Who knows best? Who works the hardest? Who’s suffered the most hardship and come out the other side stronger than ever? For as long as there have been generations, there’s been a battle of sorts between them.
And while I’m sure we all, no matter what generation we are, like to believe our own generation has the right way of thinking, that may not be the case. As much as many of us favour our own generation more than the others, each generation has unique strengths and weaknesses.
Additionally, it can be really easy to pigeonhole and say that “people of a certain generation always do this”. While we should steer clear of pigeonholing, we can use each generation’s typical characteristics to understand their backstories and perceptions. As a result, workplaces can determine the most effective ways to lead and engage with a variety of age groups in a way that benefits everyone.
With this in mind, let’s analyse the strengths of each generation – from Baby Boomers to Gen Z – including how generations can learn from each other to transform the workplace for the better.
Some of their workplace habits may be viewed as outdated or no longer relevant by younger generations. However, the way Baby Boomers handle themselves in the workplace has seen them not just survive periods of uncertainty but thrive during them. And that’s something all generations could use help with right now.
Baby Boomers in the workplace are also characterised by their commitment to their jobs, being more dedicated than any other generation. Furthermore, 53% of organisations say that they work well with others, making them an excellent addition to any team. Baby Boomers’ dedication to their workplace, combined with their excellent team skills, makes them excellent mentors for younger generations.
While the fact that many Baby Boomers are not retiring despite being of retirement age may be perceived as a demonstration of their work ethic, it can also mean that many Baby Boomers struggle to maintain a work-life balance. Just as younger generations often turn to Baby Boomers to act as their workplace mentors, Baby Boomers can turn to younger generations to learn the secret to the elusive work-life balance.
It’s no secret that during particularly busy times, work can feel all-consuming. Before we know it, work seems to become our whole lives. Previous generations may have believed that the harder you work, the more rewards you’ll enjoy.
However, Gen X revolutionised the workplace by discovering the value of having a work-life balance. Prioritising work-life balance doesn’t mean that Gen X are less motivated at work. In fact, 70% of organisations believe that Gen X are the best workers. They’re also considered the biggest revenue generators for businesses.
Members of Gen X were also the first generation to grow up with computers as part of their everyday lives, both at home and at school. That’s a significant adjustment! Despite what could have seemed like a scary change, Gen X took it in their stride and thus began their journey of being self-sufficient, ambitious learners.
This isn’t something that started and stopped with formal education. Members of Gen X have continued this behaviour throughout their career journeys.
Something that goes hand in hand with their ambition is Gen X’s appreciation of constructive feedback. This doesn’t necessarily mean that members of Gen X want a strict work environment (they typically despise being micromanaged). However, it does mean that they care about and seek out ways to continuously improve and don’t mind if they have to hear some occasional tough love.
Like everything, there are pros and cons to Gen X’s ambition and desire to be self-sufficient. They are also masters of self-deprecation. To help combat this, members of Gen X can consult with their Gen Z colleagues who are much more open to asking for help when it comes to wellbeing at work.
Alternatively, for members of Gen X who are shyer or would prefer to tackle self-deprecation solo, there are many online courses available that specifically deal with maintaining mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Much like their predecessors Gen X, Millennials have also grown up around technology. In particular, they grew up and began to enter the workforce right in the middle of the rise of the internet. As a result, they taught themselves a variety of digital skills and fostered within themselves a desire to learn and continuously improve. Although they may not have known it while they were growing up, this love of learning is a contagious workplace skill. When members of other generations can see Millennials’ enthusiasm for learning, it encourages them to participate. That not only benefits the learners but has positive knock-on effects for the business overall.
While it may be easy to assume that relying quite heavily on the internet and digital skills would make Millennials less social at work, it’s actually the opposite. Millennials’ passion for the internet has inspired social media tools specifically designed for the workplace, like Slack, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams, which are now commonplace in many businesses.
The interactions that colleagues of all generations have on these online platforms, whether directly related to work or not, have significant positive effects for both individuals and the business overall. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that “employees who engage in online social interactions with colleagues through social media, tend to be more motivated to come up with innovative ideas.”
Although the benefits of social media and technology in the workplace far outweigh the detriments, if Millennials find themselves relying on it too much, they can struggle to develop in-person interpersonal skills. At this point, Millennials can look to members of older generations in the workplace who began their careers long before the internet for how to feel more confident in this aspect of the world of work.
Millennials may have been the generation that grew up during the development of the internet, but members of Gen Z don’t remember life without it. For members of older generations, this can be pretty hard to imagine (surely we’re not that old, right?). However, it has made Gen Z the most tech-competent generation. Further, although Gen Z are the youngest members of the workforce, they can act as tech mentors for older generations as they navigate a workforce where technology use is increasing exponentially.
Members of Gen Z are also particularly ambitious, with two-thirds of them saying that their goal in life is to reach the top of their profession. To achieve this, networking with members of older generations who are already at their top of their field can be extremely beneficial.
Enthusiasm to grow in the workplace spreads like wildfire. When other generations see that Gen Z are motivated to learn and move their way up in the industry, it’s easier for them to be motivated too.
Everybody knows that the internet never really ‘turns off’. There’s content being generated 24/7, whether it be related to people’s business life or their personal life. That’s a lot to focus on all at once! Growing up in this environment has meant that Gen Z are excellent multi-taskers and have come to be known as the ‘always on generation’. Such skills can be beneficial to pass on to older generations at work who may have had the rate of workplace technology use creep up on them faster than they anticipated.
However, it can also mean that Gen Z struggle to switch off at the end of a workday. When this issue arises, Gen X, the pioneers of the work-life balance, can be excellent mentors to Gen Z. Like all workplace skills, switching off can benefit members of all generations.
By ensuring consistent upskilling and reskilling, members of all generations can contribute to the improvement of the workforce and positively affect their company’s business goals. However, the emotional impact of different generations learning from each other and working together is arguably even more significant.
If workplaces notice a generational gap, it may be worth considering broadening the typical age demographic of your workplace. In the meantime, engaging in workplace learning that actively seeks to improve some of the workplace habits of each generation can make a significant difference.
When employees are happy, psychologically safe and motivated, they are far more likely to contribute their best work. This, of course, creates knock-on effects for the company overall, including improving retention rates and enticing other potentially high-value future employees to want to work for your company.