“The Only Thing That is Constant is Change.”

“The Only Thing That is Constant is Change.”
“The Only Thing That is Constant is Change.”

The saying is one of about a hundred discovered in remnants of a book written by Greek philosopher Heraclitus around 500 BC. If he thought change was happening quickly then, imagine how surprised he’d be today!

The Workforce of Today and the Future

One of the biggest changes we’re witnessing this century is the rapidly shifting generational change in our workforce. Millennials (those born between 1981-2000) make up the biggest segment of our workforce today. And come 2020, it’s estimated that Millennials alone will comprise 50% of our country’s entire workforce.

What compounds things further is that the rest of the workforce is splintered. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) follow the Millennials in terms of workforce size, then Generation X (1965-1980). Generation Z (born after 2000) and the Silent Generation (1900-1945) make up 3% each. What’s even more dramatic is that by 2023, the two youngest generations will represent nearly 70% of our entire workforce.

What Does This Mean?

The presence of four generations with different work ethics, habits and values will be a challenge for leaders. It will mean understanding their differences as well as similarities and working within those frameworks as best as possible.

Generational Characteristics

While it’s not fair to typecast, here are some of their most common characteristics of each generation that need to be understood by leaders.

The Silent Generation is probably the last generation that will see a good percentage of workers retiring from their one and only job. They’re loyal, used to following the rules, and generally don’t challenge authority. A fair number find technology a big challenge and love to work in teams.

Baby Boomers are often viewed as overachievers, workhorses and materialistic. They prefer one-on-one communication but are also team-oriented.  

Generation X is a lot more independent. Many are skeptical of authority and prefer working by themselves. They’re also a lot more adept at technology and results-oriented.

Millennials were surrounded by technology when they were born and are highly experienced in high tech. Unlike their parents, a work-life balance has a priority over money. They’re adept at multitasking and welcome feedback. Millennials are also socially conscious and apt to be activists.

Gen Zers are similar to Millennials in that they want feedback and are also adept with technology. The difference is that they like to work in small teams.

What This Means

Leaders wishing to maximize their effectiveness recognize and respect these generational differences and adapt to each, as necessary. They ensure that their compliance and ethics departments are also aware and adaptable.

There’s also a common thread among all generations and that is that they all want job satisfaction. The difference is that the older generations will stick it out while the younger ones will leave.

When possible, reward employees based on their set of values. A millennial would likely appreciate time off as a reward whereas a Baby Boomer would probably prefer a cash bonus. To be fair, consider giving them a choice between the two.

The important thing to remember is to recognize and respect these differences. Manage and communicate with that in mind.

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.