FROM BABY BOOMERS TO GENERATION Z: ENGAGING A MULTIGENERATIONAL WORKFORCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Employers have for years tried to understand the different requirements of each generation. Although the term “millennials” was a generational buzzword for a long time, this has all changed with the post-millennial generation entering the workforce. While many employers have mastered serving and working with their Generation X employees, and have almost come to grips with understanding their Generation Ys, they are now trying to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of Generation Zs entering the workplace.


While we are all human, and while we all expect to have certain needs and desires met at work, the ideological differences between the generations loom large. For a generationally diverse workforce to work together effectively, we first need to understand what it is that makes each generation tick.





Let’s take a look at each generation individually.


BABY BOOMERS


Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are currently either in or on the cusp of retirement. For many of us, these are our parents and grandparents. For the early Baby Boomers, with post-war schools and colleges overcrowded due to the—yes, you guessed it—post-war baby boom, many headed straight out into the job market, where the competition for success and resources was intense. Whereas their mothers may have taken up lower-ranked positions in the workforce or decided to be stay-at-home moms, both male and female Baby Boomers entered the workforce with equal enthusiasm. Armed with a degree or not, their focus was on climbing the ranks and winning at all costs. Baby Boomers were ready to take on the world and change it—and they did. Loyal workaholics, time spent in the office and career success were synonymous, and hierarchical structures and rank based on age and experience were commonplace. The company where began your career was the same company that handed you a gold watch when you left, albeit somewhat more wrinkled than when you first entered.


GENERATION X


Generation X, direct descendants of the Baby Boomers, is the generation born between 1961 and 1981. This generation, more fun-loving and less loyal to their employers than their parents, sought more of a balance between work and family than their (often divorced) parents did. Known as the latch-key kids, many grew up in families where both parents worked. A distrust of authority, brought on by corporate and government scandals at the time and a culture of economic uncertainty, fuelled their creativity and entrepreneurial spirits. Happy to move from one job to another in their search for fulfilling work, their Baby Boomer bosses often viewed them with apprehension.


GENERATION Y


Born during the 1980s and 1990s, Generation Y, or Millennials, are currently in their late 20s and 30s and have moved beyond junior level roles in their companies. Raised with mobile phones, the Internet and instant messaging, Gen Zs value autonomy, and are happy to work as contractors. They are optimistic, inclusive, and globally aware. Like their Gen X parents, they value independence and a strong work/life balance. Collaborative by nature, they value feedback, they embrace challenges and opportunities, they want a say in how they do their work, and are therefore far more likely to be entrepreneurs.


Referred to by many as the generation with “snowflake” tendencies, Millennials are said to expect too much freedom from their employers, yet, according to Deloitte in their 2015 Workplace Balance Survey, 84% of them report suffering from burnout due to work overload. Of the 1000 respondents surveyed, half the Millennials reported the reason for resigning from a place of work was purely because they were burned out.[1] According to the survey, the biggest drivers of burnout are (31%) Lack of support of recognition from leadership, (30%) Unrealistic deadlines or results expectations, and (20%) Consistently working long hours, or over weekends.


GENERATION Z


Other generations say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Generation Z says, “When the going gets tough, maybe you should try another way.”

Other generations say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.”

Generation Z says, “If at first you don’t succeed, perhaps you should be somewhere else.”

An estimated two billion Generation Zs were born worldwide between 1996 and 2000[2], and they are currently flooding the workplace (if they’re not there already) just as the baby boomers begin retiring in large numbers.


Although Generation Z shares many traits with the Millennial generation, they have their own unique attributes and patterns of behaviour. The most ethnically and racially diverse generation, Gen Zs believe that everyone is equal and should be treated that way.


Generation Z comes from smaller family units, usually with both parents working. They have been monitored and protected from the outside world since the day they took their first gulps of air in the delivery room. Growing up in a culture of safety with over-protective parents has inadvertently removed certain opportunities for them to learn important life skills that previous generations would have experienced much earlier in their lives. It would hardly be surprising to find a Gen Z arriving for a job interview accompanied by one of their parents.


However, according to Teresa Bridges in her 2015 report, 5 Ways the Workplace Needs to Change to Get the Most out of Generation Z[3], they don’t believe their formal education has set them up for the real world, and they are hungry for a chance to learn these skills in the workplace.


Gen Z’s entire existence is interconnected with the digital world, something that previous generations are either averse to, afraid of, or sitting on the fence about—unless of course, they have embraced it. Born into the Internet age, Gen Zs embrace social media and technology as a means of socialising and staying connected to their peers. Having never lived without some form of media, they certainly don’t expect to be told to leave it behind when they come to the office.


Gen Z communicates differently, which can be problematic in the workplace. They communicate informally, they are straight to the point, and they are in your face. They expect information to be delivered in short spurts, thanks to platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Older generations need to accept that Gen Zs might never send an email. Why would that be necessary when you have instant messaging and texting? Their messages are more likely to end with emoticons than the words, “Yours sincerely”.


Gen Z is highly entrepreneurial (although less motivated by money than older generations) and extremely trustworthy, according to a study conducted by Dan Schwabel in 2014. They want to be heard, no matter how old they are. To a typical Gen Z, status and relevance does not depend on how old you—they want to be taken seriously in the workplace, and for their views to be heard and acknowledged.[4]


Gen Z is concerned with environmental issues and is extremely conscious of their future (think Greta Thunberg and the impact she’s had on the world stage). They want to work for leaders who value social responsibility and who operate with honesty and integrity.


Gen Zs yearn for human connection at work. They’re not only in the office to work—they are there to connect. They want a human element woven into their work and team interactions. They want challenges and projects to collaborate on—anything where they can get stuck in, add value, and have people demonstrate their appreciation. They want to contribute towards their company’s success, but they also want a spotlight to be shone on them when they do.


Gen Zs know that change and diversity are a way of life—they expect it and embrace it. They want to change the world, be socially responsible and know that their work is valued and impactful in the workplace. They want to take their success into their own hands. They enjoy working in competitive environments. They move quickly and are more productive in short spaces of time than the older generations are.


In Gen Z’s digitally-connected world, feedback is given and received through likes, views and comments. They’re expecting the same likes and views in the workplace as they get on their YouTube or Instagram videos. They want their customers and their managers to give them feedback in the same way. A one-on-one annual performance review doesn’t cut it for them—they need on-the-job feedback. Even a simple emoji will do wonders to help them feel connected and on track.


Gen Zs don’t see failure in the same way as previous generations do. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to grow and do something better—to innovate and learn. Because many have grown up as gamers, they enjoy problem-solving. They want to be left to figure stuff out, and if they fail in the process, it only means that they must try again, but differently. Eventually, they will get it right and move to the next level.


BUILDING THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE


It has been said that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change. The workplace of the future is vastly different from the workplace in which the Baby Boomers made their fortunes. Today, work previously done by humans is being replaced by machines. Whereas the Baby Boomer generation is far more likely to expect their employers to upskill them before a machine comes along and takes their job away from them, the younger generations are actively seeking out training and self-development schemes that can make them, and keep them, employable.


Whereas flexitime was more the exception than the rule twenty to thirty years ago, it is now the norm and something that is highly sought after by job hunters across the generation continuum. It is, however, the younger managers who are going to be more likely to accommodate staff requesting flexible working hours than their older counterparts.


There is a growing emphasis on freelance work. Millennial managers, who value productivity and cost-efficiencies, are far more likely than Baby Boomers to use freelancers, and this trend will increase in the future.


In the workplace of the future, many employees will have the option of working remotely when they need to—something that has become even more relevant with the advent of COVID-19. Millennials and Gen Z are far more likely to plan for a future workplace than their parents’ and grandparent’s generations. They will be the ones investing in technology to support a remote workforce.


CREATING A WORKPLACE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH ALL GENERATIONS CAN THRIVE


Gen Zs have many different needs, priorities and values to the Gen Ys and the generations before them. Gen Zs are the square pegs, and companies are the round holes. Managers can choose to try to squeeze these square pegs into the company’s round holes, or they can try to understand them and find ways to accommodate them in the workplace.


If companies, hiring managers and HR departments don’t take the time to understand and accommodate the new generation entering the workforce, they are going to be caught with their pants down. Employers not only need to find ways to attract Gen Zs and groom them into leaders of the future, but they also need to ensure that this age bracket is kept motivated enough not to walk out the door. At the same time, it is important that the older generations are not side-lined. Each generation has their unique values to add in the workplace, and it is important that all the cogs of this well-oiled machine, from the oldest parts to the newest, are kept in tip-top working condition.


Understanding that each generation has completely different needs, characteristics and ways of working, business leaders can begin creating a multigenerational workplace where everybody feels valued and respected, and where each employee can grow into the best version of themselves.

[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html [2] https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blogarchive/gen-z-and-gen-alpha-infographic-update/ [3] https://www.fastcompany.com/3049848/5-ways-the-workplace-needs-to-change-to-get-the-most-out-of-generation-z [4] https://danschawbel.com/research/

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