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Many Generations. One Workplace
Glen Hodgeson

There have always been younger and older workers in the workplace, but today the gap between generations at work is far greater than it ever has been. Managers and supervisors now have to deal with not just people coming in or those getting ready for retirement, but for a range of interests and expectations that seem impossible to meet. That challenge may continue for quite some time as the baby boomers hang on to their places at work far beyond the old retirement age of 60 or 65. So what are managers to do?

The first thing, if you haven’t already done so, is to seek a better understanding of exactly who these people are at work these days. What generations are they from? How do they like to work and be compensated and rewarded? What drives them, motivates them to greater performance and productivity at work? Here’s a primer on the many generations under the umbrella of the modern workplace.

The voice of experience

The baby boomers are starting to leave the workplace, but not as quickly as everyone expected. The original boomers, born from just after the Second World War are aging, but some are still at their desks into their 70’s. There’s also what’s called the trailing boomers, who were born from 1958 until 1972. Many of them are still at work, many in senior or management positions. Both the original and the trailing baby boomers are still the voice of experience at work, and they do demand to be listened to.

First, the original baby boomers. These men and women were heavily influenced by the rise of advertising and consumer society. They have been one of the largest generational groups in society and for a long time, they’ve been used to having their issues addressed in both public and political debates. At work, they are mainly focused and hard-working and place a great deal of value on promotions, raises, awards and achievements. One characteristic of this group is that they don’t like it when people don’t carry their own weight or if they perceive an injustice to themselves or others at work. They like being praised and want to be rewarded for extra efforts.

The trailing boomers grew up in the ’60s and ’70s during a time of social and political upheaval. They are a tad jealous of their older boomer brothers and sisters since they think they've gotten all the attention and glory. They may be right. As a result, they are often driven to try and move up quickly in any organization or company they join. They value career progression above everything, and they are the ones who are always trying to get ahead. They like working in organizations that recognize and reward education and they thrive on getting individual feedback. Trailing boomers do best in work environments where they work in teams, but their individual strengths are acknowledged. And in companies that have lots of opportunity for promotion.

Patiently waiting their turn

The generation born after all the boomers is called the Nexus generation, although some people lump them and the trailing boomers into what has been known as Generation X. But the Nexus generation is actually quite different and unique, at home and at work. Sometimes they care also called the latch key kids and were the first generation where both their parents likely worked outside the home. They have both independence and self-sufficiency as major character traits as a result and they are often worried, for good reason, that their path to success would be blocked by the boomers.

Their main forte as a group is that they are totally comfortable with technology and they accept change readily and easily. They are the original networkers and love connecting with people inside and outside of work. They are also the first group of workers who started demanding work-life balance. They don’t mind working hard when they’re at work, but when they are off, they’re on their own time. They also have a dislike of structure and distrust authority, but they love to be challenged by their work. They are happiest when they are learning new skills and do best in a continuous learning environment. Oh, and one more thing. They like to have fun at work. That’s where those foosball machines came from.

New kids on the block

The next generation after the Nexus crew is one of the biggest to come into the workplace after the baby boomers. The Millennials are about four million strong and if they haven’t taken over your workplace yet, they will. Right now, they make up over 40% of the Canadian workplace population and their influence is everywhere. The early part of this generation is called the Net Generation and they are the ones who have grown up on video games and blogs and music streaming. This group likes to have a lot of choices and they love making and spending money. Got overtime, they’re there. They thrive in organizations that allow them to work and problem-solve in teams and they bring positive energy that can help make good organizations grow into great ones.

The second wave of Millennials is sometimes called Generation Y. One thing about this group is that they have learned to travel in packs for safety and they have almost never been alone. They are social networkers who want to always be connected. Like their older cousins they are also motivated by money. But they don’t just want to work, they are looking for an experience that will allow them to develop and grow. One thing that doesn’t endear them to employers is that they like to move around. One study showed that nearly three-quarters of this cadre of workers would likely apply for other jobs within their first year of employment. They have grown up having fun in everything they do, and they want to have fun at work, too. Their ideal workplace would have exercise equipment, a staff lounge, and video games, as well as an occasional Friday beer keg as well. This group does best when they are allowed to problem solve and come up with new ideas to solve old problems.

Hello, we’re here. Hope you’re ready for us

The latest generation to trickle into the workplace is called Generation Z. This group might also be called the smartphone generation. On average they spend over 15 hours a week on their phones and use it for everything from research to buying their groceries. They tend not to watch regular television, in fact many of them have never owned a TV. Because they are exposed to so much content, they are wary of advertising and manipulation and tried to control what comes in on their devices. Many people describe this generation as activist and having a go-getter attitude. They have a high mastery of technology and this gives them a definite competitive advantage they have compared to other generations. This makes many of them want to start and develop their own businesses.

Generation Z want to find themselves creatively and love working in occupations that allow them to write and post original content on company blogs or video platforms. They don’t just want to consume entertainment they want to participate in shaping and creating it. In anything, this generation puts more of a premium on getting paid than their older family members. They also like traditional benefits like healthcare coverage, a retirement plan, and life insurance. To get the best out of them, pay them well and give them support them through performance feedback, hands-on training, and managers who listen and value their opinions.

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