By Tiffany Stock
Our office recently presented to the Northwest Human Resource Management Association for about three hours, providing a comprehensive overview of employee benefits and the role of the HR professional in providing them – don’t be too bummed out you missed it, because I’m going to give you a little recap on my favorite part of that presentation. While the whole presentation was important in discussing the big picture, and breaking down the economic, environmental, political and technological components that affect employee benefits, the most interesting part to me was the social side of things and really looking at generational differences in the workplace, which frankly for me translates into both my professional and personal life.
Let me start of by saying that I am a millennial based on the defined years by most sources I could find and it was really hard for me to say that, possibly due to the psychological stigma that is portrayed when hearing people talk about millennials. More on that later.
Regardless of what generation someone is “classified” in, every person comes from a different background, may have different values, expectations, motivations and priorities – this is on top of things people may have in common just based on the genre in which the “grew up.” There are 5 generations in the workplace in the U.S.:
Boomers (1946-1964) ages 73-55 – <29%
- Generation X (1965-1980) ages 54-39– 1/3rd of the workforce/ <34%
- Millennials (1981-1997) ages 39-21 – Largest demographic of the employed +34%
Generation (1928-1945) ages 91-74 – 2%
- Gen Z/Post Millennials (1998-2001 start date, ages 20-18) – also referred to as “Digital Natives” – 1%
Baby Boomers are the fastest declining generation, and held about 49% of the workforce back in 1995 (think season 5 of Beverly Hills 90210 – RIP Luke Perry). They are working well past normal retirement age and think some of that may be due to some big retirement plan losses during the Great Recession.
Generation X, which is caught in the middle of the Baby Boomers and Millenials, were born during a time when Americans were having fewer children, so it’s thought that generation has likely hit its peak in the workforce around 34%.
Currently Millenials account for around 53 million workers, but that is expected to surge up to 75 million workers at its peak as many young millennials are still in school. It’s also the largest group sector due to our immigrant population where more than half of newly arrived immigrant workers over the last 5 years have been Millenials.
Thinking about the signature products that were developed during each generation really put in to perspective how each of these groups “grew” up. The Silent Generation brought us the automobile, the Baby Boomers had the television, Generation X’ers had the first personal computers, and Millenials brought tablets and smartphones.
There are a lot of stereotypes for each generation – Boomers are often thought of as rigid in their ways, and selfish. Millenials are thought to be social media crazed narcissists, resistant to hierarchy, and eternally uncertain about their career decisions. Gen-xers are thought to be slackers. These stereotypes are short sited and create fractured work environments. The reality is that many of these generations were similarly perceived when they first entered the workforce based on their era. They are a lot more alike than you’d think.
When having different generations in the workplace, my research showed that there are three main commonalities amongst all – every employee wants respect, recognition and feeling part of a team. If your company has a wide range of generations, it’s definitely something to look into and understand a little better to create a happier work environment. Taking into consideration the different ways to communicate, utilize technology, ensuring your company offers benefits that appeal to different needs and an emphasis on the type of employee-employer relationship they might be looking for, can go a long way.
This portion of our presentation lasted 15 minutes, so as you can imagine there is a lot more I could say, but for the sake of everyone’s time, I mean a blog is a short read not a novel, I’ll wrap it up with these final words. Everyone is different, no matter their age and gender, while there may be some commonalities amongst certain groups of individuals, get to know your people and learn from them – it will only make your organization stronger!