The Workplace Across Generations
Today, for the first time in history, five generations occupy the workplace, with a sixth-generation on the way. How well we understand different age groups has a lot to do with whether companies and women themselves succeed.
Consider this: data indicates beliefs about certain groups can be dead wrong. Leadership coach, Founder, and CEO of VWH Coaching, Vicki Wright Hamilton says “Boomers may stereotype and say … if you didn’t go through what I went through, you’re lazy.” Cisco’s Vice President of Operational Excellence, Kanyatta Walker, learned this herself early in her career when she was leading others, including older employees while she was in her mid-20s. She quickly learned not everyone had the same priorities and work styles. She recalls one employee who would get all her work done and “I would reward her with more work.” But what the employee really wanted was to go home early. “So, it was very eye-opening.”
Vicki makes the point that “each generation is the way they are for a reason. A lot of times we want to blame them but it’s our fault because some of this we set in place and didn’t anticipate the implications.” “Oh gosh, those Millennials!” Vicki says this common refrain misses the fact that “We created that. They didn’t just come out born and say, ‘we want everything now.’ They were exposed to that.”
Jamie Lackey, Founder, and CEO of Helping Mammas, engages with the youngest generation (babies!) as well as workers from their early 20s to late 60s who, while retired, want to give back and they do it through her nonprofit which serves 55,000 families in Georgia and has distributed more than a million essential baby items such as diapers, clothing, baby wipes. Jamie has learned, “Every generation has a piece to offer, and I think that is so exciting.”
Pink’s team of thought leaders assembled for the recent Pink Power Alliance Zoominar on the topic said when it comes to relationships at work, one size does not fit all. “I’ve always believed you have to treat people as individuals. So, I need to make sure as a leader I am hearing each person uniquely,” says Kanyatta.
How we relate to a Baby Boomer probably won’t work with Gen X and vice versa. Vicki added, “When you get it… you’ll go ‘Ah. I know why you’re this way. Let me change my dialogue so there’s a better relationship.”
Yep. It’s that simple.
Since we’re living longer and retiring later leaders and organizations are increasingly making an intentional effort to understand the needs of different generations and fulfill them too. It isn’t easy. If you haven’t dealt with challenges around this, you will. Kanyatta commented, “Executives are younger and younger. They’re showing up and saying ‘here’s where I am, and my skills allow me to do the job.’ We’re not talking anymore about paying your dues to go through the ranks.”
Companies are revisiting outdated policies and becoming acutely aware of the varying needs of different generations thanks to the combination of Covid, a shortage of talent and so many generations in the same workplace. “I think the last two years will influence how we will work,” says Kanyatta. It’s already happening. “Our CEO has said you no longer need to sit in California to sit on his executive leadership team. Our CEO and EVP sit in Atlanta, versus making everyone be in a certain place. The world is global, so I think we should be too.” Vicki points to Gen Z as another example. These workers overall don’t want to be “so ridged that they only get things done from 8 to 5. That’s going to have to be adjusted because not everybody wants it.”
Our leaders also pointed out the importance of being self-aware saying we need to understand our own work styles to avoid foisting our approach on others, and so we are able to ask for communication the way we need to receive it—in the interests of efficacy and collaboration. Vicki says to make sure to find out “how your boss likes to communicate too.”
The priorities of each demographic are sure to change over time, based on changing interests and responsibilities, and of course, there are always exceptions to broad generalizations. Here is a quick cheat sheet that shows some of the characteristics of different groups.
Gen Z (1997-2012)
Digital dependent, less focused on race/ethnicity since technology shaped their relationships. Concerned about student debt, compensation needs, and job security after seeing their parents’ financial disasters. They want flexible work hours and social responsibility. Vicki says, “They don’t live to work, they work to live.”
Gen Y or Millennials (1981-96)
The largest generation at work is digitally savvy and prefers digital over one on one contact due to efficiency. They’re interested in skill development, career progression, deeper purpose, and remote work. They want to be judged by the quality of their work, not hours in the office. They value opportunities to give back, mortgage services, and on-site childcare.
Gen X (1965-80)
This hard-working self-reliant, fiscally responsible generation is comfortable face-to-face and online. They’re looking for individual emphasis, flexibility, and more autonomy. They value healthcare and daycare on-site. “For them, keep it real. Don’t sugarcoat it. They want to know the truth. They want constructive feedback and specific examples.” Vicki says, “they’re lonely and need community.”
This group has a strong work ethic. Goal-oriented, may be uncomfortable with technology, enjoy face-to-face and public recognition for their achievements as well as job security, flexible schedules, retirement benefits, healthcare, and the chance to mentor others. Jamie says, “They want to feel they are contributing. I learned to say what they did specifically to move us forward.” Vicki added, “When you are giving them feedback tell them exactly what’s going on and get to the point! No fluff.”
Silent Gen (1928-54)
This generation wants fair pay for a job well done, in-person discussions, and sharing their knowledge and expertise. They want tenure, healthcare, retirement benefits, pension, and flexible work as they transition into retirement.
Alpha Generation (2010-2025)
They’re coming next. Vicki says, “They want to be part of an effective team or they’ll do it on their own.” Within 4 years they’ll outnumber the Baby Boomers, and many of them will live to see the 22nd Century. With more than 2.5 million born globally each week, they will be nearly 2 billion strong, the largest generation in history.
- Understand the needs of each generation and demonstrate sensitivity through perks that speak to their interests
- Communicate based on the individual
- Employ genuine motivation techniques
- Challenge harmful stereotypes
- Respect the boundaries of each group
“Respect is one of life’s greatest treasures. I mean, what does it all add up to if you don’t have that?” – Marilyn Monroe
If you’re interested in supporting the development of women in your organization let us know. Here are details on the Pink Power Alliance.
Up next: The Imposter Syndrome—on June 16th Don’t miss it!
Then Staying Engaged at Work on August 11th.
You can reach out to me directly: [email protected]
PINK’s SIGNATURE SPRING EMPOWERMENT Luncheon Event
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Also, announcing PINK CEO Cynthia Good’s first collection of poems. What We Do with Our Hands will appear this summer; published by Finishing Line Press. If you’ve ever lost anyone or anything you loved, or had a difficult transition in your life—check it out.
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