4 Generations in the Workplace

Here’s an interesting summary of the current generational cross section in our workplaces from CCH HR Tools newsletter. I know many of you have mentioned some concerns around the impact of learning in the organisational and institutional context – perhaps this will give you another perspective? (They’re US figues…)

For the first time ever, there are four generations currently in the workplace. Though some experts call each generation by other names, they are usually called Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.

Traditionalist employees—were born before 1946 and are about 27 million strong.
Baby Boomers—were born between 1946 and 1964 and are about 76 million people strong.
Gen Xers—were born between 1965 and 1980 and are about 60 million people strong.
Millennials—sometimes called Gen Yers or Generation Next—were born between 1981 and 1999 and are about 74 million strong and just starting to enter the workforce.

One challenge in the current workplace is that the two older generations, Traditionalists and Boomers, tend to make up more of the management ranks. They’ve designed rewards and workplaces that they like. Sometimes the differing attitudes of the younger generations collide with these views. Multiple generations have worked in the workplace together before, of course, but never before has there been less separation by job description. Earlier generations were separated by a more rigid hierarchy.

Defining the generations—who are they?
An old proverb states that “people resemble their times more than they resemble their parents.” Generational views are not just life stage or age-related. Each generational cohort approaches things with their own unique generational style, which arises out of their shared experiences, among other things. For example, Baby Boomers are expected to be a very different kind of retiree than the Traditionalists just ahead of them.

Looking at workplace issues from a generational perspective isn’t a matter of stereotyping people of a certain age. Members of a particular generational cohort generally share many of the same qualities and life views because they have undergone similar experiences and events at the same time. In a sense, they have a generational personality.

Demographics don’t lie
Eleven percent of the active workforce currently is over 56 years old and this number will only continue to grow as the extremely large Baby Boomers cohort ages and Boomers start to retire in greater numbers. The generation following them, the Gen Xers, is extremely small in numbers. Though the Millennials, the next generation after Gen X, is large, Millennials alone won’t be enough to meet the need and most companies will face a shortage of talented workers.

By 2025, the age demographics of the U.S. will be similar to those of Florida today. As a result, recruiting a multigenerational workforce is more important than ever. As employees age, making strong efforts to hire and/or retain older employees will be essential to prevent “brain drain.” As experienced employees leave your company, you will also need to be able to lure talented younger employees to your workplace.

The situation may not seem very dire right now. Temporary economic dips could help employers cope for the moment but, longer term, the shortage of capable workers will only get worse, not better. Smart employers realize that they need to stay ahead of the curve. The time to start acting is now. Approaching recruiting from a generational perspective can minimize the impact of the coming labor shortage.

Generational points to consider
A few points can help you keep on track when looking at generational issues in your recruiting process:

Understand your own generation’s preferences, goals, and values, and try to learn about the preferences, goals, and values of the other three generations currently in the workforce;
Try to listen to the individual candidate’s own personal preferences, goals and values;
Dig deeper and ask questions if a candidate’s answer fits too closely within a generational profile (for example, if a Traditionalist or older Baby Boomer says she wants security from her job, ask her what she means by this);
Promote the features and benefits of your company that fit the generational preferences (for example, talk to Millennials about how they can advance and take on more responsibility at your company).
For an in-depth look at intergenerational issues in the workplace, see the new CCH book HR How-to: Intergenerational Issues.

There are certainly some challenges ahead as we design and deliver learning events to these mixed generational learners!
Any thoughts or tips?