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What’s new about a multi-generational workforce?  Surely, we have always had age-diversity at work.  The difference now is that up to five generations could be working together often with very different world views and work values. With more older workers remaining in the workplace for longer, it is possible that Traditionalists (anyone born prior to 1946) could be working alongside a Gen Z (born between 1997-2012) or any generation in between.  While this is great for the unique perspectives each generation brings, there is a need for organisatons to pay more attention to how best to leverage the benefits of a multi-generational workforce.

 Research provides us with insights into key differences in the work values of the five generations currently in the workforce. The differences are grounded in the shared life experiences and unique challenges and opportunities each generation has faced. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that whilst there are differences, there can often be significant cross-over in values across generations, and important differences within generations depending on gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. For example, across all generations in the workforce, increasingly there is a desire for greater flexibility. In this article we outline just some of the general findings regarding work value characteristics from a range of academic research.

 There are smaller numbers (1%) of Traditionalists (people born prior to 1946 also known as the Builders and Pre-Boomers) in the workforce than other generations. Of the 70 and 80 year old’s still working, they tend to be characterised by their respect for authority, hard work and loyalty. Among babyboomers (1946-1964), who make up 25 percent of the workforce, work is considered significant to their self-worth.  They have a strong work ethic often putting in long hours and expect this of others as well.  At the same time, they can be great mentors. Generation X (1965-1980) make up 31 percent of the workforce and are particularly interested in work-life balance.  They witnessed their parents working long hours and making great sacrifices for work. As a result, they tend to be independent, resilient and adaptable.  Unlike Traditionalists and Boomers, they tend to be less respectful of hierarchy, believing all people need to earn respect.

Millenials or Gen Y (1981-1996) make up 34 per cent of the workforce and were raised during what is known as the “empowerment” years. They were encouraged by parents to challenge authority and make their own choices and they expect employers to accommodate their expectations.  They are also the digital natives who grew up with technology and because of this are skilled in new ways of collaborating using new technologies and social media.  Gen Z (born after 1997) make up 9 per cent of the workforce and they have been influenced by major world events like September 11, the war on terror and climate change. They are and will be interested more in a company’s values, ethics and social impact than the quality of their product.  While they are found to prefer working independently, they also value connection.  Of all the generations in the workforce, they accept and understand the benefits of diversity.

Multi-generational workforces are critical to the development of new innovations, to the representation, understanding and communication of different consumer needs and to the critical thinking and problem solving required in contemporary workplaces.  Developing offerings that attract and retain different generations and understanding, supporting and leveraging the benefits of a multi-generational workforce should be a priority for all organisations.

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