By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Generations have always existed side-by-side in the workforce. Fathers and sons founded startups together, just as 20-somethings learned the ropes from someone 20 years their senior. Workforce age gaps spanning a couple decades isn’t uncommon. What’s unique now is the scope of today’s multigenerational workplace.

More than just Baby Boomers and Millennials (read Millennials in the workplace), there are an unprecedented 5 generations in the workplace today.

The 5 generations in today’s workplace

  1. The Silent Generation, born before 1946
  2. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
  3. Gen-X, born between 1965 and 1980
  4. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996
  5. Gen-Z, born after 1996

All told, there could be 70 years’ difference between your youngest and oldest employees. It’s a situation unlike anything that’s ever occurred.

How did we get so many generations?

Today’s multigenerational workforce is no accident. It’s the product of many factors, some major and some minor. For example, people are living longer than ever before, which has pushed the need for more retirement income. This is simultaneously exacerbated by the high cost of U.S. medical care, which means people must  squirrel away even more during their working years. It goes on and on.

The bottom-line explanation for having so many generations in the workplace is far simpler: More people are working longer.

As fresh college grads and new wage earners enter the workforce, they’ve historically taken the place of retiring employees in their 50s and 60s. With older workers hanging on for as many as 10 to 15 years longer, generational turnover in the workforce is down. The middle generations aren’t getting any younger, either.

The result is three plentiful generations of workers (Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials), sandwiched by two generations—one on the upswing (Gen-Z) and the other on the downturn (Silent Generation).

Make room for everyone

Aside from economic factors, there are some major concerns that come with 5 generations in the workplace.

For starters, every generation has their own perception of work and the world. Boomers and Millennials might not see eye-to-eye, while Gen-X and Gen-Z may have a completely different approach to their work. Pushing for rigid conformity across generations is a non-starter—unless you want to create conflict, inefficiency, and relative workplace chaos. Understanding and addressing the needs of each group is a crucial first step in accommodating all workers.

There are also technological concerns. Gen-Z workers may relish the idea of working offsite, collaborating via the cloud, and using a robust app portfolio to communicate with coworkers. Baby Boomers may be less enthused by this option, instead preferring the familiarity of an office. This concern also extends to any technology within the workplace, including ID access badges, multimedia equipment, and mobile devices. Every generation needs to be comfortable with technology, and the technology needs to support every group.

Finally, there’s the dynamic of coexistence. What’s going to happen when you hire a well-qualified Millennial to manage a staff of Baby Boomers? What happens when your Silent Generation manager doesn’t know how to communicate criticism or praise to a Gen-Z subordinate? The differences in workplace etiquette and communication are a minefield, but one that’s navigable by understanding generational differences.

It’s time to reevaluate workplace variables

Having 5 generations in the workplace is a new concept, which means things can’t continue in the traditional ways. Companies should reassess workplace environments and understand the variables governing them. Then, ask an important question: “Am I meeting the needs of every generation in my workplace?”

Not every factor requires consideration or can be controlled. Instead, focus on the ones you can regulate. For example, you can’t control the weather, but you can offer a work-from-home option in the event of inclement weather. Such concepts should be applied to all areas of your workplace. Moreover, should be approached with every generation in mind. Here are some of the chief variables to pay attention to:

  • Working hours
  • Workspace types and layout
  • Technology
  • Management oversight
  • Task delegation and job duties
  • Praise and criticism

These core variables have profound impact on everything from workplace culture to productivity and job satisfaction. Ensuring they’re inclusive of each generation’s strengths and weaknesses means harnessing the power of all 5 generations.

Enable success across generations

Age ultimately affects many things in a person’s life. But, if they’re of able body and mind, work ethic isn’t one of them. Given the right opportunities and support, employees from every generation can contribute to your workplace success.

The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers have decades of accumulated experience. Gen X and Millennials are adaptive and reliable. Gen Z is savvy and seeking to prove themselves. Each generation not only deserves a place in the workforce, they deserve the resources to leverage their abilities. And, more than that, they deserve to hold a job they believe is supportive, fulfilling, and rewarding.

Having trouble adapting your workplace to simultaneously meet the needs of 5 different generations of workers? Be sure to check out our guide for Creating a Harmonious, Multi-Generational Workplace.

Read more on SpaceIQ’s 4 step multigenerational workforce checklist on how to accommodate the five distinct generations in the workforce.