Generational diversity in the workplace Part 1: How it could impact your staffing decisions

For the first time ever, four generations are working together and having to blend their individual talents and the general qualities that typically mark each group. As you can imagine, there’s now a lot of age diversity in the workplace!

You have the pre-baby boomers, sometimes referred to as “traditionalists,” who may have experienced World War II rationing and then the baby boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964 and lived through post-war consumerism. Up next is generation X who were born between 1965 and 1985 and saw the beginning decline of U.S. manufacturing due to outsourcing and technology. Generation Y or Millennials were born after 1985 and were the first to relate their entire lives through technology.

Most developmental theorists believe that shared events will define and influence a generation and how they act in the workplace. Certainly every baby boomer is not the same, but the commonality of experiencing significant events together will create shared values and behaviors, according to a University of Minnesota paper titled, “Generational differences in the workplace.”

Those very same differences in shared experiences that make us interesting as individuals can lead to friction in the workplace. Older generations like baby boomers may be either mildly confused or outright dismayed or angered by Millennials, according to the whitepaper. In contrast, Millennials are often either openly or silently railing against typical office infrastructure and are sometimes bewildered or angered by older generations’ lack of flexibility or high expectations. 

Of course, these differences or scenarios are not perfect and not every office is the same. However, there is an overall trend in the workplace that workers of all ages are experiencing either outright disdain or confusion.

Work ethic
One of the most talked about generational divide topics is the perceived decline in work ethic among younger workers. According to the paper, generation X was largely labeled the slacker generation, while boomers were considered workaholics. However, there is no concrete evidence that this is true. One Tang and Tzeng study from 1992 found that as age increased, reported work ethic actually decreased and these results were backed by further research. However, studies are conflicting on this. Because there is no clear cut answer on whether a worker’s productivity decreases as they age, businesses are creating long-term strategies that compromise between the advantages and disadvantages associated with workers of all generations. For example, the Work World Journal reports that companies are creating varying incentives for workers to choose from because not all people will be motivated for the same reward – especially across generational divides. 

Loyalty toward an employer
Another disparity between the ages comes across in perceived loyalty toward an employer. Most baby boomers are perceived as highly loyal to their company and will only have one to three employers during their lifetime. Generation Xers will often have twice the number of employers and more particularly, feel loyalty to their peers and coworkers over the company. This variation results in greater job hopping for the younger group and demonstrations of fairness between the employer and employee is seen in example situations of providing two-weeks notice before leaving an organization. In contrast to both of these groups, Millennials are expected to have 15 to 20 jobs during the course of their working lives and only stay at an individual employer for less than three years.

After all those years spent dismissing frequent job hoppers, your staffing firm may be looking at this trend on an applicant’s resume as a plus or just a generational norm. What a change!

The disruptive changes that occur in the workplace due to personnel leaving can be leveraged for good. By creating a flexible office that thrives on changing dynamics, a cohesive department can pick up the slack that is created when one person leaves a position until another is hired and ramped up to pace. 

Respect and authority
When discussing the differences and attitudes in the workplace between the different generations you can’t forget the issues that are cropping up regarding respect and authority. Traditionalists and baby boomers largely were brought up with the concept that an employer should always be respected and authority is created by age and time spent at a workplace. Boomers are comfortable with a top-down approach to management and regard those in authority positions with a certain level of mystique. However, younger generations, especially Millennials interact with authority figures in a more natural and casual way and don’t find it unusual to question upper management.

Because ageism in the workplace is both illegal and can harm productivity, it is important for a business to create the systems in place that will better support a clean more collaborative environment between various generations. Staffing and recruiting companies can play an important role in helping business’ achieve a highly productive, generationally diverse workforce. While staffing and recruiting software cannot help select candidates or employees by age BY LAW, it can enable staffing agencies to select by experience, qualifications, and other criteria important to business success.