We Have 5 Generations in the Workforce—Oh My!
Updated: Feb 19
For the first time ever, we have five generations in the workforce. Not surprisingly, this is leading to a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications. We may all be speaking the same language, but we have very different attitudes, opinions and lifestyles. It makes it difficult to navigate relationships in the corporate world, which is why companies hire me to give a talk to employees and management teams about these differences—what they are, why they exist, and how everyone can play nicer in the corporate sandbox.
With Millennials expected to comprise at least half of the workforce by 2020, and Gen Z becoming an ever-larger percentage of employees every year, the key to ensuring inter-generational corporate harmony is education. The younger generations outnumber the older generations in the workplace. Since there are more of them than there are of us, executives from the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X can no longer dig in their heels over outdated corporate ways.
Misunderstanding Millennial and Gen Z workers and the way they view life can be disastrous for today's employers. An older worker, who does not grasp the opinions and attitudes of a younger worker, can easily say the wrong thing in the wrong way and end up getting fired as a result of the company’s “no tolerance” policy. It is in an organization’s best interest to help educate its older and younger workers, so they can better understand the differences in how each thinks and acts. When companies do this, inter-generational employees work better together, because they are reacting to each other with compassion and understanding instead of suspicion and anger.
Additionally, the U.S. is experiencing the best economy we have seen in decades, making it easier than ever for younger workers—further aided by our instantaneous digital world—to change jobs or become entrepreneurs. Simply put, these generations do not need corporate America as much as corporate America needs them.
Cross-generational corporate understanding is so crucial that many esteemed business schools, like UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, are now offering courses designed entirely around demystifying Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace. Utilizing expert consultants like JDMA is also vital in helping busy executives navigate the most important potential problem areas for each company's particular cross-generational workplace scenario.
Successful businesses need to be able to attract and retain the most talented young employees, and this is only possible when older executives make a genuine effort to understand the distinctive hallmarks and motivations of the workers of today and tomorrow.