The multi-generational workplace is here and will not be going away! Are you ready?
With the vast majority of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will not be retiring as planned we will likely see many multi-generational workplaces with baby boomers, generation X and Y in the same office or workplace.
There are some discussions that baby boomers need to stick around because there are not enough of Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1982) to replace baby boomers.
Generation Y, or Millenials (those born between 1983 and 2000), have entered the market in huge numbers. In fact, there are suggestions that Millenials will make up over half of the workforce by 2020.
For many baby boomers, this is a pretty scary thought. This multi-generational workplace will only get bigger.
Note: The post was originally published November 2013 and was updated in December 2018.
Generational Echo Effects
When just about every one of us leaves home we do one of two things, we either do what we were told by our parents or we do the exact opposite. Let me give you some simple examples.
The greatest generation, those born between 1900-1924, just about every man served in the military, believed in the security of the big government, experienced the great depression and saved money. Their children baby boomers experienced Watergate and the Vietnam war and were the first generation to easy credit. Baby boomers rebelled against the status quo and spent money like crazy.
The silent generation, born between 1925-1945, suffered from extremely high divorce rates largely due to a technological change in 1965, birth control. Their children, generation X, have the lowest divorce rate. Almost half of generation X grew up in single-parent households and therefore, many either do not get married or delay marriage.
Let’s look at the generational difference between baby boomers and their children Gen Y.
Looking at Gen Y through Baby Boomers Eyes
One of the real challenges that baby boomer managers have is they look at employees of Generation Y like they are baby boomers. The reality is they do not look like us. They are the opposite of baby boomers or another generational echo effect.
In fact, we created them the way they are. They are our children!
Let’s compare Baby Boomers and Gen Y.
Characteristics of Baby Boomers
- Competitive – There were so many of us, we had to compete for everything. There were so many of us, that we had to compete, compete and compete.
- Work Ethic – We were raised by the Greatest Generation to go to work. Work was there to provide for our family, put food on the table, pay the mortgage and put our kids through college. We did not look at work like it was fun but a necessity of life.
- Private – In general, we are a pretty private generation. We learned not to discuss how much we make at work. This is a downfall for many baby boomers today because we do not discuss our career issues. Many think they are the only ones struggling.
Characteristics of Generation Y
- Team Oriented – Everything they did in school was oriented around groups. They were raised to be good team players.
- Altruistic – We told them to follow their passions and do what is right. What they do is more important than how much they earn. Gen Y volunteer more than any generation.
- Social – Generation Y share everything. They created Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
As baby boomers, we were trained to be employees and to be loyal to our employers. We raised Generation Y to follow their passions and to ask for what they wanted. Therefore, when they ask for the promotion and do not get it they are likely to move on.
We raised them to do this!
Most baby boomers had their first job in their early teens. We were raised to get an employment resume.
Most of Generation Y do not get their first job until after they graduate from high school. Why? We wanted them to focus on their studies. We raised them to get a college resume.
Many of Generation Y Enter the Workplace for the First Time after College
For many baby boomers, they expect generation Y employees to understand the workplace, the politics, the processes, and the unwritten rules. (You know what I am talking about, like giving two weeks notice, never discuss how much you make, being on time at work, be in the office even when you have nothing that needs to be done there,….) We expect them to understand what we did when we entered the workplace.
Many do not!
Having worked in the high tech industry in Austin I have seen the following scenario play out:
Baby boomer or Gen X manager comes in and tells a Gen Y employee to be a work at 8 AM. The Gen Y employee responds “Why?”
The manager says “Because I told you so”.
The young employee responds “No but why?”
Things deteriorate from there. We taught our children to question authority. If there is not a good reason to be in the office at 8 AM then they will likely not show up.
My own son, who is an old Gen Y, as he graduated from high school in 2002, was handed a laptop when he went to college. He could study and learn from anywhere. This generation grew up connected and therefore, telling them to be someplace without a reason is not going to cut it.
We look at them through our Baby Boomer glasses and we wonder why they are the way they are!
The Multi-Generational Workplace is Not Going Away
With many baby boomers with insufficient retirement funds to retire at a traditional retirement age, most will keep working into their 70’s and beyond. At the same time Generation Z, born after the year 2000, is starting to enter the workforce.
The challenges will center around:
- Work expectations
- Communications styles
- Technological sophistication
I wrote this first post to give you something to think about. You can read the entire series here –> Multi-Generational Workplace Series. This series is being updated in 2018-2019.
What if you had a Generation Y boss in a multi-generational workplace?