The Secret to Success in an Inter-Generational Tech Workplace
By 2020, four generations will coexist in the workplace: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (also known as Millennials), and Generation Z. This means that on a daily basis, you will interact with vastly different people from a variety of age groups, backgrounds, and values.
The key to successfully communicating and collaborating with each of these coworkers and managers across several generations is to first understand their communication style, values, and workplace priorities. Below, we have provided some of this essential information. Although it is impossible—and potentially harmful—to overgeneralize the characteristics of each generation, and the people within those cohorts, the following material is meant to provide an initial baseline to facilitate positive workplace interactions.
Read through and then reach out to our experienced Consultants to discover the ideal IT, engineering, or telecommunications position for you within industry-leading organizations around the world.
Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)
Because Baby Boomers grew up during the Therefore War and Cold War, many value security over flexibility. Therefore, this generation is known for sticking with one company at length and accruing lengthier tenures than later cohorts.
A survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research determined that more than 40% of employed Baby Boomers had spent at least two decades with the same employer, and 18% of those had been with their employer for at least three decades. Work ethic, loyalty, and competency all feature prominently in Baby Boomers’ workplace values.
40% of employed Baby Boomers had been with their employers for at least 20 years, and nearly 20% of those had stayed for 30 years.
Above all, Boomers value respect. When approaching a coworker or manager of this generational cohort, diplomacy is the name of the game. Get to the point quickly but don’t sacrifice tact for speed.
How to Build a Successful Relationship With a Baby Boomer:
Should you manage a Baby Boomer employee, keep in mind that the ideal rewards for this generational cohort include many extrinsic factors like: promotions, financial incentives, awards, and public recognition. All in all, they want to feel rewarded for their contributions in very concrete ways.
Additionally, you may have to work extra hard to make Baby Boomers feel welcome and engaged in the workplace, as the majority of technology and engineering positions often go to younger candidates; in a survey conducted by PayScale, only 26% of U.S. technology organizations reported that the average age of their employees is greater than 40.
When working alongside Boomers in a team or interacting with a manager from this generation, keep in mind that these employees are known for having a strong work ethic. They focus on getting the job done and may expect the same level of focus and dedication from their team members and subordinates.
Organizations may need to work harder to engage Baby Boomers than employees from other generations considering the smaller number of them in the workplace; only 26% of technology companies in America reported that their average employee age landed above 40.
Gen X (1965 – 1980):
The children of Baby Boomers, Generation X couldn’t be more different. While their predecessors value strong work ethic and are known for a “work hard now, retire later” mentality, Gen Xers are typically more interested in greater work-life balance rather than sacrificing too much personal time for career advancement. In fact, according to MetLife’s Study of the American Dream, Gen Xers are more likely to prioritize their personal lives and families over finances.
This cohort also tends to enjoy a far more casual work environment and approach to work than their older counterparts, and seek out work that is fulfilling and meaningful. Lastly, while many Baby Boomers have been at their companies for several decades, Generation Xers are much more willing to move companies and positions throughout their careers in order to suit their changing needs… though this does not mean that they are disloyal. In a study of employees across generations, Indeed and Censuswide found that the average Gen X employee had occupied their position for approximately 7 years.
Generation X employees are more likely to prioritize their families and personal lives over finances. In general, they tend to prefer work-life balance and work schedule flexibility over pay and benefits.
Although Gen Xers are quite different from Baby Boomers, they also appreciate direct communication. When interacting with this cohort, pursue the straightforward approach and feel free to be less formal than when doing so with Baby Boomers.
How to Build a Successful Relationship With a Gen Xer:
When managing a Gen X employee, remember that they will not necessarily be motivated by the same types of rewards as Baby Boomers. Although benefits like promotions and bonuses will hold some sway, many Gen Xers may prefer time off or increased freedom/flexibility in the workplace. Additionally, this group often appreciates learning experiences—provide opportunities to increase their skill set and try new things whenever possible.
Collaborating with team members from this cohort? Be sure to include them in projects by asking for their input and allowing them to tackle tasks that leverage their strengths.
When communicating with Gen Xers, pursue the straightforward approach and feel free to adopt a more casual attitude than you would with Baby Boomers.
Should you have a Gen X manager or director, understand that they may expect you to want the same type of management style that they prefer: hands-off, more casual interactions, and immediate feedback.
Millennials (1977 – 1995):
Millennials, also known as Generation Y, have gained a reputation for prioritizing flexibility, freedom, and meaningful work above salary. In fact, more than half of Millennials are willing to earn less in order to work for a company that aligns with their values, and 90% crave opportunities to leverage their skills and talents to make the world a better place.
It comes as no surprise that with these career desires, many Millennials have an entrepreneurial streak. Within organizations, this often expresses itself as a desire to “own” their projects and experiment with out-of-the-box solutions.
90% of Millennials want to use their skills and talents to better the world.
Mentorship—that is what Millennials want in a workplace. When managing employees from this cohort, be ready to provide consistent, positive feedback. Feel free to bypass formalities and communicate more casually via email, texting, phone, and instant message; unlike Baby Boomers and some Gen Xers, face time isn’t a necessity.
How to Build a Successful Relationship With a Millennial:
In general, Gen Yers crave an optimistic, collaborative environment where they can develop their skills under the guidance of a more experienced professional. When managing Gen Y employees, provide plenty of variety and opportunities for advancement. If Millennials feel that their career development is stagnating, they will not hesitate to move on.
When working with Millennial coworkers, it is best to bring a positive attitude to the table and frame things in terms of team successes and growth rather than just personal wins—especially if these team successes involve altruistic outcomes. More than 80% of Millennials claim that making a difference in the world is more important than professional recognition.
Finally, when working with a Generation Y manager, remember that this generation has a reputation for their impatience and high expectations. Do not take challenges and demanding standards personally!
When establishing a working relationship with a Millennial team member or subordinate, appeal to their altruism and team mentality. 84% of Millennials claim that improving the world is more important than workplace recognition.
Gen Z (1996 – present):
The first true technology generation, Generation Z is a cohort of digital natives. As such, they are ultra-connected and used to thriving in collaborative, fast-paced environments. For Gen Zers, change is the end game—similar to Millennials, they are not afraid to challenge tradition and disrupt industries like IT, telecommunications, and engineering, which has resulted in a rapidly-expanding freelancer economy.
However, thanks to growing up in a post-9/11 world and one heavily affected by the Great Recession and political and economic instability, Gen Z is far more risk-averse and pragmatic than the Millennial generation. Like Baby Boomers, they desire career security and are therefore much more motivated by extrinsic factors like salary, bonuses, and benefits such as health insurance.
When Generation Z wants feedback, they want it now. They were raised on instant online communication and tend to expect that of their in-person interactions with coworkers and managers as well (and in fact, the average Gen Z employee has an attention span of just eight seconds, so concise messaging is not just a preference but a necessity as well).
How often should you be touching base? Generation Z employees prefer honest and transparent communication on a daily or weekly basis rather than annual performance reviews.
How to Build a Successful Relationship With Gen Z Employees:
When overseeing Generation Z employees, bear in mind that these workers want to advance quickly. They are anxious to prove themselves, build their skills, and move up the ladder. The secret to engagement for these young team members: help them improve in their roles and provide plenty of security in the form of benefits and competitive salaries. Also, do not forget that these employees crave recognition; they want to know that their contributions matter. Make an effort to extend praise on a regular basis.
If working with team members from this cohort, recognize that they may be protective of their job or project roles—they want to take ownership of their responsibilities and have the chance to shine. Appeal to this desire by demonstrating the mutual benefits of working together, and then give them room to tackle their tasks in the way they see fit.
Lastly, if you are reporting to a Generation Z manager, expect a hands-off management style in general. They prefer not to be micromanaged and will most likely demonstrate that preference in their approach to leading others as well.
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