Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
Never in history have five different generations been in the workforce simultaneously — but they are today. The Silent Generation, baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z are all potentially collaborating on the job in any given company or work experience.
Considering that there’s close to a century between the oldest and youngest people in these generational cohorts, their work styles and preferences naturally differ. This presents unprecedented challenges when it comes to understanding one another and working respectfully together.
Below, we explore more about each of these generations and consider strategies to help facilitate unity and team cohesion in this melting pot of diverse viewpoints and experiences that spans nearly 100 years.
What Does Each Generation Value?
Richard Nolan, chief people officer at Epos Now, told FlexJobs that he has seen firsthand how different generations in the workforce often have conflicting needs and requirements.
In order to bridge these gaps, he’s found that it’s important to understand the distinct characteristics of each generation and how they affect their work, which he describes as follows.
Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are typically characterized as hardworking, loyal, and conscientious employees.
“They tend to value face-to-face communication over other forms of contact, such as email or messaging tools,” Nolan says. “Moreover, many baby boomers enjoy working autonomously but can also be team players when needed.”
Born between 1965 and 1980, these tech-savvy professionals are well educated and experienced in their careers.
“Generally speaking, Gen Xers place more emphasis on maintaining a good work-life balance than earlier generations did, as well as valuing loyalty within an organization,” Nolan says.
“They prefer clear orders from management but respect autonomy when appropriate. Be sure that any new initiatives or projects clearly outline expectations for success so there are no misunderstandings down the line.”
Born between 1981 and 2000, “millennials prioritize flexible working arrangements, such as remote working opportunities or flex time, which suits them perfectly in this digital age where technology has allowed us to stay constantly connected from anywhere across the world,” Nolan says.
“However, this does bring up issues around trust that leaders must consider before offering these options persistently for all staff members regardless of generation.”
Nolan has also found that millennials appreciate feedback but need it to be specific.
“Otherwise, they will not engage with it on a deeper level, which could lead to demotivation and alienation amongst peers if not addressed properly by managers and colleagues alike during times when collaboration is essential across teams/departments, etc.,” Nolan says.
Born between 2001 and 2020, Gen Z values diversity, inclusion, and transparency within organizations due to their focus on online connectivity through social media platforms.
Nolan shares that this can have both positives and negatives depending on whether certain topics become too heated during office hours due to the sharing of polarized ideas.
“Nonetheless, Gen Z’s high level of consumerism provides marketers with invaluable insights into current trends using data analytics, even though millennials remain firmly rooted as industry favorites still today in terms of shaping consumer behavior overall,” Nolan says.
How To Collaborate Across Generations
This panoply of work styles and approaches requires open-mindedness toward each other’s life experiences, plus some creativity when solving problems together, according to Nolan, who suggests “listening respectfully while expressing concerns promptly based on individual strengths learned along life’s journey thus far.”
He believes this ultimately allows everyone involved, both employees and managers, much greater satisfaction during interactions regardless of generational nuances.
Shirley Borg, Head of Human Resources at Energy Casino, underlines the positive about the multigenerational pool of workers.
Her company’s current workforce consists of four of the five generations — baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z — and Borg emphasizes that the organization has fostered an “inclusive culture” that celebrates the differences among generations while leveraging their strengths.
“Our HR team provides regular intergenerational training and development programs, encouraging cross-generation mentorship, and promoting an open-door policy for employees to raise concerns,” the head of HR says.
Borg shared the following specific strategies that Energy Casino uses to achieve these goals.
1. Cross-Generational Pairing — With a Catch
Borg’s company pairs people from different generations to work with each other but doesn’t tell them they are paired for this reason.
“Whenever people feel aware of the age differences, they somehow become much more hostile or too self-aware in a way where it’s hard to make them relax,” she says. “However, simply pairing people from different generations to work together gives phenomenal results.”
As an example, the company organized a virtual brainstorming session where baby boomers and Generation Z worked together to develop new marketing strategies.
Borg explains that the baby boomers brought in their experience and knowledge of traditional marketing techniques, while Gen Z employees brought in their expertise in digital marketing.
“This collaboration resulted in a well-rounded marketing plan that effectively leveraged both traditional and digital channels,” Borg says.
2. Generation-Sensitive Policy Creation
Energy Casino also created a flexible work schedule policy to accommodate the needs of the company’s employees, particularly millennials and Gen X.
“This policy allows employees to choose their work hours and location, as long as their work meets the required standards and deadlines,” Borg says.
She notes that this flexible schedule has improved employee morale while reducing absenteeism, leading to increased productivity and employee satisfaction.
While five generations in the workplace can create challenges for employees and employers alike, the diversity of perspectives and strengths brought to the collective table can be beneficial for all involved.
“Having a varied workforce with people from various generations gives a richness of experience and viewpoints,” Borg concludes.
Uniting Generations Through Flexible Work
While each generation may have different values, professionals of all ages can work together successfully by bridging gaps in communication, leveraging their unique strengths to collaborate, and taking advantage of flexible work arrangements that accommodate their individual needs for work-life balance.