uncover meaningful, future-focused solutions to challenges your multigenerational teams may face. Never underestimate ideas coming from any source, regardless of age.
Alignment comes when your leadership and team members understand and share common goals. Be intentional about creating opportunities for connection. Promote a culture of partnership with mentoring and reverse mentoring to help team members learn from one another. These efforts to boost connection will facilitate mutually beneficial outcomes.
Benefits of a multigenerational workforce
A multigenerational workforce is a competitive advantage. The benefits of diverse perspectives, knowledge, and experiences strengthen your talent pipeline, lead to innovative solutions, and ensure your employees reflect your diverse customer base.
Tenured team members can share their experiences with early career employees, creating a strong pipeline of talent and institutional knowledge. Meanwhile, younger employees offer fresh perspectives and creative ideas around technology. And all of your people are mentors in the making, providing guidance and support to one another rooted in their unique generational strengths.
A multigenerational workforce is a competitive advantage.
Representation of different age groups in your workforce helps your company reflect, understand, and serve your customers’ needs. And the different generations in your workforce require thoughtful and effective communication adapted to their needs and preferences, which will also benefit your multigenerational customer base.
Flexible employee benefits for every generation
Employee benefits can be tailored to address the different needs of a multigenerational workforce. Flexible work arrangements, mentoring, wellness programs, financial planning, and family benefits offer your people the power of choice.
Flexible work options
Flexible work arrangements — such as hybrid and remote work, flexible hours, and job sharing — can help meet the needs of a diverse workforce. Flexibility allows your people to choose what works best for their productivity, depending on their life stage.
The breadth of experience between the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers makes them perfectly suited to serve as mentors to early career professionals, providing guidance and advice. When your people are in the office together, mentorship can help retain and engage Millennials and Gen Z, who especially value learning and growth opportunities. Connecting with their colleagues is the number one reason people are willing to return to the office post-pandemic.
Health and wellness programs
Total well-being is central to the experience of all of your people. Health and wellness programs, fitness classes, on-site health clinics, and stress management and meditation programs can help support the total well-being of all employees.
Financial wellness benefits
While some of your team members may be approaching retirement age, others are paying off student loans and saving to purchase their first home. Flexible benefits address different financial planning needs and goals.
Similarly, your people have different caregiving responsibilities depending on their stage of life, for children, elders, family members with disabilities, or for pets. Family-friendly benefits like flexible schedules, family care reimbursement funds, and equitable parental leave can help support employees in their personal lives and improve work-life balance.
Support that spans the generations
Each strength, difference, and challenge of the five generations in today’s workplace present an opportunity for learning, growth, and progress. Forging strong connections across the generations is an investment worthy of everyone’s time and energy. By capitalizing on their unique strengths and learning from those who come before and after, each generation has a chance to shape the modern workplace.
Create the space and the opportunity for all of your people to thrive and contribute as they nurture and develop their personal and professional selves. And give each generation exactly the flexible benefits they’re looking for to fit their current life stage.
Take the first step toward boosting employee engagement and well-being with a Lifestyle Spending Account from Espresa. Reach out to our team for a free demo!