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The Gap (Generational not the Store)


How big is the gap where you work?  Depending on whom your employer is, there can be 4 or 5 distinct generations working side by side.

Much has been written about how different these generations are in terms of values and expectations.  While there are some overlaps, the generations are generally described as:

Vets, the Silent Generation  

  • Typically born:  prior to 1945
  • Currently:  10% of the workforce;  the 65+ population will grow in the next decade as more people decide they need and/or want to work beyond age 65;  currently the average age at which people choose to retire is around 68
  • Defined by:  World War II
  • Value:  wisdom, hard work, loyalty, dependability
  • Expect:  jobs for life

Boomers or Zoomers

  • Typically born: 1946 – 1964
  • Currently:  51-58% of the workforce;  the 55+ population will grow 47% in the next few years
  • Defined by:  sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll including The Pill, civil rights, the lunar landing, economic prosperity
  • Value:  living to work, rejecting or re-defining traditional pre-war values  
  • Expect:  challenging work, advancement, being in decision making positions, respect, continuing to grow on the job

Gen X

  • Typically born:  1965 – 1981
  • Currently:  32% of the workforce
  • Defined by:  recessions (2), McJobs, PC’s, the environment
  • Value:  technology, working within the system
  • Expect:   working to live, change

Gen Y or Millenials or Nexus

  • Typically born: 1982 – 1999
  • Currently:  7% of the workforce
  • Defined by:  globalization, re-structuring, instant info, terrorism, being recognized just for participating
  • Value:  learning in real time, not accepting things at face value, diversity
  • Expect:  real work-life balance, independence, quick advancement, communal work places, fun

Gen Z or Digital or AO (Always On)

  • Typically born: early 2000’s
  • Currently:  % of workplace has yet to be confirmed
  • Defined by:  technology that is personal, portable, powerful, multifunctional, affordable
  • Value:  health (nutrition and fitness), inclusion
  • Expect:  a net-centric world as a necessity not a luxury!

Needless to say, these apparent differences in values and expectations can cause tension in the workplace.  Consider what happens when a highly successful, process-driven company with a very homogenous senior management team hires someone “different” in terms of gender, generation, race, language, tenure, schooling, formal professional development and/or community involvement.  There can be a number of challenges but particularly when it comes to process (we’ve always done it this way and been successful) vs. innovation (but here are some global best practices to consider…)

A new study  co-authored by Sean Lyons, associate professor of business at the University of Guelph, Eddy Ng, associate professional of management at Dalhousie University and Linda Schweitzer, assistant professor at Carleton University, say these generations can value similar things although they may value them in different ways.  For example:    

  • Pay increases:  while mature workers (Vets and Boomers) expected pay increases aligned with the 3% per year that has been the average over the past 3 years, some younger workers expected to see their wages increase by as much as 60% over their starting salaries within 5 years.
  • Loyalty to an employer:  younger workers are likely to change jobs 3 times as often as mature workers did before age 30 in order to realize their expectations.

Because significantly different events have shaped each group’s values and beliefs, employers are challenged to develop generational strategies and tactics to clarify:  what makes employees tick;  team dynamics;  effective communications;  ”ageless thinking”;  intellectual capital;  knowledge management and succession planning.  Plans need to be: 

  • Flexible:  one size cannot possibly fit all
  • Creative:  developmental opportunities need to provide employees  with meaningful new experiences and competencies on a timely basis;  if not, they’ll find an employer who will.  Does your organization want to train for the street or increase its own return on investment?  It’s much like managing a salon where it will almost always encourage a client to try a new stylist within the same salon rather than letting her walk out the door and losing her altogether.
  • Diverse:  a range of thought, opinions and experiences maximizes innovation and profitability.  Mentoring programs, including reverse mentoring where younger, tech savvy employees take the lead, can be very effective.   
  • Proactive about knowledge management:  with much more transient work forces (often just 2-3 years in a role, 4-6 years in an organization), it’s imperative to capture intellectual capital before people retire or move on.  

Strategic Human Resources Management is your key to productive employees, loyal clients and organizational profitability or sustainability!