Generational diversity, like gender diversity, has become a relevant issue because of the impact it has on society. For the first time in history, people from 4 different generations are living together. And this creates conflicts and differences that we need to understand and manage.
These are the Baby Boomers, born before 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980; Generation Y (Millennials), born between 1980 and 1996; and Generation Z (Centennials), born since 1996.
I’m going to give you three characteristics of each group, so you can visualize them, explaining what’s going on and why we need to bring all of this talent into the organizations.
4 different generations
The Baby Boomers witnessed the first social struggles and also the massive incorporation of women into the world of work. They are characterized by (those who still work) being loyal to the company, seeking security and stability, and tending to value hierarchy highly. They are the ones who most seek recognition for this loyalty, both personally and professionally.
Gen Xers have lived through the advent of the Internet and are the generation that uses technology the most (not only for leisure, but also for work). They are very skeptical (having lived through times of great uncertainty) and much more individualistic. They support flexibility and conciliation policies (up to a point), and they are looking for more than just a salary at work: they are looking for fulfillment.
Millennials want flexibility (to work where, when, and how they want). They want to improve their living conditions. They value self-learning, and have little commitment to the company: if something doesn’t fit, they quit. This generation is the most collaborative and like to work by goals, not by workdays.
Some people call them “the crystal generation”, based on their perception of behaviors, and reactions to events. Things like this show that there are differences and misunderstanding between generations that it’s worth to manage.
Finally, Centennials are characterized by global thinking and the pursuit of instantaneity. Job growth is their priority. They seek freedom and autonomy, life experiences and are quite self-taught. They do not believe in hierarchy and need to be heard. Centennials are the first digital natives: multiscreen and hyper-connected.
Coexistence is important not only for society in general, but also for the world of work. But the generational diversity brings conflicts along.
There is a question that is starting to become important: how are we going to rebuild the workforce as the talent that is there now retires?
We need to consider that Gen Xers will be retiring in droves over the next 15 years.
How can we get Millennials and Gen Z to both benefit from the knowledge of Gen Xers and find their place in the organization?
Optimizing talent in organizations is a huge challenge. On the one hand, we need to create space for the transfer of knowledge and experience; on the other hand, we need to give younger people the opportunity to reach positions of responsibility and decision-making and to contribute from there.
This creates conflicts. If the bosses are Gen Xers, they tend to have more respect for hierarchy (and expect later generations to have more respect as well). On the other hand, if the bosses are Millennials, they are less attached to hierarchy and there may be some conflict with “rule lovers” who are not used to someone younger making decisions.
The secret to overcoming these challenges has to do with culture (both national and organizational), the way we do things. It is necessary to create spaces where everyone can contribute freely and where there are no prejudices.
In short, it is necessary to establish rules of the game that are accepted by all and acceptable to all that allow us to make the most of this generational diversity.
Image by Andrea Piacquadio