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Embracing the Opportunities of Generational Diversity in the Workplace

There Are How Many Generations in the Workforce?

All organizations value diversity in their employees and recognize the value of having different viewpoints at the table. However, today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, and HR is at the forefront of developing and implementing strategies to effectively address the different needs and expectations of not only of a broad range of employee groups but also multiple generations. There are currently five generations in the workforce covering an age range from 16 to 75, and based on the Beresford Research Report are described as follows:

  • Traditionalists: This group was born between 1928 and 1945. The youngest members are in their late 70s and they are steadily growing in the workforce as fewer retire.
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964. Many baby boomers retired during the pandemic which freed up jobs for younger generations. This generation is recognized for being quite loyal their positions which allows them to develop a deep understanding of what they do, their organization, and their industry.
  • Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980. They are sometimes referred to as the “latchkey kids” during childhood, referring to them returning home to an empty house as more women entered into the workforce and before there was a growth in childcare options.
  • Millennials or Generation Y:Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials sit on both sides of the technological shift. They are the first generation to grow up with the internet. Millennials have also been called the “Unluckiest Generation” because the average millennial has experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation. The generation has also been weighed down by student debt and child-care costs.
  • Generation Z: The newest working generation, this group was born between 1997 and 2012. Gen Z’ers are considered digital natives, having grown up with cell phones, social media, and rapidly developing new technology. They represent over a quarter of the workforce and will grow to over 40% of the workforce by 2030.

This increased diversity in the workforce brings an exciting mix of skills and viewpoints that have the potential to enhance innovation and production. HR leaders have a responsibility to recognize this potential and take ownership of educating leaders and developing solutions that support the various constituents, promote engagement and at the same time support overarching business strategy. Never has there been more of a need for HR to demonstrate agility, creativity, and empathy.

Multi-Generations Means Multiple Expectations

Each generation has a preferred way of communication and this needs to be understood by HR, who in turn, need to help leaders understand both the why and how for these different approaches. Today’s HR leaders need to be agile and innovative to adapt to changing needs. Never before has it been more obvious that one size does not fit all.

Leveraging Loyalty to Overcome Knowledge Loss

Baby boomers (known for their loyalty, along with their deep understanding of what they do, their organizations, and their industries) are retiring and taking with them a lot of institutional knowledge. Mentoring programs are seen as an effective tool to allow for more experienced employees to help developing talent prepare for future roles by:

  • Providing career advice.
  • Teaching job-related skills.
  • Advising younger professionals when work issues come up (been there and got the T-shirt).

As career advancement opportunities may diminish for employees getting closer to retirement, a mentorship program can help those individuals continue to feel valued without the opportunity for further promotion. Mentors who perceive real value in passing on their wisdom and skills will maintain a higher level of engagement, and there is a stronger likelihood of retaining them for longer (even on a part-time basis), thereby creating more opportunity to retain and transfer essential knowledge.

Also important to remember: a strong mentoring program that is properly embraced by organizations positively impacts the bottom line. In a 2022 “Forbes,” article states companies with mentoring programs had 18% higher profits than average. Companies without mentoring programs had 45% worse profits than average. Mentorcliq continues to talk about the value of mentorship in 2024 stating that “the median profits for Fortune 500 companies with mentoring programs is over 2x higher than those without.

The Impact on Total Rewards

Each generation has their own expectations for their work life. From a strategic perspective total rewards leaders need to understand what incentives and benefits appeal to each cohort and implement programs to address those needs in order to attract and retain talent, while at the same time maintaining pay equity across the organization. Most organizations have been focused on developing programs that promote diversity and inclusion around ERGs, but now they need to look at this through a new lens that adds complexity but is equally important.

  • Traditionalists often need creative compensation packages. They crave appreciation and recognition and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. They desire traditional benefit packages, defined benefit retirement plans, and conventional vacation/time off.
  • Baby boomers work hard and are determined to do better than their parents to give their children the best life possible. They are motivated by money, recognition, and status symbols. Internal equity is important to them.
  • Generation X are motivated by incentives tied to individual results, and access to the best technology rather than status symbols. With a work hard/play hard mentality they are looking for work life/balance.
  • Millennials are already the largest group and will be close to 75% of the workforce in the next couple of years. They desire constant and immediate feedback and meaningful work. Work/life balance is highly desired.
  • Generation Z is the youngest and most diverse generation. They are true digital natives with short attention spans. They are eager to work, motivated by job security, and they want to contribute to meaningful work.

A recent Forbes article on workforce benefits trends (February 2024) concludes that benefits are “instrumental in shaping workers lived experiences in the workplace”. There appears to be consistent focus on flexible work options. Most organizations offer at least one type of flexible work option, and few offer a variety of options. One area gaining more attention is flexible working options for caregivers. Nearly all employees in a caregiving situation have made adjustments to their working situation to be there for those who need them. By offering options to support this cohort, organizations will be able to maintain productivity and gain goodwill among their employees. It is important for HR to recognize that there is a need to regularly review programs to keep in line with evolving employee needs.

Increased Collaboration in Learning and Development

For a multi-generational workforce to be effective and productive, individuals must continue to have opportunities to learn and grow. Learning & Development (L&D) leaders need to understand the preferences for each generation, each of which delivers value to the workforce. Age-diverse teams excel at problem-solving and experimentation, bringing together traditional views and cutting-edge approaches, resulting in innovation that takes businesses forward. From a L&D perspective creating programs that meet the needs of the employee generations need not be complicated. Areas to consider include:

  • Focus on Inclusivity: Develop learning that embraces diversity, making sure programs are readily available and relevant for all members of the multi-generational workforce.
  • Types for Learning: Offer a variety of learning formats, such as online courses, workshops, and collaboration projects, to accommodate a broad range of diverse learning preferences.
  • Create a Culture of Continuous Learning: Whereby ongoing learning is a core behavior across all levels of the organization.

Bringing together different generations in learning and development programs helps build collaboration and understanding and sharing of knowledge. More tenured employees can share their wisdom with younger generations, who in turn can teach tech and digital skills to their older colleague.

Enhancing Employee Experience via Talent Acquisition Practices

Talent Acquisition need to look closely at their strategy to attract top external talent and recognize the nuances for each generation and adapt their external employer branding messages accordingly.

Generation Z care more about the meaning of work, they are tech savvy, and they want work/life balance. Effective use of social media channels is a good way to get their attention and provides the opportunity to curate content that shows they align with your company values. They are looking to impact society and will be attracted to roles that have meaning and impact.

While Gen Z can be characterized as being focused on their own success, millennials focus more on teamwork and effectively integrating work into their lifestyle. When considering companies, millennials will be looking for organizations with a collaborative culture. They are also focused on productivity, will be looking for flexibility, and the standard 8-hour working day is not appealing.

Gen X workers are experienced and highly adaptable. They too are looking for work/life balance. They are not as focused on social media, but they do look for transparency, so honesty and clear communication about working arrangements is critical for this population.

Boomers are one of the oldest generations in the workplace and, and as such, have knowledge and experience that is very valuable. Many that have retired are looking to return to the workplace but will be looking for flexible work schedules and remote work is attractive to them. They likely have a stronger focus on benefits than the younger generations. It is important that the right technology is in place to support this (and any) generation of remote workers.

In a market where there is low unemployment and a war for talent it is essential to create a candidate experience for all generations. Some companies have considered creating different landing pages for the various generations that go over and above the usual separation of experienced versus new hires.

Using Technology to Drive Employee Engagement

Inevitably there are certain stereotypes when thinking about each generation in the workforce. According to Deloitte, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Naturally, this generation is getting most of the attention, but it is important for leaders not to focus on stereotypes and continue to cater to all in the workplace to create a culture where everyone feels valued.

We have discussed earlier the importance of a mentoring program to prevent knowledge loss. From an employee engagement perspective, companies are also looking at reverse mentoring programs. Pairing younger, tech-savvy employees with more experienced members is helping older workers pick up skills they want to learn and helps improve their performance, while at the same time allowing younger employees to gain insights from their more experienced colleagues. Mentoring programs need to be more fluid for the younger generations and move away from the traditional one mentor approach to two or three mentors each focused on different aspects.

Technology is a key factor promoting effective working and engagement across the workforce generations. Collaboration tools that can adapt to the needs of each generation and allow people to work together more effectively can have a big impact on the success of multi-generational teams. For the older employees, this provides a tool to transfer knowledge to the younger generations. For the younger generations, it gives them better insights on how their roles fit into the big picture or the organization and supports their desires to engage in roles with purpose. The right technology also creates the opportunity for flexibility that several employee generations are seeking for a variety of reasons. It supports the “how” of working by creating connectivity no matter where the employee is based. But think carefully about why a new technology is needed: make sure decisions are made from a people perspective. How will the new technology support and engage them? Also, do not expect all employee generations will adopt new systems seamlessly.

Helping Leaders Lead in a Multi-Generational Environment

As individuals grow and move into leadership roles, making that transition into a leader is always a challenge. It is important for any leader to make sure they are open-minded and not focused on stereotypes. As they look to understand each team member and how to motivate them, they equally need to also consider the needs and differences of each of the workforce generations. HR should collaborate with leaders to help them:

  • Build teams with mixed ages: Each generation can then bring its unique perspective and skills to a project and diversity of thinking creates innovation.
  • Be aware of communication preferences: Each generation comes with its own preferences for communication. It is important for leaders to be aware of this and to adapt their messaging accordingly.
  • Set clear expectations: Minimize the risks of any misunderstandings by establishing clear expectations on how the team operates and hold all accountable. Once everyone knows how they should interact with one another, there is less room for conflict, ageism, or confusion.
  • Promote inclusivity. Ensure managers are thoughtful when arranging any team-building initiatives. There is always a focus on doing something fun to help break down barriers, but it is important to ensure any events are accessible to all ages and abilities.

In Summary

Balancing the needs of these generations means there is no longer “one size fits all”. In order to maintain a high degree of engagement it is important for HR to equip leaders with the tools that will allow them to:

  • Recognize and respect differences.
  • Communicate uniquely with each generation as they prefer.
  • Create workplace choices in compensation and benefits where possible.
  • Provide flexible leadership and adapt to what works with each generation.
  • Build and promote a learning environment to attract and retain a diverse set of individuals.

Regardless of the generational mix in the workplace, create experiences that engage and empower individuals to achieve shared business objectives. It really comes down to establishing, implementing, and maintaining a strategic vision to motivate and develop diverse employees. Each of the five generations in the workforce bring different experiences and expertise to the table. The challenge for organizations is to find a way to leverage all of that to support their vision and strategy. The role for HR professionals is to help create an environment that gets rid of negative generational stereotypes, one where every generation feels valued and is able to contribute their best.


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Key Contributors:

Nicola Hasling
Nicola Hasling

Senior Director

Consulting Team
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Nicola Hasling
Consulting Team

Nicola Hasling

Senior Director

Nicola Hasling is a Senior Director with ChapmanCG and is based in Northern Virginia, in the United States. She is responsible for senior level HR searches across all disciplines of HR in the energy, industrial, pharmaceutical, financial and professional services, and consumer goods sectors for major blue chip and private equity backed organizations.

Prior to joining ChapmanCG, Nicola was with Heidrick & Struggles International where she was a core member of the firm’s CHRO, CEO and Board of Directors, Private Equity, and Energy and Natural Resources practices. Originally from the United Kingdom, Nicola has over 20 years of experience in executive search, primarily in the US and has also conducted international searches in Europe and Asia. In her earlier career, Nicola worked in human resources management roles, corporate sales and for the diplomatic service in London and Prague.

She holds an MBA from Henley Management College, England. After spending time in Houston, Texas, she is now located close to Washington, D.C., which allows her the opportunity to spend time with her horse and compete in eventing and continue to try to improve her tennis skills.