How Four Generations Differ in Their Approaches to Work

By: Tim Elmore

In 2020, I heard a 19-year-old member of Generation Z use the word cheugy as he made fun of someone who was trying too hard to be hip and trendy. When I asked what older person he was poking fun at, he explained it was a 29-year-old Millennial. I laughed in disbelief. The generation gap surfaces so quickly. Too often, instead of bridging the gap between old and young, we’ve allowed the chasm to widen. During lunch breaks, water cooler conversations, or even text message threads, we find it easier to talk to our own kind. When we don’t understand someone, it’s easier to make fun of them. It’s like different demographics living in different zip codes at times. It often feels like too much work to get to know a 22-year-old when we are 55.

Want proof? Over the last several years, hashtags on social media surfaced like

         #HowToConfuseAMillennial  (Boomers and Gen Xers making fun of Millennials)

         #OKBoomer (Millennials making fun of Boomers)

         #OKNancy  (Generation Z making fun of Generation X)

         #Doggo (Generation Z making fun of Millennials)

        #BoomerRemover (Millennials and Gen Z making fun of Boomers)

(This last one was in poor taste, citing COVID-19 as the cause of death for many Boomers.)

Four Generations Working Together

The diversity we feel among our teams is not going away anytime soon. Because people are living and working longer, we will experience multiple generations on our staff. Because people are relocating more often, we will experience multiple backgrounds on our staff. To wish for a homogenous group of people to work with is wishing for a past that is long gone. At Growing Leaders, we have four generations attempting to collaborate: Generation Z, millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers. Each one of them:

  • Brings a different approach to work and the workplace.
  • Embraces a different expectation for the role of work.
  • Shares a different opinion about finances and compensation.

GoodHire just released a new study uncovering how full-time American workers (really) feel about their jobs in 2021. They surveyed 4,000 Americans, an equal number of baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers. Their findings were enlightening to me:

  • Eighty-three percent of all American workers would prefer a four-day workweek. 
  • Fifty-seven percent of millennials are very happy at work, making them the happiest generation.
  • Twenty-two percent of Gen Zers are either unhappy or hate work, making them the most unhappy generation.
  • Sixty percent of millennials find great meaning and purpose at work — making them the most fulfilled generation.
  • Gen Z is the least fulfilled with just 41% finding great meaning and purpose.
  • Gen Z is the least satisfied with work-life balance while millennials are the most satisfied.
  • Only 30% of baby boomers are completely happy with their pay, followed by Gen Z (32%), Gen X (42%), and millennials (47%). 
  • Sixty-eight percent of millennials are happier working remotely, while baby boomers are the least happy with remote work (37%).
  • Only nine percent of all American workers surveyed are less engaged and satisfied when working remotely.
  • Millennials lead the charge in searching for a new job in the next 12 months, with 46% of them planning to do so.
  • Baby boomers are the least likely to be on the job hunt next year (19%).
  • Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers are most bothered by their boss or manager, while baby boomers are the most bothered by insufficient pay.

The Ironies in Our Take Away                                                                               

Did you notice some ironies from this data? Millennials are the happiest with their work but are the most likely to pursue a new job. They find work fulfilling but maybe not in the job they currently have. Could we change that by connecting with them? If Gen Zers are the least happy with their jobs but the second most happy with their pay, can we find a better way to remunerate them? If baby boomers are unhappy with their compensation but not looking for new places to work, are there ways we can honor them beyond a paycheck?

GoodHire offers its own conclusions. It’s important for both employers and employees to have a plan when it comes to compensation, goals, and what they truly want out of their jobs in terms of pay. Remote work is the new way of the world, and just a tiny percentage of workers said they feel less engaged because of it. So the return-to-office topic must be discussed at all workplaces. And finally, our work-life balance needs improvement. People value their time away from work more than ever before, and this concept can’t be avoided by employers. Leaders must demonstrate that they value their employees’ lives outside of their work.

Let’s build bridges rather than walls to these various generations.

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How Four Generations Differ in Their Approaches to Work