Analysis of the Causes and Possible Impacts of Generation Gap in the Workplace

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Introduction

Life is always moving forward, forcing many things to change in the world - be it good or not. The world is getting more advanced due to the raise of the technology and therefore, a constant change of expectations of people. People, in their turn, are also changing in all aspects of life with an extreme speed.

Generations’ gap is also affected by this change.

The definition of generations was first defined by biology scientists in 1993, where they described it as a period of time between parents and their off-springs birth. In sociology and psychology, it is described as a cohort. (cite)

As we are talking about human capital, the definition done by sociologist should be more related. The first definition of generation was introduced by Karl Mannheim in 1952, who described generation in his essay “The Problem of Generations” as a group of the same age people who are united by some memorable historic event. This definition was further researched by Ryder (1965) stating that a generation is a unit of individuals who share the same events in the same interval of time ().

Nowadays, sentiments like “they don’t understand each other because they are of different generations” should sound familiar in every business entity, making lives of HR managers miserable. Nearly every article in HRM is written about Millennials conquering the workplace and thriving for leadership positions; and Gen Z being extremely techno-savvy. Yet, it seems that baby boomers and Gen Xers forgot that they, too, were the ones who first entered the workforce and faced similar stereotypical challenges.

This report is designed to outline the differences of the X, Y, Z generations in the workplace, their needs and various expectations, as well as further recommendations to shorten this long-coming disparity.

Demographics

Today, we can encounter many discussions about millennials, focused on generational clashes and on the group’s differences. This approach is flawed and compromises the objective, which is to answer a simple, yet crucial, question: “How can we work together?” Nowadays, there are 4 generations “fighting” for the place under the sun. It is discouraging to observe that there are a lot of researches, more focused on how different generations are, rather than how can they work collaboratively and reduce tension between.

Baby Boomers

According to the latest researches, around 10.000 Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age every day. However, 41% of them do not want to quit working once they reach retirement age as they see themselves working till 70 years old. Hence, 24.3% of all new entrepreneurs are between 55 and 64. (AARP, 2018)

Gen X

Whereas, Gen X makes up 35% of the whole population. Generation X has the most college degrees at 35% compared to 19% of Millennials According to the US Department of Labor, Gen X spend more on housing, clothing, eating out and entertainment compare to all other generations. Nearly three-quarters of Gen Xers (70%) prefer to work independently. 66% of Gen X women and, 55% of Gen X men want flexible work arrangements. (US Department of Labor, 2018)

Millennials

According to Deloitte’s demographic researches the Millennials are expected to make up at least 75% of the workforce by 2025. 60% of them said a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer. 87% of Millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important. 93% of Millennials are tend to swap their companies and long for new roles. (Deloitte, 2018)

Gen Z

Gen Z is unique force in the modern work environment. With the ever-increasing speed of technology advancements, Generation Z is sure to see a completely different workforce experience than that of their generational predecessors.

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  • 91% say that a company’s technological sophistication will impact their decision to accept a job offer.
  • 75% willing to start at the bottom and work their way up. 61% willing to stay 10 years at a company.
  • 56% would rather write their own job description.
  • 30% would take 10-20% pay cut to work for a company with a mission they care about.
  • 78% prefer to communicate face-to-face. (Forbes, 2018)

Language use & slang

In accordance with a statement of a consultant for Deloitte & Touche LLP Lonjino Lozcano for LinkedIn, millenials are on top for using various slangs with colleagues. They think that whenever someone is able to understand them, it can strengthen the intended message. For example: they can call a peer-level colleague “fam” (that’s “family”) while conversing over lunch, and developing good rapport. However, needless to say, they are more careful when they use slang with clients or executives as they understand the tactfully managed communication help them to move upward in the career path. (Deloitte, 2017) But Millennials aren’t the only ones using the slang, as even boomers and Gen-Xers also used to shorten their work emails on BlackBerries and Treos. For instance, v - Short for “very”, as in “v. late” or “v. good”.

As for the Gen Z, they feel more comfortable in talking via various platform through emojis. It is known that this generation often use emojis in the topic headlines of their emails.

Technological influences

Technology Enables, Rather Than Divides

Information sharing can be a key point over which these 3 generations differ. Generations Y and Z have different relationships with information compared to Gen X.

While, latter 2 generations often are ahead in their adoption of technology, Gen Xers are still heavy users. They still may perceive new technologies, especially smart phones, as a source of distraction. And although, younger workforce is trying to incorporate new technologies in their daily operations, it comes hard as Gen X reacts skeptically to any techno-openings. (Hanson, 2012)

About 75 million of Millenials are being raised at the most child-centric time in history. Perhaps, it is because of the close supervision, attention, and expectation from their parents. They are said to be the digital natives- technically superior. However, this made them even more ego-centric.

Millennials, with their penchant for technology, had a big influence on the way how work environment is functioning now. Being raised by their child-centric Gen X parents and Baby-boomer grandparents, Millennials became more pampered with a rise of technology. Their relationship with technology can be described as “step-parent ties” as Millennials are deeply affectionate and dependent on technology, but scared enough to “own” it. They are comfortable by all techno-convenient equipment and overall environment, yet they do not know how to fully utilize technological potential.

They interact with technology close enough than other generations before them, and this is affecting how they want to be taught in higher education and how they want to lead and expect to be led in organizations, after graduating. There is also reinforcement from research on the Millennials being too dependent and expecting their management to help launch them into higher positions. Raised to feel important and told that their future is guaranteed, Millennials’ sense of betrayal is very profound when supervisors do not treat them according to their expectations. (Clair & Hartel, 2018)

Gen Z is the first generation that was born when technology became common in our personal lives. This is the generation that has grown in a connected world with the Internet, mobile devices, and smartphones. Technology is like second nature to Gen Z.

Regardless, technology will always evolve dependent on generational work ethic, and different generations adapt to evolving technologies. However, with over 2 billion people making up Generation Z, entering the workplace, things are bound to change again. Given the numbers, Gen Z is going to be a major force to reckon due to their inherent traits and quirks.

Demands and expectations

“We can work in the corporate office and have a pink hair, be a doctor and have tattoos, wear fishnets and be librarians.

We don’t have to comply with Baby Boomers expectations” Gen Z

Currently three different generations – Baby Boom, X and Millenials are prevailing in the labor market.

Baby Boomers – traditionalists thinking that that a job is well done, it is own reward. They believe in legacy and chain of command. They pursue a recognition in their careers and live to work.

Gen Xers- are versified version of their precedents. They are skeptical about anything new and tend to work to live. Many of them lived through tough economic period of 1980s and witnessed their workaholic Baby Boomer parents lose hard-earned belongings. As a result, they became more flexible to change jobs in order to thrive for a better lifestyle. Nevertheless, Gen Xers appreciate the fun in the workplace and incorporate humor and games into work activities. “Work hard, play hard” is their motto.

Millenials- It is strangely surprising to see how much time researches spend in studying them. Nevertheless, I personally think that scientists “concern” towards Gen Y is overestimated. Though stating that they want to be enlightened in academia, some qualitative comments from Millennials indicate the opposite, namely that they want to be prepared but also to be kept naïve as to what business entails. (Shiffman, 2008)

Millennials are not as focused as other generations on things like salary. They find more importance in things like work-life balance, being able to make a meaningful contribution to a company and an ethical corporate culture. Technology has allowed for less of a separation between the office and home life, and while Millennials do not necessarily mind the lack of a distinction between work and home spheres, they do want positive work experience. (Maynard, 2018) And of course, Gen Z- While Millennials changed organization culture with technological mobility and communication style, we have to wait and watch out for the impact that Gen Z will have on the workplace.

As of now, as Gen Z embarks on their professional careers, their characters are yet to be ascertained, and their role in the current workplace has yet to take shape. (Deloitte, 2018).

Many researches, analyzing attitudes of different generations, notice that they have different point of view towards relationship with managers, due to which different motivational tools and communication methods need to be applied to them. Many sociologists tried to determine differing attitudes of the representatives of different generations.

But really. We are of same species, we are human and have similar brain structures; we are all born same way, live same way and we are all going to die same way…Then, why can not we work together? Why can not we understand that what comes around, goes around? Why is it so difficult to bury the hatchet and start working for the better things to come along?

The answer is simple…it is not because, we do not know how to communicate, we simply do not apprehend the way each of the generation do it. We are full of unnecessary prejudice and judgments. Nowadays, the biggest generation clash is happening between Gen X and Millenials as they both heavily populate the current workforce. When I think about these two “titans”, I perceive them as lions fighting over the leadership in the pride. There some kind of animalistic nature is present. Gen Xers think Millenials feel entitled, over-confident. While later presumes Gen Xers are power of the past.

It is funny to observe that, unintentionally, both generations are trying to look up for each other. Thinking that work trend prefers younger generation, Gen Xers try to act and even look younger. Meanwhile, Millenials work their fingers to the bone in order to be treated as adults worth working with and listen to their ideas. The question is: will these two generation meet each other half way?

Conclusion

For the first time in history 4 generations “work” together. This is quite fascinating, yet challenging work to do for HR managers. The most important thing they have to understand and implement in daily HR practices is be communication. However, successful communication between disparate groups begins by establishing a common understanding, not underscoring differences.

When it comes to standard workforce practices, adoption of technologies and even language or cultural touchstones, the barriers between generations are much lower than they seem. In fact, the generational gap is often given too much weight when accounting for lack of team cohesion and poor company culture. To capitalize on similarities and enhance working relationships across generations, technologies, work space design and culture should serve as anchors to uniting employees of all ages.

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