Understanding the multigenerational workplace

ChangingCoursesquarePrior to embarking on a career in Human Resources, I did not pay much attention to stereotypes or perceived notions about Millennials, Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers. However, as I have become a student of people, I have noticed differences among these classifications, and I have found myself asking, “Who are these people?”

The following report provides perceived characteristics and some factors to keep in mind when managing or working in intergenerational organizations.

A 2013 study by EY, formerly Ernst & Young, includes insights from more than 1,200 professionals across generations and industries about the strengths and weaknesses of workers from different generations, based on the perceptions of their peers. The participants from the study were both managers and non-managers.

The study finds, among other determinants, that Millennials are tech-savvy, Gen X-ers are entrepreneurial, and Boomers are fiscally conservative. This synopsis is a brief list of additional characteristics that were explored in this study and how each of these groups were perceived.

Baby Boomers: Boomers are perceived as having strong executive presence, fiscally conservative, loyal, moderate problem solvers, strategic relationship builders, and not opportunistic regarding social media. This generation is perceived as low to moderate team players and not very collaborative. Many in this generation are pioneers in their disciplines.

Gen X-ers:  Gen X-ers are perceived as having moderate executive presence. Many people who are part of this group choose not to wear traditional “business” attire, but prefer to wear clothing that fits their work. Gen X-ers are also perceived as revenue generators, problem solvers, and savvy relationship builders with low to moderate technical savvy.

Millennials: Millennials are perceived as not placing much value on having executive presence, bottom lines, or being fiscally responsible. They are seen as tech savvy, adaptable, and low to moderate collaborators.


Global narratives on Boomers, Gen X-ers  and Millennials

A literature search on intergenerational workplaces revealed additional global descriptors of Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials.

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are predominately in their 40s and 50s. They are well-established in their careers and hold positions of power and authority.

• Work-Centric: Baby Boomers are extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks and prestige. Baby Boomers relish long work weeks and define themselves by their professional accomplishments. Since they sacrificed a great deal to get where they are in their career, this generation believes that younger generations should pay their dues.

• Independent: Baby Boomers are confident, independent and self-reliant. This generation grew up in an era of reform and believe they can change the world. They questioned established authority systems and challenged the status quo. Baby Boomers are not afraid of confrontation.

Gen X-ers: Gen X-ers were born between 1965 and 1980. Members of this generation are largely in their 30s and early 40s. On the whole, they are more ethnically diverse and better educated than the Baby Boomers. Over 60 percent of Gen X-ers attended college.

• Flexible: Many Gen X-ers lived through tough economic times in the 1980s and saw their parents lose hard-earned positions. Thus, Gen X-ers are less committed to one employer and more willing to change jobs to get ahead than previous generations. They adapt well to change and are tolerant of alternative lifestyles.

• Value Work/Life Balance: Unlike previous generations, Gen X-ers work to live rather than live to work. They appreciate fun in the workplace and espouse a work-hard-play-hard mentality. Gen X managers often incorporate humor and games into work activities.

Millennials: The millennials joining the workforce now are employees born between 1980 and 2000, or 1981 and 1999, depending on the author. This group is primarily in their teens and 20s. Unlike the Gen X-ers and the Boomers, the Millennials have developed work characteristics and tendencies from doting parents, structured lives, and contact with diverse people. This group has a growing tendency to delay some of the typical adulthood rites of passage like marriage or starting a career.

• Friendship: Millennials are used to working in teams and want to make friends with people at work.

• Diversity: Millennials work well with diverse coworkers.

Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to mcintyre_tammy@rock etmail.com.