What Are the Best Work Traits of Each Generation?
Scan the U.S. labor force and you’ll find workers from up to five different generations.1
There are more workers from the millennial generation than any other cohort.2 Members of Generation Z, the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history,3 are merging into the labor force in growing numbers. Gen X, known for its embrace of work-life balance,4 is well-represented. Baby boomers, though no longer the largest living adult generation,2 still swell the job ranks from their No. 2 spot. And members of the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945, have the deepest employment roots of all.
Do Generational Differences Matter?
HR managers know that employees have their own unique talents, expectations, and perspectives, but where they fall on the generational spectrum may certainly help shape what they bring to the workplace.
“Generations exhibit similar characteristics—such as communication, shopping, and motivation preferences—because they experienced similar trends at approximately the same life stage and through similar channels (e.g., online, TV, mobile, etc.),” the Center for Generational Kinetics explains. “Generation-shaping trends are most influential as people come of age, which means that members of a particular generation will develop and share similar values, beliefs, and expectations.”5
Of course, members of the different generations—whether millennials, baby boomers, or Gen Xers—can be as alike as they are different. The Pew Research Center calls generations “a lens through which to understand societal change rather than a label with which to oversimplify differences between groups.”6
What Are Some Characteristics of Different Generations?
Here’s what research tells us about the best work traits of the different generations, using generational ranges from the Pew Research Center: “Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science … but their boundaries are not arbitrary. Generations are often considered by their span, but … there is no agreed-upon formula for how long that span should be.”6
Gen Z: Born 1997–2012
Studies show these workers are open to feedback and favor frequent interactions with their supervisors.7 They are digitally savvy and committed to keeping in step with technological advances, bringing a “highly marketable digital mindset with them,” an Accenture study found.8 This generation is more racially and ethnically diverse than any other generation and may become the best-educated yet.3
The millennial generation, which is sometimes called Gen Y, is the largest in U.S. history9 and, not surprisingly, the fastest growing cohort in the workplace. Studies show that members of this generation embrace training and development opportunities and want to be highly engaged in meaningful work. A striking generational difference, according to one study, is their embrace of change. In the study, 76.9% of millennials polled said they were open to change, contrasted with 37.5% among baby boomers and 20.7% for Gen Xers.10
Generation X: 1965–1980
People born during the Gen X years prefer to work more independently than colleagues from other generations and have entrepreneurial tendencies. But they also enjoy working with mentors and being involved in organizations that offer growth opportunities.11 They may also have well-developed technical skills.12 More than half the Gen Xers polled in a survey characterized themselves as loyal to their employers.10
Baby Boomers: 1946–1964
Workers from this generation are known for dedication to their jobs, often characterizing themselves as “workaholics,” and for being extremely loyal to their employers.10 They may question authority, which can be a useful trait in many professions, but are also optimistic.12
Silent Generation: 1928¬–1945
Employees from this generational cohort have been described as loyal and dedicated. They value communication, collaboration, and teamwork. They are less likely to take risks than colleagues from other generations.12
Generational Differences at Work
“A workplace with millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers, and the Silent Generation offers a unique opportunity for varied perspectives and approaches to day-to-day work,” says Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, in the 2016 report “Disrupting Aging in the Workplace.”1
In fact, studies show that a generational mix is just good business: “One research study found that the relative productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies that utilize mixed-age work teams than in companies that do not,” the AARP report says. “Another study found that age diversity within a team was positively related to performance for groups that are involved in performing complex decision-making tasks.”1
Earning a human resources degree can help prepare you to inspire employees of different generations to do their best work. And Walden University’s online MS in Human Resource Management degree program can help provide the tools you need to lead effective diversity and inclusion efforts.
As you earn this online MS in Human Resource Management degree, you’ll learn from HR-certified faculty, build practical skills using AI-driven simulations, and receive all the materials you need to prepare for SHRM certification.
When you choose to earn your master’s in human resources management from Walden, you’ll be partnering with an accredited university with a long tradition of creating educational opportunities for diverse working professionals. Using Walden’s flexible online learning platform, you can set your own study schedule and work from anywhere there’s an internet connection.
Advance your career in human resource management by earning a master’s degree that gives you the tools you need to become an in-demand HR leader in today’s dynamic, multigenerational work environments.
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