Five Generations in the Workplace

03.01.2012
HR & Safety

Understanding differences in media preference, behavior, and work style

By Kim Pita

Have you noticed the dynamics of your work environment changing right before your eyes? The more mature population, known as the Silent Generation and older Boomers, are now collaborating with the 20- and 30-somethings that make up Gen Y, also known as the Millennials.

Never before have we had five generations in the workforce at the same time, making the need to understand generational differences in communication preferences, behavior, and work style more important than ever.

Media Connections

All generations connect to media channels, but their methods and message preferences vary significantly.

Ironically, the fastest-growing population for social media use is the G.I. generation (age 76-plus), many of whom communicate with their children and grandchildren online. This group typically accesses the Internet from their PCs rather than their mobile phones.

Gen X (36 to 47) and Millennials (20 to 35) tend to communicate in “sound bytes,” using email, social media, and mobile, while older generations (Silent and G.I.) prefer lengthier, more detailed communications, particularly via print or television. Baby Boomers (48 to 66) fall somewhere in the middle; they want details, but they are time-challenged, often balancing work, home, kids, volunteering, and elderly parents.

Boomers leverage online channels primarily to research and plan versus socialize. Gen Xers are more likely to use social media for business purposes and to find work.

Fast-Trackers and Dues Payers

In the workplace, Millennials typically want to start at the top, or at least move up the ladder quickly. They tend to be highly educated and are fast becoming the most educated generation. They are competitive by nature, often challenging themselves to work better and faster than their colleagues. They often don’t believe they should have to spend years in an entry-level position, “paying their dues”: a mind-set that can be a source of tension with other generations, such as older Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, who have paid their dues, slowly climbed the ladder, and are retiring later in their careers.

Generally speaking, Boomers live to work, while Gen Xers value friends and family over work. Boomers find fulfillment in making a difference, while Gen Xers can be seen as apathetic or disaffected.

Millennial Adjustments

Of course, this is only a snapshot of generational differences, but it’s important for business leaders to understand them and take steps to address them. For example, you might investigate how to better match your company benefits or perks with the priorities or preferences of younger generations. Here are a few ideas:

  • Millennials tend to be very civic-minded. They like to volunteer and give to causes they believe in. At The Pita Group, we offer our employees eight hours a year for volunteering. We also encourage them to serve on committees and boards of directors, as well as attend philanthropic events that we support.
  • Millennials also like to travel, so bonuses might take the form of airline tickets, which you may be able to purchase using reward points or frequent flier miles.
  • According to one survey, almost 40% of Millennials exercise at least three times a week. Benefits that include discounts for gym membership or other healthy activities are good perks.
  • Because many female Millennials are also in their child-rearing years, you might offer to pay for short-term disability.

Although many companies are trying to adapt to generational differences, sometimes adapting may conflict with business imperatives. Ultimately, it’s up to business owners and managers to strike the right balance when determining what’s best for the company and its employees.

Kim Pita is managing principal of The Pita Group, serves as chair of the CBIA Small Business Advisory Council, and currently sits on the CBIA board of directors. She can be reached at kim@thepitagroup.com

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