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From Baby Boomers to Generation Z and Y – The Best of Three Worlds

Blog / July 4, 2017 / with Stefan Melbinger
Connecting all generations: a circular image shows cartoons of Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z

The Baby Boomer generation is often accused of having a loose – at best – grasp on technology. This, of course, is not an entirely fair representation. We’ll get to that later. But it is fair to say that the internet was still a largely unknown entity when most of their generation began their working lives.

In comparison, Generation Y, also known as Millennials, can scarcely imagine a life without the internet, having grown up during a period of rapid technological development. And Gen Z, as “digital natives,” have had technology at their fingertips since they were tiny children, thanks to the rise of handheld devices.

Today, more and more companies recognize the advantages associated with their employees’ age diversity. Exploiting the advantages of this diversity and, at the same time, avoiding the associated ageism, misunderstandings, and frustration is an important task for businesses.

But how can you best connect different generations? And how can you combat ageist stereotypes in your organization?

Contents:

The Baby Boomer generation: a definition

A Baby Boomer is defined as a person born between 1946 and 1969. The term Boomer wasn’t chosen at random: it refers to the baby boom that took place in many countries after World War II. In the US, the Baby Boomers were the biggest generation until Millennials overtook them in 2019.

What about the other generations?

Baby Boomers grab the headlines all the time – they’ve been the biggest generation in management and politics for a long time, so that’s not too surprising. But there are other generations making their mark, and it’s worth defining them:

  • Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980, this generation is far smaller than the generation of Boomers that preceded them. Often depicted as cynical but savvy, Gen X now hold over 50% of management positions.
  • Generation Y (Millennials): Is there an industry that Millennials haven’t been accused of killing? The biggest generation since the Baby Boomers, Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, and their tendencies as consumers get a lot of attention. As already mentioned, Gen Y came of age at the same time as mobile devices became must-have items, meaning that they remember the transition from the internet being fixed to one location to being able to carry it in their pocket.
  • Generation Z: Gen Z were born between 1997 and 2012 and are said to have grown up in an “always on” digital environment. Smartphones and tablets have likely always been a part of the world they encountered, and they are expected to have a high level of technological competence. Their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic during their formative years means that they may have missed out on experiences previous generations took for granted, but it also gave them an early taste of remote education and work.
  • Generation Alpha: Gen Alpha are a long way off from joining the workforce – the oldest member of Gen Alpha is only ten years old in 2023. However, their entry to higher education and work is less than a decade away, so it’s already worth bearing them in mind as you plan your

TIP: If you want to learn more about the different generations and if clichés about them are true or false, take a look at our latest whitepaper.

Getting over clichéd thinking about generations

“Baby Boomers don’t have a clue about technology.”

“Generation X will do anything for money.”

“Millennials value their personal life over work.”

“Gen Z have an attention span like a goldfish.”

One thing’s for sure: anyone seeking to understand the differences between generational cohorts in the job market today will run into more than their fair share of clichés.

While some stereotypes might be based on a grain of truth, most ignore that every individual is unique and has their own life experiences.

Let’s quickly take the Baby Boomers as an example. Of the generations still working, Baby Boomers are definitely the least confident when it comes to technology. However, many visionaries of technology emerged from this generation, including Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs of Apple, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, developer of the World Wide Web.

Within each generation, there will be individuals that don’t fit the trend. What is important is seeing every person for their specific tendencies. However, where the trends are real, there’s an opportunity for employers to benefit from hiring and retaining age-diverse teams.

Meet the generations: an image summarizing each generation. Baby Boomers are described as more likely to retire and less likely to move employer. They also prefer face-to-face interaction and want to be valued as mentors. Gen X hold over 50% of management roles, are often overlooked in favor of other generations, and have had to constantly adapt to technological changes during their careers. Gen Y are keen to progress quickly and take on responsibility. They grew up during the transition to the mobile internet and prefer text-based and asynchronous communication.

Gen Y and Z: consummate networkers and digital natives

Studies show that professionals from Generation Y network more intensively with their colleagues, enjoy collaborative projects more, and desire to carry out meaningful work.

With Generation Z arriving on the job market, such trends are set to intensify, with Gen Z valuing career development and interesting work over stability or high salaries.

This is the latest point at which the fusion of digital technologies and the real world seems set to become complete – since for those born after 2000, there has never been any separation. Millennials and Gen Z have known virtual platforms and face-to-face contact as two sides of the same reality for almost their whole lives. Accordingly, they want employers to recognize this fact and allow room for the possibilities that arise from it.

Gen Z and Millennials' dynamic, entrepreneurial, and engaged attitudes make them an appealing prospect for employers.

Free whitepaper: Intergenerational Communication at Work

Baby Boomers: an invaluable source of knowledge and experience

Older employees, particularly those born before 1965, have different expectations. Many of them still see an individual office as an aspirational goal – both as a status symbol and as a place for independent, autonomous work.

But that’s not the only difference between older and younger employees. Employees and managers who have been in the job market for longer are able to draw on in-depth market insights and knowledge built up over many years. This is knowledge that, in many cases, is essential for connecting with and understanding customers’ needs.

Baby Boomers are less likely to switch between employers, so their presence provides stability and continuity of knowledge. Their experiences won’t have always been positive – Baby Boomers have worked through several recessions. They have likely seen their employers through good times and bad. That means that they’ll be able to offer insights and support during tough times, drawing on the solutions that have been tried before.

The practical knowledge of Baby Boomers shouldn’t be undervalued, and neither should their experience in building working relationships. Both elements make them extremely valuable employees and managers.

Baby Boomers: the ideal mentors?

Based on their experience, Baby Bombers are ideal mentors for newer or younger employees.

With the retirement rate of Baby Boomers increasing rapidly, it’s important for businesses that they pass on their knowledge to younger generations of workers. Beyond that, Baby Boomers appreciate being valued by their employers and often want to be seen as a leader in their field.

Meanwhile, younger employees are also keen to progress in their careers quickly and are more proactive than previous generations. That means mentoring is a way to meet the needs of older and younger generations.

A traditional mentoring program does just that: an experienced employee takes a younger “mentee” under their wing. As a result, not only does the new colleague learn something, but the mentor is exposed to new ways of thinking and ideas. In an ideal scenario, both sides benefit.

Some companies also choose to lean into an equal transfer of ideas between the generations. They may offer “reverse mentoring” opportunities, where an older or more experienced employee is mentored in certain skills or tools by a younger or more junior employee. Reverse mentoring ensures that everyone appreciates that every generation has something to offer and something to learn.

Harnessing the power of difference

As the example of mentoring programs shows, generational diversity can be an incredibly important resource for any company. When organizations fail to acknowledge the value of age diversity, they risk accidentally fanning the flames of misunderstandings between employees of different generations. Ageism is real and can have terrible repercussions for people who experience it.

On the flip side, when an organization succeeds in bringing together skilled employees of different ages, they don’t just make their workplace a happier place. They can also unlock a wealth of new opportunities.

  • Generations Y and Z expect regular feedback and are constantly seeking to develop and evolve. Giving them the chance to have regular contact with experienced colleagues satisfies both expectations. When companies facilitate this, they increase their attractiveness as employers and can also increase employee retention among younger workers.
  • Many projects require a balance between experience-based knowledge, creativity, and unorthodox approaches. If employees of different ages are encouraged to work together effectively, they can collaborate to find new and better solutions.
  • The constant exchange of knowledge and information is important to any company’s viability. The insights that older and younger colleagues share can help organizations build solid plans for the future and respond appropriately during difficult times.

What should your organization be doing?

In light of the above, companies must make an effort to build bridges between younger and older employees. They can do this by establishing a culture of networking, via education about ageism, or promoting mentoring programs. Employees must be primed to see each other as individuals, rather than making assumptions based on age or appearance.

Small steps often have the power to achieve more than grand but abstract concepts. Something as simple as a lunch or coffee meeting between two randomly matched colleagues of different ages could play a pivotal role in establishing an enhanced culture of cooperation.

Today, digital is (almost) everything

While some of the commonly cited differences between Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z hold true, there is one that urgently needs discrediting: the assumption that digitalization has passed the older generations by.

For over a decade, Baby Boomers and Gen X have been using technology and mobile devices intensively at work. This applies particularly to managers and highly educated technical employees. Older colleagues are also getting better at making their voices heard in collaborative online contexts.

Companies can use this to their advantage by offering digital platforms as a jumping-off point for real-life networking. In so doing, they succeed in connecting older generations with younger ones – and everyone benefits, including the organization itself.

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Originally published on July 4, 2017 at 10:00 AM, amended on January 22, 2024 at 5:46 PM

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