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Managing the Generational Divide in the Workplace

Managing the Generational Divide in the Workplace

The American workplace is now made up primarily of four generations: Generation Z (born 1997 and after), Millennials (born 1981-1996), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), with the Silent Generation being more of a rarity. While experts differ on the exact beginning and end of each generation, this makes for a particularly interesting challenge for managers and C-level executives in the workplace today.

Each generation has its own sets of wants and needs to be productive and satisfied on the job. Baby Boomers want acknowledgement of hard work through raises and promotions and are often dedicated to a single company. This generation also expects that same dedication to be reciprocated back by an employer.

Generation X seeks empowerment and purpose in a career. This generation seeks respect and may rival the loyalty shown by baby boomers. Once again, Gen X expects a reciprocation of that same loyalty.

Millennials began a shift in the way employee management traditionally took place. Making up more than one third of the workforce, Millennials are an ambitious group who are deeply concerned with work-life balance, placing it higher on the importance scale than a title or promotion. Compared to Baby Boomers and Gen X, Millennials are more willing to find a new job if a current position no longer feels right.

The latest generation to the workforce, Generation Z, continues the shift in employee expectations that the Millennial generation began. Gen Z workers question the status quo and have much higher expectations of employers than the previous generations, with a particular emphasis being placed on having a voice in the organization.

[Related: Dump Performance Appraisals And Help Employees Be Their Best]

Building the right culture.

With the entrance of Gen Z into the workforce, managers and C-level executives now must ask the question, “How do I manage multiple generations in one office?” The answer starts with culture, but it goes much deeper than that. In the past, culture was bean bags, free lunches, ping pong tables in the break room, and an endless supply of coffee. Now, employees are expecting more from companies. Gen Z has begun to shift the expectations of the other generations, leading to a push for company cultures that respect, value, and appreciate employees.

The Great Resignation, as it was coined in 2022, showed that every generation has begun to feel empowered to leave a workplace that felt unfulfilling and unappreciative. Surveys in 2021 cited that 57% of employees who resigned did so because they felt disrespected at work.

Now, “Quiet Quitting” is the latest trend. As employees feel undervalued, no matter the generation, they begin putting in only the minimum effort required by the job.

[Related: It's More Than Quiet Quitting]

Embrace the culture shift.

As an entrepreneur and a leader, you have the ability to create your own business culture. So, make it one that you can be proud of. Be a thought leader, be a listener, and make your team feel valued and heard. Most importantly, be the leader that you want to be.

Your policies and culture reflect who you are, and not everyone, no matter the generation, is going to be a perfect fit. That is okay. Focus on creating the right culture, one that you can feel good about. Then, focus on hiring the right people and making them feel valued and respected within your company culture.

Managing a multi-generation workforce has its challenges, but when done well, it also has many rewards for the leader willing to work hard and create an empowering business environment for every generation from Baby Boomers to Gen Z.

[Related: A Decade of Gender Equity in Ten Trends]


Julie Cropp Gareleck is an experienced strategist, author, and founder of Junction Creative Solutions, where she works with global and growth stage brands on developing the right strategies to grow their business. She has been recognized as an industry experience and leader, featured on NBC affiliate Atlanta & Company, as well as in notable publications as the USA Today. Find Julie empowering business owners and entrepreneurs @JulieCroppGareleck.

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