Each generation is typically characterized by a set of workplace stereotypes. Millennials in particular have had a bad rap in recent years. Stereotypes, however, abound for every age group.
The ‘Silent’ generation is considered to be collaborative, dedicated and loyal. As traditionalists, they work hard and respect authority, but are also believed to be rigid, mired in the past and unwilling to embrace change.
Baby boomers have been described as the ‘me’ generation - competitive, focused, power driven workaholics with a higher sense of entitlement than the generation before. They are considered more open to change but ambivalent about authority. They are retiring later than any generation before them.
Sometimes referred to the ‘slacker’ generation, Gen Xers are focused on work/life balance. Self-reliant, independent and pragmatic, they are also more cynical, impatient and self-absorbed. They typically have strong technical skills and adapt more easily to instability in the workplace.
The first generation to have come of age in the internet era, Millenials are less cynical, more hopeful, and fun-seeking. They are resilient, navigating change well, and have an increased appreciation for diversity and inclusion. They are also considered demanding, spoiled and overly dependent on technology.
As the most ethically diverse generation of all, the need to be inclusive is a non-issue for Generation Z. As true digital natives, they adapt easily to new technologies and software. Entrepreneurial and independent, they are more risk averse than previous generations, and are motivated by security and money. While willing to work hard, they expect to be suitably rewarded. They also expect the workplace to conform to their needs, and they place a high premium on ethics and values.
However, many experts say there are more similarities than differences between generations in the workplace. In her 2019 book, The Remix—How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace: generational expert Lindsay Pollak says, “The longer I study generations in the workplace, the more similarities I find in what people want out of work. Those fundamentals—meaning, purpose, good leaders, professional growth—don’t change. What changes is how each generation expresses these needs and what expectations we have about our employers’ fulfillment of them.”
Despite the stereotypes, similarities and differences, it appears as though the relevance of generation in the workplace is diminishing. The current workforce is far more complicated than any before, and a wider lens is required. Today, the ‘lines’ are becoming blurred and employees of all ages are adopting preferences once primarily associated with other generations, such as baby boomers seeking employers that honour their values and offer enhanced flexibility.
Perennials, a term first articulated by Gina Pell, refers to “a group of people of all ages, stripes, and types who transcend stereotypes and make connections with each other and the world around them… people of all ages who continue to push up against their growing edge, always relevant, and not defined by their generation.”
Workers of every generation have become adept at reinventing themselves, redefining their roles and committing to lifelong learning. By labelling and generalizing people according to age, we lose sight of their full potential to enhance and enrich our organizations.
Going forward, progressive organizations will take a value- or attitude-based approach to the workforce. They will seek out and engage ‘perennials’ whose skills, competencies, values and attributes align with the organization’s needs - regardless of age or any other demographic.
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