There has never been a time in history when five generations co-existed in the workforce — until now. Each had a unique set of generation-defining childhood experiences that manifested in their workplace expectations and what drives them.
How much employees are motivated and engaged heavily influences an organisation’s ability to meet its targets, whether achieving a certain profit margin, undertaking a digital transformation program, or outmanoeuvring competitors in becoming socially responsible. In this era, managing the diversity of generational attributes to achieve goals can be complex.
How can an organisation ensure they have an employee value proposition that engages a multi-generational cohort with both convergent and divergent expectations?
The very different behaviours and beliefs of generations (in the West in particular) are a regular source of friction in everything from the cost of living to views on the environment, so from a business perspective, it’s important to understand how they have arisen from each group’s defining historical moments.
The Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945)
This senior-most group has largely left the workforce, however its experiences influenced how the next generation would grow up. They saw the emergence of technologies which would eventually become commonplace, such as cars and air travel. They witnessed economic and social hardships through the Great Depression and World War II. They are often marked by conservatism, conformity, traditional values and formal learning, and as a result value conservative, hierarchical, top-down management styles with a clear chain of command.
The Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
Boomers grew up in a relatively stable time, and as children, witnessed momentous events including the moon landing and rise of change-making leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. They challenged and rejected some of the institutions and values that provided security for them in their early years. They are optimistic, enjoy mentoring, have a strong work ethic and are structured learners. Baby Boomers value workplaces with flat structures, democratic cultures, humane values, equal opportunities, and a ‘warm and friendly’ environment.
Generation X (born 1965 to 1979)
Through their childhoods, this group experienced the Watergate scandal, the Iranian hostage crisis, the energy crisis, the stock market crash and the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a result, Generation X members developed a strong skepticism for existing institutions and became independent, self-reliant, and wary of Baby Boomer values. They were the first generation to become comfortable with personal computers. They are independent, innovative, strong communicators and participative learners. They value workplaces that are positive, fun, efficient, fast-paced, flexible, informal and that have access to leadership and information.
Millennials / Gen Y (born 1980 to 1994)
As children and young adults entering the 21st century, they drove the emergence of the internet and social media and as a result are tech-savvy, collaborative and interactive learners. Millennials value workplaces that are collaborative, achievement-oriented, highly creative, positive, diverse, fun, flexible and that provide continuous feedback.
Generation Z & Alpha (born 1995 and after)
Today’s kids, teenagers and young adults experienced a time of cultural and political change unique to their generation, including the global financial crisis and the rise of protectionism following US president Donald Trump’s election and Brexit. Members of Generation Z need to be connected constantly and instantly, to experience stability, and to make an impact on the world. They flourish in diverse workforces, prefer multi-model and virtual learning and are digitally fluent and practical. They are motivated by security, may be more competitive, seek independence, can multi-task, are more entrepreneurial, want to communicate face-to-face, and want to be catered to.
Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation ever seen in the western world. The oldest of the group are nearing 40 and beginning to progress into leadership roles. Their presence is ubiquitous: Since 2016, there have been more Millennials in the workforce than any other generation, and they are set to make up 75 percent of the total Australian workforce by 2025. This means that we have truly entered the ‘Millennial moment,’ and it’s critical that organisations understand their values and expectations.
That understanding, particularly among other generations, is poor. The media, books and each generation’s set of beliefs suggest that Millennials are selfish, yet 40 percent participated in volunteer work over the past year, more than any other generation during the same period.1 Millennials are thought to be lazy, and yet 73 percent report working more than 40 hours per week.2 They are presumed to be obsessed with social media, and yet 96 percent want to talk face to face, especially when it comes to their career plans and progress. However, it’s true that Millennials are more mobile than previous generations and are willing to make changes if employers don’t meet their needs. They will change jobs an average of four times in their first decade of work compared to two times for Gen Xers.3
Millennials are shaping today’s workplace through their attitude, expectations and perceptions. This is why attracting and retaining the best Millennial talent has become increasingly vital for the success of an organisation. So how can an organisation become a model organisation for Millennials and adapt to incorporate and meet their expectations of a modern workplace?
Where once Gen Xers reigned, valuing career progression and remuneration, and the Baby Boomers before them prioritising stability and financial security, organisations now must adapt to the Millennial model: creating a more flexible environment enabled by technology, engaging work, development, opportunities to influence and a sense that they can make a valuable contribution to organisational objectives. Businesses need to build a sense of community, encourage teamwork, ensure supervisors give appreciation and support, and give employees honest, real-time,face-to-face feedback.
Companies also need to increase transparency around compensation, rewards and career decisions, and create a meaningful rewards structure that regularly acknowledges both large and small contributions made by employees. They should introduce or accelerate their mobility program as Millennials view the opportunity to work overseas as part of their desired career path more so than other cohorts. And finally, they need to recognise that one size does not fit all — generational differences do exist among Millennials and non-Millennials, and should be taken into account by organisations that include employees from both groups.
Organisations are a diverse place, and will only become moreso. Employees of different generations have diverse management preferences not only because they view the world differently, but also because they are usually at very different career stages. The pivotal Millennial group prefers their manager to act like a coach or mentor, while Baby Boomers prefer a dependable and consistent manager. These generational differences don’t represent mutually exclusive desires, but the preferences reveal how important it is for a manager with a diverse team to understand the mindset of each employee, and manage, encourage, and motivate them accordingly.
Understanding and aligning with the values of these multi-generational employees helps to achieve the organisation’s goals. By recognising these values and then building a workplace experience that lives up to them, businesses will not only attract and retain the best talent that transcends generations, but also achieve their targets sooner. At the same time they will gain a competitive advantage by building a culture that their entire workforce will thrive in.
The Future of Work is here. Find out more on how to get your organisation ready, visit PwC Australia’s Preparing for the Future of Work website.
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