Presently in the United States there are four generations working side-by-side in organizations. Traditionalists (born prior to 1946) make up 5 percent of the workforce, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) make up 45 percent of the workforce, Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976) make up 40 percent of the workforce, and Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997) make up 10 percent of the workforce. In addition, a fifth generation known as Gen 2020 (born after 1997) is joining the workforce.
Each generation comes into the workplace with different perspectives, experiences, and expectations. How organizations integrate this multi-generational workforce will create either obstacles to overcome or the competitive advantage they need to succeed.
Comparing Millennials to Boomers
While they co-exist and work together in the workforce, two generations currently seem to have a stronger impact on organizations: Millennials and Baby Boomers. Millennials are the present and future workforce. In fact, Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020. And there are a lot of opinions and perceptions about this controversial cohort.
Many experts contend that this generation is innovative, tech savvy, prefers to work collaboratively but with freedom, and seem to have a better emphasis on family relationships, In addition, they are more active with citizen engagement, comfortable with the global issues, appreciate corporate integrity and openness, and emphasize speed and having fun at work. Unfortunately, Millennials also have been labeled as spoiled and impatient. In other words, they want to be leaders now—without earning their dues.
Not surprising, Millennials see themselves different than these perceptions and stereotypes. A study from Beyond.com found that 14 percent of HR professionals perceived Millennials to be less people-savvy, but 65 percent of Millennials surveyed think they excel in this skill. Similarly, 86 percent of HR leaders felt that Millennials were more tech-savvy than other workers, while only 35 percent this group rated themselves this way. The largest disparity in perceptions is that 82 percent of Millennials believed that that are loyal, compared to only 1 percent of HR professionals. Finally, 86 percent of this cohort considered themselves to be hard workers; only 11 percent of HR professionals agreed.
Depending on what or whom you read, you will learn that Millennials are not that different than Baby Boomers. Boomers have seen it all: layoffs, downsizing, financial success (and sometimes failure), real estate booms and droughts, and multiple wars. They witnessed the evolution of technology, including the pervasive growth of the personal computer, creation of the Internet, and cell phone revolution. Boomers also were major players in changing demographics and diversity and inclusion efforts in work and personal lives.
Implications for Organizations
Why is this important? Boomers are moving closer to retirement, with the first wave already moving on. In fact, some stats claim that for every two experienced and knowledgeable Baby Boomer that retires, there is one in-experienced Millennial joining the workforce. This begs the question: How do we transfer Boomer knowledge to younger workers?
One thing is certain, how organizations pass the torch of knowledge from one generation to the next will help them differentiate themselves among competitors. The good news: a global CEO survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 98 percent of Millennials think positively about working with a mentor, and 89 percent believe continuous learning is important.
Bottom line: Effectively integrating—and capitalizing on—the multi-generational workforce will provide organizations with the competitive advantage they need to succeed. More importantly, talent development leaders will be tapped to ignite integration and knowledge transfer efforts.