The term ‘generation’ is traditionally used to refer to a group of people born and living during the same period of time, which usually spans 15 years. With four different generations making up today’s workforce, it can be difficult understanding what they all need and where they are best utilised. Each group brings a different dynamic to the table, but the only way to truly harness their potential is to understand their generational characteristics.
That said, the supposed differences between generations in the workplace are more complex than many people realise. While we can see typical generational strengths and weaknesses coming through, prioritising continuous learning in your company can help you build a network of valuable, connected professionals – no matter their age.
The different generations and how they work
The generations that are likely to be present in your office can be segmented into four distinct groups:
There are a number of strengths and weaknesses that can generally be found in each working generation:
- Boomers are characterised as being workaholics who relish long weeks and overtime. They are more committed to their roles than any other generation1
- Baby boomers are considered good team players, with 53 per cent of organisations saying they work well with others2
- The professionals in this generation are regarded as making excellent mentors to their colleagues and juniors in the organisation
- This generation has a preference for structure and discipline, and are less inclined to welcome change
- Boomers are competitive, so they need recognition and rewards to keep them motivated to achieve more
- Baby boomers are regarded as the least tech savvy of all generations, prohibiting their ability to keep up with developments
- The majority of organisations (70 per cent) believe Gen X are the best overall workers3
- These professionals are committed to juggling work with family time, and favour work-life balance in an organisation4
- Gen X is considered to be the biggest revenue generators overall
- Less than 40 per cent of Gen X are satisfied with the senior management in their organisation5
- This generation is less inclined to say something if they disagree with management than their successive generations
- Gen X value being able to do things quickly and are less inclined to spend hours of overtime completing something perfectly
Millenials / Gen Y
- Of all generations currently featuring in the workforce, Millennials are considered the most independent workers6
- Millennials are concerned with ethics and the social responsibility of the organisation they work for7
- Millennials have grown up sourcing information, they need to be left to create their own processes rather than being told exactly what to do
- Due to their independent nature, Millenials are not as interested in teamwork as other generations
- Millennials do not have as strong a work ethic, with an average of 38.8 hours spent at work a week compared to previous generations who both average above 40 hours8
- This generation is impatient when it comes to career growth – 49 per cent are likely to leave before two years if they feel their skills are not being developed9
- The most tech competent of any generation, members of Gen Z are able to pick up new developments quicker than other employees10
- This generation is particularly ambitious, with two-thirds of Gen Z saying their goal in life is to make it to the top of their profession11
- Gen Z are natural entrepreneurs, with 72 per cent wanting to start their own business and hire people12
- Described as the ‘always on’ generation, Gen Z are able to multitask unlike any other generation, using up to five screens at once
- Gen Z are regarded as more cynical than their predecessors, favouring a realistic outlook over the idealism of Gen Y
- Gen Z don’t know much about a time before social media and easily accessible tech. This can make them very reliant on technology to solve problems
Developing your workforce
Each generation brings something uniquely valuable to the workforce. By understanding what they have to offer, you can identify key training and development opportunities that will align with their unique strengths. It will also help you gauge where skills gaps may lie so that you can prioritise filling them. Read more about the ways in which you can assess employee needs and implement development strategies in your organisation in the article below.
- 1 Kane, S. (Oct, 2019). ‘Baby boomers in the workplace’. Retrieved from The Balance Careers.
- 2 Giange, V. (Sep, 2013). ‘Here are the strengths and weaknesses of Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers’. Retrieved from Business Insider.
- 3 Kleinschmit, M. (Oct, 2019). ‘Generation Z characteristics: 5 infographics on the Gen Z lifestyle’. Retrieved from Vision Critical.
- 4 Kleinschmit, M. (Oct, 2019). ‘Generation Z characteristics: 5 infographics on the Gen Z lifestyle’. Retrieved from Vision Critical.
- 5 Kleinschmit, M. (Oct, 2019). ‘Generation Z characteristics: 5 infographics on the Gen Z lifestyle’. Retrieved from Vision Critical.
- 6 Kleinschmit, M. (Oct, 2019). ‘Generation Z characteristics: 5 infographics on the Gen Z lifestyle’. Retrieved from Vision Critical.
- 7 Kleinschmit, M. (Oct, 2019). ‘Generation Z characteristics: 5 infographics on the Gen Z lifestyle’. Retrieved from Vision Critical.
- 8 Friedrich, A. (Feb, 2016). ‘3 reasons to work for a Millennial’. Retrieved from Inc.
- 9 Friedman, Z. (May, 2019). ‘49% of Millennials would quit their job within 2 years’. Retrieved from Forbes.
- 10 Lockley, S. (Nd). ‘Generation Z in the workplace: 5 ways to manage every generation’. Retrieved from Staffbase. Accessed 5 March 2020.
- 11 (Aug, 2018). ‘Beyond Millennials: The next generation of learners’. Retrieved from Pearson.
- 12 (Nd). ‘Six defining characteristics of Generation Z’. Retrieved from Growing Leaders. Accessed 5 March 2020.