October 20, 2015

The Multi-Generational Workforce Isn’t as Divided as You Think

FeetAs the consequences of the coming baby boomer brain drain loom on the horizon for companies across the U.S., it’s more important than ever to understand the common values that unite our multi-generational workforces. By acknowledging the similarities between the generations — rather than focusing on their differences — leaders will be able to more effectively guide their companies to success in the future.

To find out more about how you can make the most of the similarities within your multi-generational workforce, we turned to “A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workforce” from [email protected], the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program.

What Does Today’s Workforce Look Like?

There are four generations in today’s workforce: baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979; millennials, born between 1980 and 1995; and the youngest in the group, Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010.

Growing up in large numbers following World War II, baby boomers are known as the “Me Generation” because of the self-involved qualities, like self-realization and self-fulfillment, that people associate with them. They make up almost a third of the workforce, and nearly 70 million are expected to retire over the next decade. They’re highly loyal, have a strong work ethic, and are committed to customer service.

Generation X is known for its independence. Its members make up 32 percent of the workforce, were the first latchkey kids, have high divorce rates among their parents, and cheer for heroes like Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld. They led the dot-com boom and are highly regarded for their entrepreneurial abilities.

Unlike any generation that preceded them, millennials have a worldview that embraces diversity. This generation has redefined the meaning of both personal and professional success. They currently account for about 34 percent of the workforce, but estimates put that at 75 percent by 2025.

The oldest members of Generation Z are just beginning to enter the workforce. These digital natives are constantly online, have been impacted by events like the “Great Recession” and the rising costs of higher education, and celebrate their parents and peers as their heroes.

How the Common Values of the Multi-Generational Workforce Benefit the Whole Team

GrassWhile most literature regarding inter-generational interactions focuses on the differences between the generations, research conducted by Ben Rosen, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior for the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, offers an alternative view:

“Baby boomers, Gen. X-ers, and millennials all shared the same top five expectations of their employers. They also agreed in their views of what an ideal leader should look like.”

Through his research, Rosen found that all generations share key values when it comes to how they live and work.

– All are in support of organizational success, desiring stable employment and expressing a commitment to good employers who provide it.

– They share common views about leadership characteristics and agree on what’s required to be a good leader. This includes things like leadership by example, accessibility, the ability to help others by framing roles in terms of organizational contributions, the ability to be a coach and mentor, and the ability to challenge others and hold them accountable.

– They all want their own career success, including new challenges and opportunities to move up in the ranks.

– They recognize that the process of aging affects everyone, and that they’ll each have changing needs throughout the years. They recognize that challenges in the future are inevitable and can’t always be predicted.

Rather than focusing on inter-generational conflicts, it’s in the best interests of today’s leaders to learn more about what unites employees. Organizational success can only come about as the result of a concerted effort by the whole team. By recognizing and supporting the similarities between multiple generations in the workforce, leaders can help everyone work better together to facilitate more powerful business results.

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Alison Napolitano is a Senior Marketing Manager at 2U where she supports all community outreach for 2U's programs. Alison has a background in digital marketing and a passion for helping great brands succeed online.