Engaging Diverse Workforce Generations

by Katie E. Rodgers
A couple months back, we discussed the importance of attracting diverse people to your organization and working towards inclusion through the use of programs. As we researched the many forms diversity comes in, we thought it best to focus on one that severely impacts our job as recruiters and likely impacts every organization and their hiring efforts – generational diversity.
A few years ago (almost 10 - but who’s counting?!), traditionalists were making their way out, and millennials were making their way in. Today, most if not all traditionalists have retired, and the baby boomers are in the process of making an exit. This leaves us with three generations currently active in the workforce and one not-so-traditional up and coming Generation Z. 
To help understand how your organization can meet the challenges of integrating these diverse attitudes in the workplace, it’s important to take a close look at the strengths, weaknesses, characteristics, and motivations of each generation.

Baby Boomers (born 1943 - 1964):

  • Oldest, most-experienced workers.
  • Most likely to be holders of management/partner/board member status positions. 
  • Love a challenge, and equate work and position with self-worth.
  • Optimistic and idealistic.
  • Highly competitive.
  • Family-oriented, and generally anti-establishment and anti-government.
  • Challenge authority and rebel against convention.
  • Ideal work environment: Democratic, equal opportunity, comfortable, and friendly.
  • Key to engagement:  Give them attention and recognition as they are motivated by being valued and needed. Demonstrate that their contributions are unique and important.

Generation X (born 1965 - 1978):

  • Spread across all management levels of modern organizations.
  • Flexible and hard-working.
  • Seek autonomy.
  • Majority have a college degree due to increased emphasis on education during childhood.
  • Driven by “what’s in it for me” mentality. 
  • Most work under the supervision of a baby boomer.
  • Lack organizational loyalty and consistently take risks.
  • Self-reliant.
  • Value learning opportunities and meaningful work. 
  • Ideal work environment: Informative, fast-paced, flexible, and fun. 
  • Key to engagement: Motivate them by appealing to their self-worth and desire to explore. Allow them time to be mentored by experts and leaders. Allow them to make contributions that are valuable.   

Generation Y/Millennials (born 1979 - 1997):

  • At the heart of a skills-deficiency crisis because many critical skill sets are possessed by baby boomers. 
  • Resilient and achievement-oriented.
  • Extremely organized and excellent team players.
  • Respect differences, and value new ideas and experimentation.
  • Technologically savvy.
  • Usually found in lower management or entry-level jobs. 
  • Most educated generation.
  • Aspire to globalism. 
  • Want more from work life and are goal-oriented.
  • Strong sense of entitlement.
  • Seek responsibility early on.
  • Most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world.
  • Ideal work environment: collaborative, creative, diverse, and flexible.
  • Key to engagement: Explain the purpose of their work, and compliment their commitment. Mentor them, and allow them to collaborate with other bright, creative people.

Although Generation Z is not yet entering the workforce, there are key traits about this up-and-coming generation that are important to consider and prepare for when it comes to shaping your business and its recruitment strategies. 

Generation Z (born 1998 - 2016):

  • Less focused and weakened attention spans due to many distractions.
  • Early entrance into the workforce due to trades and opting out of college, which may also lead to a more entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Youngest American generation, and the most diverse and inclusive generation yet. They embrace diversity.
  • Less disciplined and less optimistic. 
  • Key to engagement: While we don't yet know this generation in the workplace, we are predicting they will be motivated by complex projects. It may be important to provide them direction to minimize distractions. Like millennials, this generation will want to provide value in their roles and know their purpose in an organization. They find diversity important and will want to work with teams and organizations that reflect the same values. 

To deal with this fluctuating workforce, we need to understand these generational differences and keep them in mind when developing recruitment strategies and promoting teamwork. Learning how to effectively build strong teams for our organizations starts with asking questions and listening to the boomers, and x and y employees. And realizing how something is perceived is critical.
One thing that generally seems to be important across all generations is the desire to have mentorship and leadership from the elder generations. It may just look different when put into practice. Understanding what each generation responds to helps in determining the language we use to obtain the results we want. 

How does your organization help bridge the gap in generational diversity?