A Breakdown of the Five Generations of Employees in the Workplace

An unprecedented change is happening in our workplaces. In many organizations, up to five generations are currently working together creating a situation that is both full of opportunities and challenges for E&C.

The changing demographics may be surprising:

  • The Silent Generation (born 1900-1945) currently makes up only about 3% of the global work force
  • Millennials (1981-2000) are now the most prevalent generation in the workplace (25%), surpassing the number of Baby Boomers (1946-1964) in 2014, and Generation X (1965-1980) in 2015
  • Millennials are on track to comprise 50% of the workforce worldwide by 2020
  • “Nexters” or Generation Z (born after 2000) composed another 3% of the global workforce, but they make up more of the global population (25%) than any other generation. By 2020, they will be out of school, making up 20% of the global workforce right behind Millennials

In sum, the two youngest generations together will compose nearly 70% of global employees within the next four years, while the older three generations will still be in the workplace. For a successful work environment, it is important for generations to understand each other and work well together, but perhaps more to the point, this is a rare opportunity to build a dynamic multi-generational workforce.

The two youngest generations together will compose nearly 70% of global employees within the next four years

Many ethics and compliance officers report that while they can certainly identify broad differences between generations, what is most striking is the blending and mixing of generational attitudes and beliefs. Some employees, who according to their age may be categorized as the Silent Generation, nevertheless use information technologies in ways more similar to Millennials. And some Nexters have work habits and worldviews that are similar to Baby Boomers.

This blending of traits and habits underscores the importance of identifying where there are alignments and positive engagement among generations and how the interplay between generations can create a dynamic, thriving culture. At the same time, prudent ethics and compliance officers must also be on the lookout for points of tension that can create ethics and compliance problems or risk areas.

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Common Generational Differences

While some of the most critical insights emerge from an examination of how generations are blending and merging, it is important to clarify how – in general terms – generations differ. With that in mind, the following is a summary of common generational differences as identified by various researchers on the topic:

The Silent Generation is often identified by the importance they place on duty and loyalty. They are the last generation to likely spend an entire career at one company. They are inclined to follow the rules, but their experience encourages them to sometimes overestimate their abilities to handle whatever comes their way. Their embrace of self-reliance and pragmatism means they are the least likely to report issues to management or to the helpline. Many may struggle with technology, but they are the most engaged generation and want opportunities to develop and learn. They like teamwork. They also expect their experience to be respected.

Baby Boomers often see their self-worth tied to career and consequently are seen by others as “workaholics” who are driven by material acquisitions, titles and personal success. Their optimistic outlook and youth orientation – which remains unshaken even as they age – have helped many of them embrace the latest technology, though direct person-to-person communication is still their preference. Like the Silent Generation, they are also team-oriented.

Generation X’ers include many of the first “latchkey kids.” The popular image of Gen X’ers is a product of change and unrest in their families and the broader society. This often contributes to their independence and self-direction, while at the same time resulting in skepticism toward authority. They tend to be adaptable, focused on results and motivated by a need for security. Their self-sufficiency causes them to ask for feedback only when they need it, and they would rather work alone. They are very technologically literate.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up using the internet and information technology from a very young age. They are typically confident (and sometimes over confident) due to highly involved, affirming parents. In the U.S. and affluent nations, their early lives were overscheduled making them comfortable with multitasking. Millennials expect lots of feedback and rewards in the workplace and are considered to be idealistic. They work to live, not live to work. Work/life balance is more important to them than salary and they want to do work that improves society, putting emphasis on corporate social responsibility, sustainability and diversity. They crave more frequent learning and advancement opportunities. They are technology experts.

Read More: Digital Visitors Versus Digital Residents: 6 Steps for Improving Ethics & Compliance Training for the Millennial-type Learner

Nexters are digital natives and, though time will tell, at this early stage they seem to have shorter attention spans and limited interpersonal skills. As a group they are creative – especially with respect to application of technology – and open-minded with a desire for opportunities to use their many skills. Like Millennials, they expect feedback and rewards and they are not principally motivated by money but by a flexible lifestyle. Also like Millennials, they have strong commitments to social responsibility. Though immersed in technology, they prefer face-to-face communications. They enjoy working in structured, small teams.

Understanding the uniqueness of each of the generations in our workplace is a first step to ensuring our organizations as well as each population are given the best opportunities to thrive in a multi-generational workplace.

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