The 21st-century workplace is a site of tremendous flux. It seemed like baby boomers were running things forever. Then Generation-X stepped up to the fold. But now, what feels like an instant later, we’re welcoming millennials and even Gen-Z into positions of skilled labor and responsibility.
It’s a challenging moment for businesses. These younger generations now make up over half of the workforce. Within a decade, that figure will rise to 70%.
Add to that the fact that tens of millions of workers of all ages will need to switch occupations in the next few years. And those who keep their jobs will need to continuously update their digital skills, too.
Ensuring that nobody gets left behind is important for business. And it is important for individual workers.
A multigenerational workforce
While the generations eye each other suspiciously, our fundamental human drives to care, learn, and progress, transcend age. The differences you observe between generations are just nuances of perspective.
The millennial mindset has been shaped by different events and developments to those of their parents and grandparents, the baby boomers. But like every generation ever, boomers complain that the generations following them lack their ‘work ethic.’
You’ll also hear that old gem, ‘they have it so easy.’
Of course, it’s not the case that today’s emerging workforce are lazy. But there is an element of truth in the idea that they don’t have the same work ethic. The fact is, millennials and Gen-Xers work just as hard as their parents.
They work differently. But they work together.
Different approaches to work
Millennials are, by definition, digital natives – born into the era of ubiquitous computing. Skills that baby boomers learned the hard way are second nature to many of today’s twenty-somethings.
That doesn’t mean that boomers haven’t learned how to use the software and hardware around us. It means those skills are founded on a different educational background.
You’ll also hear that generational attitudes to work are different.
Children of the 1950s and ‘60s grew up to work for big, monolithic businesses. Many came to expect a ‘job for life.' Their academic background was often the bare minimum needed to get a start. Training came on the job.
The emerging workforce has seen those jobs-for-life evaporate. Often with the pension plans and other benefits that went with them. These younger generations have learned to value colleagues, networks, and ideals. Not the remote figureheads of those monolithic businesses.
Generation-X and their successors have had the freedom to study for longer. For personal enrichment. Their parents told them they could achieve anything. And so they are hungry, impatient to make a change. And they want to do it right.
These intergenerational differences are not imaginary. But it is easy to over-estimate their importance.
Learning and development
We’ve seen some differences between the generations. But far more significant is what connects them.
For example, millennials aren’t the only idealists. The desire for work that makes a positive difference to the world is shared by 70% of American adults.
In fact, economic background and family circumstances shape an individual’s attitude to work more than the generation to which they belong.
The idea that young people can adapt while those born before disco are stuck in their ways is ludicrous. The changes that a fifty- or sixty-year-old has seen and adapted to since the mid-twentieth century are mind-boggling.
Every generation reckons the next generation has it easy. But everyone wants to share their knowledge and wisdom with the up-and-comers. Get hung up on the idea that boomers and millennials have different learning styles, and you overlook everything that connects people.
Good and engaging training is good and engaging training. Bring your team together through a classroom setting, a smartphone app, a web browser, or all the above. You’ll witness every colleague bringing a different piece of the puzzle to the table.
Technology unites the generations. It is experience that distinguishes them. When you pair up ambitious talent with skills and experiences that complement each other, everyone has the potential to learn and succeed.
Words by Joshua Schlag, Head of Marketing at Mindspace
Art by Andrew Sullivan at Mindspace