Generations In The Workplace: A Guide
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Generations In The Workplace: A Guide

Employers have always had to juggle generational conflict in the workplace, and we're entering a new phase, with Generation Z entering businesses. So what makes them tick? How do we integrate new employees and how do we understand them? This Factoid looks at the new generations we're employing, and what they expect from an employer.

There’s a new generation entering the workplace, and they’ve been labelled “Generation Z”. Not only does this beg the question “what’s next now we’ve been through X, Y and Z”, but it begs the question “why are they so different?”

Generation Z are a relative unknown, but what we do know about generations in the workplace is that their attitudes towards work are formed by the environment in which they were brought up. For example, Generation X, born between 1964 and 1978, experienced Thatcherism, strikes, conflict with the miners, ongoing recession, and then ongoing prosperity – at least until 2007.

Generation X is known as a cynical generation – in comparison to the Baby Boomers who preceded them, whose attitude towards work was always that of “jobs for life” and “climbing the ladder” within one organisation. Generation X provide loyalty within reason, and are quite happy to job-hop.

Generation Y (79-91 birthdates), who populate many of the executive roles within businesses today, have very little trust in their employers – and indeed many of them see employment as a means to an end. This isn’t to say that Generation Y are poor employees – they are different, and employers must understand the different motivations between each generation.

For example, Generation Y is less interested in money. While they naturally expect to be well remunerated, they are more interested in joining an ethical employer, or a brand with which they empathise. Previous generations took a more hard-nosed approach by negotiating salary and bonuses on a regular basis. Generation Y has become renowned for turning down jobs in businesses that don’t have a Corporate Social Responsibility profile – or accepting lower-paid jobs in businesses that contribute to charity.

Generation Z is filtering into the workplace now, and they will present a wholly different challenge to previous generations. For example, I have heard a number of examples of young graduates turning up to work interviews with their parents. This would never have happened, even with Generation Y, and businesses have to display a new range of sensibilities.

Technology is going to play a significant role in how these new generations function in the workplace. For instance, old laptops that take 20 minutes to load in the morning reflect badly on an employer. Recent generations have abandoned e-mail, too, in favour of social media, and they also have a more segmented approach to the way they communicate. The immediacy of information is important to them. If employers fail to recognise this, and fail to respond, then they will fail to keep talented employees and bring them through their pipeline.

We’re entering a more interactive workplace, and the more Generations Y and Z begin to take control of managerial roles within our businesses, the more we will see a greater impatience. Previous generations cannot stand back and shake their heads in disbelief – they need to integrate and modernise for the future of their businesses. That’s the challenge that awaits.


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