CRITICAL PATH II: Understanding and Leading Five Generations in Today’s Workforce, by Laura Dillingham

Predictions are that by 2024, approximately 25% of the workforce will be over the age of 55. This is up from the early ’90s when workers over the age of 55 totaled about 12%. The results are that there are as many as five generations in today’s workforce for numerous companies.

There are multiple factors that have contributed to this occurrence, the economic downturn that hit the nation in 2008, people living longer healthier lives, and others who perhaps did not prepare financially to retire. Many of these and possibly more have all contributed to people choosing to continue to work. Not only are they working longer but many are delaying retirement or choosing not to retire at all and because of that, for the first time in history, today’s workforce has five generations working at the same time.

The five generations, starting with the most recent are:
1. Generation Z: born 1996 and after
2. Millennials, (Generation Y): born 1977 to 1995
3. Generation X: born 1965 to 1976
4. Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964
5. Traditional: born 1945 and before

This mixed multi-generation workforce will create new challenges for supervisors, managers and leaders. Some of these challenges may require them to ask what motivates employee engagement, what tools and practices will employees need to interact successfully, and what types of workforce behaviors will be needed?

There are also issues that may occur with having five generations in the workplace. Many of these have been discussed in previous power ideas. Some of the main issues of having five generations in the workforce are hiring, talent development, learning methods, teamwork and collaboration.

But the key question may be: do managers and employees really understand how work is done differently by different generations? Do they understand employee interaction and work styles of the different generations? Companies are dealing with increased demands in almost all areas; they are working with a global market, partnerships, interdependencies, connectivity, technology, doing more with less and outdated programs and processes. How do they build on the strengths and commonalities of the five generations to develop understanding, communication, and teamwork?

Some of these suggestions may be where your organization’s focus should be:
• understand the structure of the population of your organization, in other words, the demographics
• understand the communication preference of your employees
• understand and appreciate others and their differences
• create opportunities for employees of all generations to interact in work and non-work-related situations
• focus on the similarities between generations; avoid stereotypes
• look at what interests your employees have at work and in their personal lives; know and understand your employee’s life paths

Don’t make assumptions! It’s critical to remember, regardless of the generation they were born in, all employees have differences and commonalities.


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