The year 2000 was an exciting year. Sydney hosted the Olympics, businesses were frantically getting ready for the millennium bug and I started a new job.
It was my first full-time role after university, I was 20 years old and the rest of the team in the business had been there on average for 10 years. The youngest staff member was 40, and the oldest was 70. You can imagine how impressed they were with having their new manager start and fresh out of teenage years!
Fortunately, my naivety of not realising the generational dynamics kind of helped as I didn’t really realise how much we all needed to adapt and try to find a way to work together. We used our intuition and managed to find our way. We did lots of listening, were patient and respectful of each other’s experience and value we brought to the team. What we did have in common was our work ethic, sense of humour and commitment to our customers. The good news was that within 12 months, the revenue of the business doubled.
Today, for the first time in history, we have five generations in the workplace. In her book “Unlocking Generational Codes,” Anna Liotta (who is from a family of 19 children I might add!) discusses the codes that are issues or symptoms that pop up for organisations that can be attributed to generational differences at work. It’s a great read and highly recommended.
The five generations in the workforce today are:
TRADITIONALISTS – Born 1927-1945
Traditionalists typically believe that people need to make personal sacrifices for the greater good and that work is rewarding in itself. They won’t be buying avocado on toast and lattes each day as they have come from the era where there was little money and everything needed to be saved for the family and next generation.
BABY BOOMERS – Born 1946-1963
Baby Boomers have grown up with high levels of competition and scarcity, but they are optimistic and believe that anything is possible. Today, they are driven by fun and now reinventing themselves. We have a large portion of this age group who have children that have left home and they don’t see themselves as ‘old.’ They often see themselves in their own minds, as around 30 years old, and they really dislike the word ‘old.’ They generally don’t like anything related to being aged. The challenge for baby boomers in the workplace is acquiring a lot of new technology quickly. However, they can get away with a lot more than some of the other generations because they’re not expected to always know how to acquire the knowledge of the technology. They will generally be the last to ask for help if they are struggling at work as stress and mental health have been seen as weaknesses.
GEN X’ers – Born 1964-1979
GenX’ers have grown up through times before social media. They have grown up through rising divorce rates, Live Aid and the use of correct spelling and language. Today’s Gen X leaders are the slowest to progress in organisations and are feeling stuck. They’re the ones under the most stress and pressure at work right now. They will ask for help, but they will ask for it really late. Whereas, Baby Boomers won’t ask for help at all. GenX’ers are the meat in the sandwich. They generally have young children, and they have ageing parents. So, they’re extremely time poor and suffering the most stress in the workplace. They are in the prime time of their leadership careers. Combining this with their family commitments, the pressure they’re under is extreme. If they decide to ask for help, it will be when things are really bad and as a last resort. They also can occasionally have challenges with learning new technology because they are not digitally native, and so they have to learn at a quicker speed than they’re used to.
GEN Y – Born 1980-1999
Gen Y, or millennials, are a large part of the workforce today. They are digitally native and are the children of mostly Baby Boomers. They are highly driven by technology, not just at work but fully integrated into their lives. They are the fastest to progress in organisations, outside work they have often been nurtured more than GenX’ers as they came in at a time when family values were reinvented. They see themselves as having options and generally don’t plan to be around in the next year to two. For them, acquiring changes in technology are quick. They are very focused on self and will ask for help very early on at work if they’re struggling. They want to learn from their leaders and have a high value on being nurtured and supported to achieve their potential as an employee.
GEN Z – After 1997
Gen Z’s are under the age of 22 in the workforce at the moment. They have a high level sense of social responsibility and they are also digitally native. They’re very global thinkers. They’ve grown up in a family where there have been conversations about travel or they have been overseas when they were young. Because compared to previous generations they simply couldn’t afford to do that, but today this generation is far more global.
They often see themselves with friends that they have made online, so whether it’s somebody following them on their YouTube channel, or connected to them on Instagram – they see that person as a friend. If that person is a friend overseas or connected to them digitally overseas, they see them as if they were right next to them.
They’re also the first generation to be very particular about non-binary gender references in the workplace, specifically the language around male or female. Gen Y’s have started a business as a side hustle or still thinking about starting one. Whereas Gen Z’s probably had a business by the time they were six through YouTube or a similar channel.
So, what does this mean for you?
The Institute for The Future has identified one of the biggest drivers of change in our workplaces is that we have all these generations working together.
As a result, we need skills that reflect high levels of:
- Social Intelligence: understanding human behaviour, including self and others
- New Media Literacy: how we create cut-through communication, and
- Sense-Making: how we translate information to lead people through change.
The speed at which people adapt to disruption, acquire technology, learn new skills and get through change will be varying as each generation deals with change so differently.
So, what does this mean for you as a leader? It means you need to be able to communicate effectively, be able to identify your communication strategy and create content that addresses the concerns of these generations. If your communication is inclusive, you can find ways to adapt your communication, include all these generations, and find ways to help them through change. That way, you’re far more likely to build trust and when you build trust and connection, people can adapt to change successfully.
Do you have these five generations in your workplace? How do you manage your communication to be inclusive of them all?
Jane Anderson is a Strategic Communications expert, speaker and the author of 7 books including the upcoming “Catalyst Content.” With over 20 years of experience helping people to communicate confidently, she is obsessed about creating human connection to drive business growth in a world of disruption and automation. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.