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For the first time in history, many workplaces are experiencing up to five generations working together, creating situations that present opportunities and challenges for HR professionals.
In a report released in December 2016, "Top 10 Ethics & Compliance Predictions and Recommendations for 2017," Navex Global, a Portland, Ore.-based provider of ethics and compliance solutions, formulated suggestions based on input from about 12,500 client organizations.
Today's workplaces are populated with workers ranging from age 14 to 80-plus. Here's how employers can foster an understanding of the traits and concerns common to each generational group—being mindful that not every worker can be neatly pegged by generational descriptions—to create a dynamic, thriving workplace.
Millennials (see the chart below) are the largest segment of the workforce, making up about 25 percent, Navex said. The number of Millennials in the workforce surpassed the number of Baby Boomers in 2014 and Generation Xers in 2015.
Members of the Silent Generation still play a role in the workplace and make up about 3 percent of the global workforce.
The youngest generation, Nexters, make up 3 percent of the global workforce, Navex said.
Years of Birth
1900 to 1945
1946 to 1964
1965 to 1980
1981 to 2000
2000 to present
Navex predicts that, by 2020, Millennials will make up 50 percent of the worldwide workforce, and Nexters will make up 20 percent of the global workforce.
What Are the Different Generations Like?
Navex identified traits common to each generation.
The oldest group, the Silent Generation, places great importance on duty and loyalty. This is the generation most apt to spend an entire career at one company. While they might struggle with technology, they are the most engaged employees and like teamwork, according to the report
The next group, Baby Boomers, see their self-worth tied to career and are seen by others as "workaholics" driven by material acquisitions and titles. Their optimistic outlook has helped them to embrace technology, even though person-to-person communication is their preference. They are team-oriented.
Generation Xers include the first "latchkey kids," Navex said. This experience contributes to their independence: They would rather work alone. They seek feedback only when they need it and are adaptable, motivated by a need for security and comfortable with technology.
Generation Xers could be an important indicator of future workplace trends and concerns. Sonya Rosenberg, an employment law attorney with the Chicago-based law firm Neal Gerber & Eisenberg, said because Generation Xers are leading the younger generation of workers, leadership trends in the workplace are focusing around their concerns.
Millennials are technology experts, being the first generation to grow up using the Internet. Navex said in the report that "they are typically confident (and sometimes overconfident) due to highly involved, affirming parents." Because their childhoods were often "overscheduled," they are comfortable with multitasking, Navex said.
Millennials expect lots of feedback and rewards in the workplace. Work/life balance is more important to them than salary. Millennials want to do work that improves society, putting emphasis on corporate social responsibility, sustainability and diversity.
The youngest group, Nexters are "digital natives and, though time will tell, at this early stage they seem to have shorter attention spans and limited interpersonal skills," Navex said in the report. As a group, they are creative, especially with respect to technology.
Nexters are not primarily motivated by money but instead by a flexible lifestyle, Navex said. Like Millennials, they have strong commitments to social responsibility. Interestingly, though immersed in technology, they prefer face-to-face communications, Navex said. They enjoy working in structured, small teams.
Having a baseline knowledge of the generalities presented by the different generations is helpful, said Donatella Verrico, chief human resources officer at New York law firm Lowenstein Sandler. But, she cautioned, don't automatically assume that each worker fits into a generational category. Verrico suggested that HR professionals use knowledge of the characteristics ascribed to each generation "to meet each worker halfway."
In addition to having knowledge of the traits often presented by each generation, it is important for HR professionals to understand how to help the generations work together so as to create a cohesive multigenerational workforce.
Focus on Strengths
Look for ways to combine the strengths of each generation to develop teams, said Mary Bennett, vice president of Navex Global's Advisory Services.
In spite of the stereotype about younger generations being unwilling to connect in-person, Generation Xers like to work in teams and Nexters like face-to-face contact, Bennett said. A surprise finding: All of the generations report loving teamwork, Bennett said.
Boomers can work with younger people on project management and interpersonal skills. And the older generations can learn about technology from the younger generations, she noted.
Connecting newer workers with mentors from the experienced generations can increase engagement and retention of employees in all groups, according to Bennett.
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Feedback and Flexible Work Environments
The generations have different expectations for feedback and different motivators for engagement and retention, Navex said. For example, the two younger generations expect lots of feedback. Bennett said younger workers are used to getting that kind of direction as they had "a lot of parenting."
Verrico agreed. "They are used to being coached and handheld," she said.
Flexible work environments also are important to younger workers, Bennett said. They want to be able to work from home, take an afternoon off and then work a little extra at some other time. Younger workers say they will leave a job that pays well for an opportunity that offers greater flexibility, she noted.
Lisa Burden, J.D., is a legal reporter in Baltimore.
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