Smarter Working

Why It's Critical to Work with Different Generations

Forget the struggles that surround working with 25-year-olds and 70-year-olds. Career columnist Liz Bentley sheds light on the benefits of age diversity.

Over the last decade, there’s been a tremendous amount of attention on generation gaps in the workplace. And while it’s true that all generations struggle to adapt to each other, if we focus on their unique strengths instead, we quickly see that each generation has made a significant impact that’s pushed us all forward.

Millennials

Let’s start with the millennials, because they’re the most talked-about generation. Unlike the generations before them, when they get bored even early in their employment, they say, “I want more work, I’m not feeling challenged, and if it doesn’t change, I’m leaving.” Imagine that! Wanting more work and challenges instead of just waiting for months or years to prove you’ve paid your proverbial dues. Millennials also demonstrate that they can work anytime and anyplace. In 2015, when Adobe did a study on millennials, 69% said they felt office attendance was unnecessary. At first, the other generations were aghast, but they have since come around—especially when factoring in the benefits of a mobile workforce (e.g., the reduced need for office space). With this shift, managers also have started measuring success by output (results) instead of input (time spent in the office)—which is a far more productive way to motivate employees and improve outcomes.

Their differentiators: Millennials are fast and tech savvy. They can get things done on a simple app that would take other generations massive Excel spreadsheets to figure out. They communicate easily through multiple chat and virtual systems in any location, from the subway to the coffee shop. As long as they can put on headphones, they can function in a busy environment as if nothing is around them. Unhindered by “how things have been done,” this generation is great at generating new ideas and creating innovative businesses that have never existed. Lastly, they’re very confident and self-assured, which makes risk-taking, asking for their needs, and pushing boundaries far easier for them to do.

Baby boomers

Boomers—the people who raised the millennials—for the most part are loving their careers, income, and lifestyle, and have no interest in making change. Thus, they’re pushing the retirement age back to 72 and beyond, making 70 the new 50. After all, they still think golf during the workweek is legitimate time spent networking. These are the all-knowing “Grand Poobahs” of the workplace. 

Their differentiators: This generation birthed the word “workaholic” and has essentially created most of the processes and systems that drive the workforce. They remind us that in-person meetings are good for personal connection, problem solving, idea creation, and conflict management, and that having these meetings regularly is a good thing. They also realize the phone can be used for talking and may be the best choice for getting work done efficiently. They get that sometimes we need to go slow in order to go fast. And that there is something to the concept of loyalty. 

Gen Xers

Gen Xers are bookended and sometimes suffocated by boomers and millennials, with the millennials constantly asking for more and the boomers not willing to leave. Fortunately, Gen Xers—with their cynical views and love of sarcasm—bring their own unique perspective. While they’re the smallest of the three primary generations in the workforce, they’re still a force. Gen Xers are in the throes of raising their families and trying to climb the ladder at work, which isn’t very mobile since the baby boomers aren’t getting off of it.

Their differentiators: Gen Xers’ need to go fast and be efficient has created a whole new look to workflow in the workplace. They’ve mastered how to get a lot done in short periods of time, under pressure and with accuracy. In doing so, they created a whole new dimension to “hard work” and it’s making everyone step up. Their nonconforming attitude is unimpressed by authority figures, making them innovative and able to see and do things differently. As they rise into senior leadership positions, they have the maturity and the vision to pivot and steer industries into the future. They aren’t hindered by the “good ol’ days” and have the experience and knowledge to see things all the way through. They’re also the first generation in which women have had significant success in leadership. Women are out-earning their spouses, and the men in this generation are the first of many stay-at-home dads.

The workplace has evolved and progressed because of the great impact of all of these generations. Each of them have been a gift and continue to be in their own unique way. For this reason, we encourage companies to diversify teams by age to allow for the different mindsets and approaches to drive better and more innovative outcomes. And we have no doubt the up-and-coming Gen Z will do the same. 

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