Five Generations in The Workforce

On August 7, Dr. Katherine Jeffrey will be speaking on The Generational Shift at the Economic Summit. To better understand the impact that having five (5) generations inside the workforce have on culture inside the workplace the Schaumburg Business Association visited with Acara Solutions to get an overview on how your business can best adapt and thrive in this environment of five distinctly different types of workers in your company. The following addresses the generational gap and how different generations come together in the workplace – so that Baby Boomers and Millennials can all work happily ever after.

Acara – Chris Beckage Interview

This is the first time ever that five generations have been in the workforce. What impact does that have on workplace culture and productivity? 

  • The impact starts with implementing processes (recruiting, on boarding, training, etc.) that appeal to all generations with respect to their various backgrounds, learning styles, and communication preferences.
  • Of these elements, communication tends to be the most critical areas of focus because each generation has a preferred method of communication (in-person, email, text, etc.) and how they interact with one another. Education on these topics, which is similar to ethnicity training, is key in creating self-awareness and emotional intelligence for all employees.
  • The result can be a dynamic culture that embraces all generations, leads to innovation and improves bottom line results.

Each generation brings something different to the workforce, how can employers use each generation to produce a well-functioning workplace?

  • Put simply: Embrace the strengths and experiences of each generation. It goes without saying that baby boomers and millennials, for example, view the world, the workplace, and life in general differently—and that’s neither good nor bad—it’s just a fact. The trick is to create cohesive, collaborative environment. But that can be tough to do, too, because you can’t make assumptions about a person’s skill set or preferences based on their generation. In other words, you can’t say, “Oh, Allison is 25 so she must know how to post a job opportunity on Instagram more easily than Jim, who is 55.” While millennials are especially tech-savvy, that is not to say that others aren’t. Not always.
  • To answer your question, I would say, generally speaking, just create opportunities for everyone from each generation to interact with each other as much as possible, even if it isn’t always work-related. Maybe it’s at the company picnic or holiday party. Starting with a shared comfort zone first will lend to a well-functioning workplace later. From there, educate all on how to adapt their communication to the person they are speaking with to create a win/win scenario.

What is the most difficult thing about having such a wide age group of employees? What is the best thing about it?

  • I may have touched on this in the previous question, but it’s worth restating how challenging it can be to understand why certain people have the preferences they do without making broad, sweeping generalizations about an entire generation.
  • The best part about having all these different people from so many different backgrounds is that you bring multiple perspectives to the workplace, which means you can reach a broader audience and have innovation. If you have a room full of 20-year-olds, for example, you might miss out on the best opportunities to speak to, say, C-level job candidates who are typically from a different generation. The endgame is to adopt communication and methodologies that create win/win scenarios for everyone.

The millennials are the most educated generation. Will a bachelor’s degree soon become obsolete, and will most work places start to require a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. for entry level positions?

  • Even if millennials are the most educated, we are starting to see the importance of a college degree fading away. In regard to all generations, we’re starting to do a better job of appreciating the skill sets of people who, despite not graduating from college, can absolutely bring value to the workplace. I would argue that we need to prepare the workplace to properly train intelligent, high-quality job candidates who might not be too familiar with a typical office environment, for example.
  • To put it another way, skill matters—not diplomas. For example, IT professionals in software and application development will likely have a lesser need for a college education as they are often self-taught from an early age. They attend boot camps and things like that, and companies of all sizes are smartly sponsoring and engaging these types of events to gain access to this type of talent.
  • Given today’s candidate-driven labor market, many employers are backing off the bachelor’s degree requirement because they know they have additional personal and professional trainings that will accommodate these types of employees. For other professionals, my opinion is that companies are going to focus more on the internship and “real” world work experience during college over further education. Employers understand the rising costs of college because they need to pay higher salaries so their newer employees can pay them.
  • So, no, I don’t think we’ll see a demand for more high-level degrees.

Millennials are the most “tech-savvy” generation, does this make things easier in the workplace, or are they too dependent on technology to do the work for them?

  • Both. We’ve found that millennials are often capable of assisting or training others on techie gadgets and social media. On the flipside, we are seeing millennials struggle with live, interpersonal relationships. The great irony of social media, as we know, is that it allows us to create all these relationships with people from all over the world from our mobile device—but at the same time, it is taking us away from engaging the people who are in the same room as us. One solution might be to have phone-free get-togethers and online-only chats to mix and match these mediums for everyone.

Once baby boomers start to retire, what will the economy look like? Will there be a decrease in economic activity due to Boomers producing less? Or will it free-up employment for younger generations causing an influx in economic development?

  • Retiring baby boomers will still be buyers of products and services. And succession planning is a focus item for most companies, so, yes, baby boomer retirement will free up employment opportunities for younger generations. That said, I don’t want our younger audience to feel as if opportunities will be given to them just because older generations have moved on and left vacancies. It will be important for us to award positions based on skills, aptitude, effort, and performance.