The number of generations in today’s workforce creates a unique situation that poses both upsides and challenges for management. Employers can make the most of this opportunity by creating working environments that speak to all employees, regardless of age.
In this article, we explore generational attributes and how to bring employees of varying ages together to create a successful business climate that meets varying employee needs. We will review:
- Who is in today’s workforce
- Embracing a multigenerational employee population
- Ways to create an engaging work environment for all age groups
This discussion will help employers capitalize on the benefits of a multigenerational workforce to build winning work environments.
Who is in Today’s Workforce
For many organizations, multiple generations working together is nothing new. However, rapid growth in technology and other societal changes have introduced some stark differences among the generations that were less apparent in prior years. By focusing on the commonalities and the ways the generations complement each other, employers and employees can find success.
The Baby Boomers
This group was born between 1946 and 1964. Once dominating the workforce, they are now moving toward retirement. Some are retiring completely, while others prefer to take a step back, performing less demanding or part-time roles, particularly post-Covid.
In a new phenomenon, Baby Boomers are re-entering the workforce in increasing numbers. Many have realized that they retired prematurely and need additional financial stability. Others are finding that retirement is not what they expected and need more social interaction.
Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers are often referred to as the lost generation. They are relatively small in number when compared with the two significantly larger generations that come before and after them – the Baby Boomers and the Millennials.
Gen X is also referred to as the sandwich generation as they navigate caring for both their children and aging parents. Benefits that assist them with these responsibilities are often top of mind.
Examples include flexible schedules, access to caregiving resources, and financial planning guidance to address their family obligations. Mental health concerns may also be a priority for this group, for themselves – as they experience stress and burnout – and also for their families, particularly their children.
The birth years for Millennials, or Generation Y, run from 1981 to 1996. Unlike their predecessors, Millennials do not view their lives as revolving around work – it is just one factor that contributes to a full life. They desire meaningful work that gives them a sense of purpose, speaks to their values, and allows them to improve their communities.
This dedicated group thinks deeply and wants to be heard. They expect leadership to listen to their opinions and ideas and act upon that input. They are already well integrated into the business world with many already in managerial positions, so their influence will become more apparent with each year.
The youngest generation was born between 1997 and 2012. Growing up immersed in technology, Gen Z expects technology to be ingrained in every aspect of their workday to promote better productivity and more personalized experiences.
Gen Zers apply this lens to their current work responsibilities as well as their aspirations. They expect work location flexibility, abundant opportunities and choices, and employers that recognize them as individuals with needs and goals distinct from their coworkers.
Together, Millennials and Gen Z occupy 50 percent of the employee population, and by 2025 they will make up 75 percent, having a profound impact on business environments.
To build a solid, engaging work environment among such varying interests, employers must simultaneously focus on areas of commonality, celebrate each generation’s unique contributions, and leverage the differences rather than emphasizing them as stumbling blocks.
Embracing a Multigenerational Employee Population
As more young people begin working, transformations in the workforce are inevitable, and employers must adopt a new perspective to support and satisfy this evolving reality. HR strategies must be flexible and designed to reflect the varying societal, environmental, and cultural influences of each generation.
Uniting employees of varying age groups into a team and fostering an atmosphere where they work well together offers a number of advantages to companies and individual employees. The benefits include a more respectful and inclusive culture, a diversity of ideas and skills, improved recruitment and retention rates, increased productivity, and a more competitive, successful business.
Ways to Create an Engaging Work Environment for All Age Groups
When considering how to build an atmosphere where employees of differing age groups feel valued and energized, employers may feel pulled in opposing directions. The recommendations offered here will pave the path to a more cohesive and successful organization.
1. Encourage Mutual Respect and Understanding
Employees from each generation have something special to share. By connecting individuals from different generations through creative opportunities, they can make connections, learn from one another, and foster mutual appreciation.
Where feasible, employ cross-functional teams and encourage open sharing of ideas as a regular course of business. Focus on building an environment that invites diversity of thought, embraces individual perspectives and experiences, and encourages coworker interaction on varying levels. One way to introduce these concepts is diversity and inclusion training.
A peer mentoring program is an effective mechanism for prompting generational interaction and understanding. Take a 360 approach to matching up coworkers, encouraging employees from every generation to act as mentors.
Young people can mentor as effectively as those in more senior positions. For example, tech savvy Gen Z and Millennials can assist Boomers with understanding automated workflows and new platforms. Similarly, Gen X and Boomers can impart soft skills such as project management and customer focus.
Opening up the lines of communication among the generations will serve all employees, regardless of their generation or level in the organization.
2. Make Professional Development and Career Pathing a Priority
Workers in the prime of their work life cycle are looking to grow and prosper with the organization. Millennials and Gen Z are particularly focused on advancement and are not shy about leaving an organization to achieve their goals at another.
Providing internal and external educational opportunities demonstrates an employer’s commitment to employee success, but Millenials and Gen Z are looking for more than standard training offerings. Individual planning that addresses their specific skills, interests, and goals will speak strongly to them.
Boomers who are moving toward retirement and not as focused on career development may be seeking alternative work arrangements such as semi-retirement or part-time positions. Encouraging this different career path is a win-win for all generations. Boomers are able to gradually retire, yet be available to share their expertise. These situations open up opportunities for younger workers to augment their experience and skill sets by taking on new responsibilities.
3. Offer Financial Well-Being Benefits
Some financial challenges facing employees cut across generations, such as retirement planning and student loan repayment. Others differ from generation to generation. However, the message to employers is clear – financial instability leads to stressed, distracted employees.
Competitive compensation packages alleviate some concerns, but do not address the full picture. Other benefits the current workforce finds attractive include:
- Tuition reimbursement
- Student loan assistance
- College affordability planning
- Caregiving support
- Retirement benefits
Employers providing generous support in these areas will foster employee appreciation and loyalty.
4. Encourage Healthy Lifestyles
Every generation appreciates policies and programs that recognize they have lives and responsibilities outside of work. Each cohort’s life circumstances dictate the nature of the support required. However, for most generations, flexible work arrangements and generous paid time off plans are no longer a perk but an imperative.
Millennials and Gen Xers seek employer flexibility and time off options as they struggle to care for young children, aging parents, and, in some cases, both simultaneously. Boomers are looking for different options that afford them greater flexibility, including reduced hours, so that they can continue to contribute in a less demanding way.
In addition, technology and the 2020 Pandemic changed how people value working in an office setting. Millennials and Gen Zers see the world as their office and question the value of reporting to a fixed location everyday.
Along with flexibility, multiple generations recognize the importance of protecting one’s mental health. They expect employers to encourage their mental fitness to the same degree that employers address physical well-being. Employees look not only for treatment coverage but also other forms of support such as Employee Assistance Programs.
While work-life balance has value across generations, it is of particular importance to Millennials and Gen Zers. These groups are often willing to accept lower salaries in exchange for greater commitment to flexibility and benefits that empower employees to tend to their lives in a holistic way.
5. Meet Employee Communication Styles
To effectively communicate across multiple generations, employers need to recognize that each generation has a preferred mode of communication. By offering alternative methods for disseminating information, employers can ensure that their message is received and understood.
Boomers are receptive to more forms of communication than their younger counterparts. They accept information sharing via documentation, email, voicemail, phone calls, or face-to-face conversations. Gen X prefers email and concise in-person discussions. Using digital media, such as texting, direct messaging, websites, and portals, is the best way to reach the tech generations, with social media platforms being a favorite among Gen Zers.
Employers will miss opportunities to connect with vital segments of their employee population if they rely on only one mode of communication. Effective communication in multigenerational work environments requires a mix of mediums which allows employees to acquire knowledge through the mode that best works for them.
6. Invest in Technology
While Boomers and Gen Xers find technology helpful and a useful tool, Millennials and Gen Zers expect access to cutting edge software and technology solutions to accomplish their jobs. Companies that lag behind in adopting technological best practices are less desirable places to work. As Millennials and Gen Z occupy more space in the workforce, upgrading to new technologies and integrating technology into more processes across organizations is becoming crucial for employee recruitment, retention, and engagement.
The suggestions in this article point you in the right direction for building an engaging workforce that speaks to all four of the working generations. If you need help designing and implementing an engagement strategy, outside HR consultants who are experts in this area are excellent resources.
As you think about these topics, keep in mind that while there are some significant differences among the four generations, they ultimately want the same thing – to be part of a successful organization that cares for and treats its employees with respect.
About the Author
Jill brings to RealHR Solutions experience as a business owner, executive search consultant and corporate HR professional. Throughout her career, she has had the ability to build strong relationships, identify client needs and help company’s find solutions. As a search professional she used these strengths to source and identify talent. Before joining RealHR, Jill was a Principal at Charleston Partners, a global executive search and talent advisory firm for Fortune 500 companies. She was also a Partner at Hayden Resource and previously founded her own search firm. Her prior HR experience includes retail and healthcare industry HR and operations. management positions. Jill holds a Masters in Industrial Social Work from Fordham University and a B.A. from CUNY City College. She is currently an active member of The Society of Human Resources Management nationally and locally.