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Five Generations at Work: Is Your Company Ready?

Original Posts: Multiple Generations @ Work: What Should You Do Differently?, Are You Ready to Manage Five Generations of Workers?

Does retirement look a little further off now than it did just a few years ago? If you are over 62, odds are you’re putting off retirement at least two to three years, and you may even be planning on working beyond 70. If you’re over 50, and lost 40% or more of your nest egg, you are about twice as likely to delay retirement as those who lost less. According to the World Health Organization, men and women who are healthy at 60 will, on average, be physically capable of working until they are 74 and 77, respectively. Combine these statistics and the newest employees entering the workforce might not be joining their parents or grandparents, they might be joining their great-grandparents.

This translates into a social phenomenon not yet witnessed: five generations are about to be working side by side. They include:

  • Traditionalists, born prior to 1946
  • Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
  • Gen X, born between 1965 and 1976
  • Millennials, born between 1977 and 1997
  • Gen 2020, born after 1997

The chart below shows that Baby Boomers will cede the majority of the workforce by 2015 to the Millennials. (Due to their smaller size, Gen X will never have the majority spot in the workplace — and so in essence, we will have skipped an entire generation by 2015.) When you consider the changes in the amount of knowledge available at our fingertips, the advent of social technologies, and the expansion of the global economy over those two generations, a workplace chasm could be emerging. What will this mean for how employers attract, develop and engage employees across multiple generations?


Consider how the way we work has changed in the last two decades. In 1986, when the youngest Baby Boomers entered the workforce, the percentage of knowledge necessary to retain in your mind to perform well on the job was about 75 percent (according to research by Robert Kelley). For the other 25 percent, you accessed documentation, usually by looking something up in a manual. In 2009, only about 10 percent of knowledge necessary to perform well on the job is retained — meaning a myriad of other sources must be relied upon. It’s no wonder that those who enter the workforce now have devised new tools and ways of working with each other to deal with the complexity, such as a query through Facebook to their trusted friends. (Even if it’s blocked on the company network, Millennials will connect via mobile devices when they are stuck on projects.)

For over thirty years, the sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation defined the organization’s social landscape, in a majority-rules cultural takeover. The new kids in town — what we call the hyper-connected — will overtake that majority. They are constantly connected to multiple devices in order to know what and whom they need to know. The next two generations entering the workforce may not be technologically smarter, but they are more comfortable with technology, and their culture will soon dominate organizations. Many of them will have never sent an email when they get to the workplace, because who needs e-mail when you can text, instant message, tweet, or Facebook? If ur/18 (text speak for “you are over 18”), and your diminishing nest egg mandates that you work a few more years, get ready for this coming cultural shift.

How will having multiple generations in the workplace affect you and your learning or HR department?

Some thoughts to consider:

Recruiting New Talent: Are you sourcing the next generation of talent where they live? Rather than career fairs and job boards, does your company have a social networking strategy with a presence on Facebook a YouTube channel and a presence on Twitter?

Social Networking With Alumni:
Once mainly used by professional service firms and law firms, now JP Morgan and Lockheed Martin are developing elaborate alumni social networks as a way to attract the “boomerang” employees who already know the firm and can make an instant contribution.

Mentoring: Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen 2020s will increasingly want to develop their careers in the same social and personal ways they live their lives. Expect an increased demand for mentoring and coaching as we head into 2020.

Learning & Development: Look for learning & development to become “social, personal, immediate and highly relevant to an individual’s job.” This will translate into leveraging new technologies such as corporate social networks, alternate reality games and greater use of mobile devices.

These are just a few of the many ways in which the world of work will change over the next five years. What are you doing to get ready?

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