Multi-generational workforces are now the norm, and each generation brings its own unique set of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. This creates the opportunity to create a more vibrant and diverse work environment.
With a mix of Millennial, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers, companies can benefit from different approaches to problem-solving and more creative solutions to complex business issues. Younger generations bring a fresh perspective, while older generations often have more experience and knowledge. Additionally, having a mix of generations in the workplace can bring different ideas and approaches to tasks, which can help to increase productivity and work efficiency. Having a multigenerational workforce can be beneficial for businesses because it leads to a more diverse, dynamic, and productive workplace.
However, it isn’t always easy.
Working with millennials and generation Z can be a challenge for baby-boomers and generation X. Baby-boomers and generation X grew up unreliant on technology, so they may have difficulty with the technology-first approach to problem-solving that millennials and generation Z use. But the technological divide is not likely to be as wide as is often portrayed.
It seems that the challenges lie more in our approach, expectations and the way we communicate.
Differences between Gen X and Gen Z in the Workplace
Here are some of the general differences that are sometimes noted:
Generation X tends to be more independent and self-reliant
Generation Z tends to be more collaborative and team-oriented.
Generation X tends to value work-life balance
Generation Z values work-life integration.
Generation X seeks stability and longevity in their careers
Generation Z seeks flexibility and growth opportunities.
Generation X prefers to receive feedback in face-to-face or telephone conversations
Generation Z prefers to receive feedback via text or email.
Generation X prefers to work with tangible materials and processes
Generation Z prefers to work with digital tools and technologies.
Generation X prefers to work within a set of established guidelines
Generation Z is comfortable with ambiguity and new ideas.
Generation X is more comfortable with hierarchical structures
Generation Z prefers flat organizational structures.
Generation X is comfortable with having authority figures in their workplace
Generation Z prefers to work with mentors and coaches.
Generation X is more likely to be motivated by money and incentives
Generation Z is more motivated by purpose and meaning.
Generation X has a preference for traditional communication methods
Generation Z prefers digital and social media communication.
So how can these two powerful generations work together for the good of the business rather than see each other as a problem, and how can we provide the right training and development to help each thrive?
Developing Generation X
Technical training – because leaders of established businesses tend to be a little older, and because technology has evolved over time, workforces have generally been given the opportunity to develop digital skills. However, there is a concern that “you don’t know what you don’t know” so whilst generation X has (generally) mastered core technology, there’s a lot that may not be being used to its full potential and quite a lot that isn’t being used at all. In particular, embracing new technology for communication purposes is something that we need help with – but probably not what to do, rather than understanding what’s acceptable/expected.
Creativity – Generation X gets things done by working hard. We know what works, we follow established ways of working and we push on to achieve results. This is admirable but it can also make us blinkered to new, easier ways of getting things done. It may also means that we are putting in effort that’s no longer necessary. Learning how to challenge thinking and try new ways of doing things will definitely help generation X to thrive in modern workplaces.
Collaborative Working – Generation X tend to have a strong reliance on process, roles and accountability. It’s not that they are control freaks or micro-manage, but in the main they are more uncomfortable with ambiguity and sharing responsibility. This can inadvertently create conflict with younger colleagues who value working together and working things out as they go.
Developing Generation Z
Face to face communication – whether in person or on the telephone, communicating face to face isn’t as common as it used to be, and generation X often interpret this as rudeness, lack of engagement or lack of respect. The problem is that these communication skills are assumed to be normal by generation X, when they aren’t. Generation Z may need some help with communicating face-to-face, on the telephone or even by email.
Resilience – There’s no doubt that generation Z generally have a much better understanding and appreciation of mental well-being, and value it highly. This is a good thing, but it does mean that they may need help building resilience to work through the tough times when businesses need it. It’s not a character weakness, simply a skill they haven’t mastered yet.
Managing hierarchy and internal politics – in complex organisations, you can’t treat everyone the same. There are subtleties to be observed and different ways to build effective working relationships and manage stakeholders. This is especially important when in an external-facing role when you need to be the face of the organization and not just ‘be yourself’.
These of course, are broad generalisations, but the key thing is that ALL generations have natural strengths and blind spots. It’s important to harness the strengths and raise awareness of weaker traits.
So if you are a gen z trying to get ahead in a gen X led organization:
Listen to and respect the experiences of the older generations. They have a lot of insight and knowledge to offer that can help you succeed.
Take initiative and be proactive in your work. Baby boomers and generation X appreciate hard workers and those who take initiative.
Communicate efficiently and effectively. Make sure you are able to express yourself clearly in more than one way so that both generations can better understand your ideas.
Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. Don’t take it personally and use it to better yourself.
Ask questions if you don’t understand something - don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness.
Stay organized and keep up with deadlines. Be transparent with your progress – a problem or missed deadline is far more easily dealt with when we see it coming.
Utilize technology to your advantage. You have grown up in the digital age and can help to educate your older colleagues and keep them up to date.
Talk to the older generations. People are people and you probably have a lot in common if you just take time to find out.
Show appreciation for the work of the older generations. They have been in the industry for a long time and have a lot to offer. You are building on their foundations.
Have patience and understand that it may take a while for the two generations to come together and work harmoniously. Things that are obvious to you may not be to them, and vice versa.
And if you are generation X and want to harness the talents of generation Z…
Encourage open dialogue between generations - this can be done through mentoring programs, or simply having casual conversations between generations.
Leverage the latest technology and digital tools - generation Z is well-versed in the latest tech, so leveraging their knowledge and understanding can help generation X stay up to date. Don’t be afraid if you don’t fully understand it yourself.
Promote REAL collaboration and teamwork - working together can foster an environment of learning, creativity and problem solving. Place less emphasis on titles and hierarchy.
Offer flexible working arrangements - generation Z values flexibility and autonomy, so offering the opportunity to work from home or remotely can be beneficial. Focus on outputs (what they achieve) rather than INPUTS (time at their desk)
Connect them to the larger organization - providing networking opportunities with experienced professionals can help generation Z gain valuable insights and experience.
Offer informal development - generation Z may be less interested in long, formal courses and be much more open to internships and special projects to gain experience, learn new skills and discover their career path.
Embrace their creativity - generation Z is known for its creative problem-solving skills and out of the box thinking, so it's important to give them the space to explore.
Leverage their social media skills - generation Z is highly adept at using social media to reach out to customers and build relationships. Give them boundaries, but then trust them.
Tap into their entrepreneurial spirit - generation Z is full of entrepreneurs, so tapping into their enthusiasm and energy can be beneficial.
Focus on their values - generation Z values authenticity, social responsibility and sustainability, so making sure that your organization reflects these values can be beneficial.