by Eric Friedman, eskill Corporation
Companies today are seeing the most multigenerational workforce in modern history. Four generations comprise today’s workforce: Traditionalists (born before 1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), and Millennials (born after 1981). And they’re working together in a wide range of positions across an array of industries and companies. Just take the number of millennials managing retirees with 40+ years of experience who are returning to the workforce—an age and experience gap never seen before in the workplace.
Each generation represents a different culture and set of values, which HR departments should understand in order to ensure that their workforce is productive and managed effectively. First, let’s look at the main characteristics of each generation.
Traditionalists are a generation influenced by the Great Depression, the roaring 20s, and the two World Wars. They are patriotic and loyal, with a deep faith in institutions and organizations, which makes them more likely to stay at one company for their entire careers. Many have either been in the military or come from military families, so they hold a great respect for authority.
In the workplace, they’re motivated by doing a job well, they’re concerned about who will do the work if they don’t, they understand the need to work long hours, and they tend to put work ahead of home life. They believe in paying their dues and proving themselves in order to advance their careers.
Baby Boomers have a different set of values that were shaped by their influences: the television media boom; the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal; the human rights and women’s movements; and the era of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. All of these experiences shaped them into becoming a more idealistic generation, with a deeper sense of fairness and equality, yet still maintaining a sense of competitiveness. They’re not as loyal as Traditionalists and they tend to question authority much more. They’re optimistic, since they grew up with more educational, financial, and social opportunities than their parents.
In the workplace, their main motivator is money and upward mobility. They’re likely to work for one company as long as they’re moving up and getting promoted. They’re not afraid to work long hours, they’ll often put work before home life, and they also believe in paying their dues to move up.
Generation Xers are the first generation to spend less time with their parents and more time home alone while their parents worked. They grew up to be more independent, autonomous, resourceful, and self-reliant. They are also a generation that saw a significant growth in technology—the computer went from the size of an entire building during the Traditional generation to a desktop appliance for the Gen Xers. They’re highly adaptive to change and technology, and, unlike their predecessors, they are distrustful of institutions and are not impressed by authority.
In the workplace, they believe in following their passions in their careers and are motivated by freedom and fun. They place a more equal importance on work and home and feel that they should have more control over their workflow and hours.
Millennials are a unique generation, heavily molded by expanded technology, diversity, and an upbringing that made them believe they were special and worthy of praise. They were also raised on technology, more so than any other generation before them, and are very cyber-savvy. They are more realistic, they appreciate diversity, and are more globally concerned than earlier generations. They’re also multitaskers, which can tend to make them seem easily distracted.
In the workplace, they are much more likely to switch jobs—even careers—often, and are motivated by their own personal fulfillment. They are willing to put in the hours, but not necessarily in the office; telecommuting is big with them. They expect constant praise and feedback from their managers, and to be involved in corporate decision-making. They also crave change and challenges, so they thrive in those kinds of situations.
Understanding the core differences in values, motivations, and priorities of each generation can help companies manage this diverse workforce. Each generation has a different level of engagement and expectations when it comes to their careers. A good way to look at it is that having many different experiences and values on staff can contribute to a more complete picture, because you can accomplish tasks and develop strategies that go beyond just one way of thinking.
Here are some ways to help manage your multigenerational workforce more effectively.
• Establish a workplace mentoring program to encourage younger employees to learn from the experiences of older employees, and for older employees to be more open to new perspectives.
• Consider offering different working options like telecommuting, reinforcing the importance of getting the job done over how it gets done, and providing the kind of flexibility employees of different ages can take advantage of.
• Understand that different generations learn and absorb information differently, and try to accommodate their needs by providing information in different ways, like PowerPoint presentations and handouts for older employees and more interactive web-based tools for younger ones.
• Provide skills training, leadership development, and career advancement opportunities that can help younger employees guide their careers and older employees learn new skills.
• Facilitate open communication, since this is of the utmost importance to make sure that everyone, regardless of age or tenure, feels heard and knows that they are part of the team.
Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of online skills testing for pre-employment assessment and benchmarking. Eric has degrees in Psychology and Business, and a fascination with matching people with roles they’re best at, and that they enjoy.
A company built on exceptional talent from Internet technology, test development, and iterative product development, eSkill leads as an independent assessment company helping HR departments with relevant and accurate job-based tests.