An introduction on the Five Generations and the differences between them.
The Five Generations, eh? It’s a hot topic for those of us in the work place field, though is still taking many unawares. So, in a very small nutshell: we are at the dawn of a new age where five generations will be working side by side in the work place. It’s a huge topic with many peripheral debates and an awful lot of generalisation however, in the spirit of simplifying things, consider this a starter for ten.
The Five Generations, according to ‘What’s It All About, Alfie‘ principle:
Traditionalists: born between 1938 and 1948. The so-called ‘hanging in there’ group with an estimated 5% (1 million) of this generation still working in the UK; this is estimated to diminish to 1% by 2025.
Baby Boomers: born between 1949 and 1967; the dominant working group with 14.9 million people.
Generation X: born between 1968 and 1980; the increasingly important group of 11.4 million workers poised to take over the reins.
Millennials, or Generation Y. Helpfully, this generation is the last to be born in the previous millennium, not those born since we hit the 21st Century. Born between 1981-1999 this is a quickly growing group of 15.8 million people. The youngest will be eligible to enter the workforce in some form this year (2015) . This generation soon ‘[…] will account for nearly half the employees in the world.’ By dint of volume they are an ‘enormously powerful group that has the sheer numbers to transform every life stage it enters’.
Generation Z: are those born since 2000. There were 11.5 million of them in 2010; and their numbers are still growing. Currently in education, but will be eligible to start entering the workforce part-time in 2016.
Note: Absolute generational dates are frequently debated though give a good basic framework.
The reason why people (i.e.: work place junkies like me) are getting in a twist about this is that it has never been experienced before. It will impact all areas of business, from how managers communicate with their team to how businesses are run, from IT provision to levels of nurture managers will need to provide. It’s a game changer.
Boomers hold the majority of senior positions, with some Traditionalist executives alongside. These are the knowledge keepers, the business drivers, the leaders – and roughly 10,000 of them will turn 65 today, with 10,000 more each day for the next 19 years. They are the outgoing generation, albeit over the next twenty years.
Generation X are close at Boomer’s heels, but there are more Millennials, many of whom are in management positions already, than there are Gen Xers.
Logically, everyone else will be upwardly mobile, bringing inevitable change and challenges around preferred communication styles, IT adoption, work mobility and employment styles. The challenge is that each generation has its own way of seeing life and living it – and it’s never as clean-cut as we would like it to be because everyone is different.
Below are some fairly significant generalisations, but its a start:
Traditionalists: Hard working, financially conservative; change and risk averse; hierarchical, logical and loyal; obey and set rules with a ‘command and control’ leadership style.
Baby Boomers: An egocentric generation; work is a defining part of their self-worth and evaluation of others; ‘Live to work’; seeks collaboration and team building; culturally diverse ideals.
Generation X: Independent, resilient and adaptable; feedback and recognition; ‘Work to live’; comfortable with authority though not impressed by titles; ethnically diverse approach.
Generation Y: ‘Digital Immigrants’; Taught to question authority; distrustful and cynical; rapid adapters craving challenge; emotional resilience; flexibility is key for work life balance, dress code, management style and location; work is an extension of themselves, not a definition; global perspective with easy integration with diversity; exceptional multi-taskers that seek continuous learning and challenge; feeling of entitlement.
Generation Z: ‘Digital Natives’; entrepreneurial with strong focus on social and environmental issues globally and in the local community; Highly welcoming of diversity and less likely to subscribe to traditional gender roles; highly adaptive and seeks change. The cut-off date for this generation has yet to be identified therefore the full framework for Gen Z is not set and values, morals and behaviours are still emerging.
The crux we are all facing is that generational preferences are considerably different; communication, hierarchy and work, to name a few, are frequently polar opposites. And they are all in the work place at the same time, forging ahead in business with different agendas and approaches.
As the man (well done, Bob) said: Times they are a-changin’.
 Boomers and Millennials Whitepaper, Orangebox 2014
 Working with Five Generations in the Workplace, Forbes April 2011
 Overcoming Generational Gap in the Workplace, United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund
 Volkswagen AG; Samsung Electronics; Warren Buffet etc.
 ‘Baby boomers Retire’, PEW Research Centre, Dec 29 2010