Promoting Value in the Multigenerational Office

The rising age of retirement and labor shortages in many industries have created a multigenerational workforce for the first time in history. Not only does the workplace span four generations, there is a very good chance that Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z will find themselves on the same team. Each generation brings its unique perspective, communication style and work ethic to the workplace. So how can an employer best utilize and retain this diverse bank of employee talent?

To understand the generational span within the modern office environment, we must first recognize their differences. The Millennials, as of 2015, make up the largest share of the American workforce. There are many ways in which they are in stark contrast with the Baby Boomers, who are most often their parents' ages. While avoiding the impulse to stereotype any generation, some research shows that the following traits that help explain the cultural divide.

generational workplace

By the end of 2015, Millennials made up 45 percent of the workforce in the United States, compared to 21 percent GenXers and 31 percent Boomers. According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers ages 55 to 64 worked for the same employers a median of 9.3 years, while workers ages 25 to 34 have a median tenure of only 2.9 years. This brings up the question of how do we retain workers from each generation, when they are so vastly different?

The Common Denominator

Studies show that employee retention is directly linked to whether the employee feels valued at work. This is constant across all generations. Workers who felt they made a difference or were appreciated by their employers had higher rates of retention. Employee recognition has typically been associated with rewarding years of service or outstanding performance, but it is now time to think outside the box:
  • Baby Boomers prefer tangible symbols of their loyalty, commitment and service such as plaques or certificates.
  • Generation Xers want opportunities for development and certifications to put on their resumes.
  • Millennials like awards and certificates as evidence of their credibility or involvement in social issues.
  • Generation Z employees like to share their accomplishments with others. For example a photo taken of them with the token of recognition that they can share on social media.
Of course these are generalizations, but every generation has something different and valuable that they bring to the workplace. Companies that embrace generational differences in the workplace will be the most successful because they will recruit and retain the most valuable employees, thus creating a competitive advantage.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.