Management & Leadership

What Matters Most to the Four Generations in the Workforce

How can you build a cohesive, inclusive and productive workforce when you have individuals of four different generations in the workplace? It starts with understanding where each group is coming from and what they value most. Employers should make an effort, from companywide level down to individual teams and departments, to acknowledge workers of all ages and build programs and processes that are inclusive. Leveraging the qualities that each generation brings to the workplace – whether it is experience, knowledge, maturity, enthusiasm, or simply a different perspective on things – benefits your business.

Different generations might have varying needs in the workplace. After all, not only did they grow up with different belief systems and technologies, each generation is likely experiencing different life stages. With time, each generation’s priorities might shift as individuals reach new life stages and milestones. It’s important to remember that while there are some differences between the generations, they have more things in common. Every employee—regardless of what year they were born—wants an employer who treats them with respect and encourages them to reach their full potential.

Multiple generations in the workplace can actually bring many advantages – for building company culture and the bottom line – when you consider the diversity of traits, unique perspective and experience every individual brings. By leveraging each group’s strengths, you can achieve more effective teamwork, engagement and results.

Meet the four generations and what they value most

Today’s workplace is mainly comprised of the following age groups:

• Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers make up about 6% of the workforce. Pew Research estimates that roughly 10,000 of them reach retirement age every day. At work, this group tends to value job security, strong healthcare and retirement benefits, formal structures, face-to-face interaction, recognition for their experience and tenure, and flexible or reduced hours. Consider mentorship programs for Baby Boomers can share their knowledge.

• Gen X

Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers outnumber Baby Boomers, making up 33% of the workforce. The generation that followed the Boomers didn’t have a blatant cultural identifier so sociologists, authors, and even Billy Idol helped cement the term Generation X.  This group tends to prioritize independence, flexibility in managing their own workload, career development opportunities, work-life balance, family-friendly benefits, and monetary incentives.

• Millennials (or Gen Y)

Millennials are currently the most numerous generation in the office, making up 35% of the total workforce. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and came of age at the start of the new millennium. When it comes to work, this group cares most about flexible hours and work location, work that has a deep meaning or purpose to them, use of technology, getting immediate feedback, and being rewarded according to results.

• Gen Z

Born from 1997 to 2012, Gen Zers already make up 24% of the labor force. Their representation in the workforce will continue to grow as more graduate college. Work-wise, Gen Z needs purpose-driven work, growth opportunities, flexible schedules and work location, emphasis on diversity and social causes, and room to express their personality and creativity at work.

What benefits matter to the different generations?

Part of keeping your workforce engaged is providing an environment where employees feel cared for, including a strong benefits package. Understandably, individuals at different stages of life have different priorities. As an example, Forbes Advisor notes:

  • Over 30% of 18–41-year-olds are most concerned with having pet insurance available as a benefit.
  • Nearly 40% of 42–57-year-olds are most likely to want mandatory paid time off from their employer.
  • Over 80% of employees older than 42 are looking for roles that include employer-covered healthcare.

Even though it may be impossible to accommodate all the wishes of every generation represented at your company, you may find areas of overlap. Companies can ask employees directly what benefits or work conditions matter most to them, and look for areas of opportunity for change or new offerings.

How can you support older workers at your company?

According to the Harvard Business Review, retaining older workers “increases the diversity of organizations and can improve operational efficiency, enhance innovation, and grow the bottom line.” Think outside the box and get your employees involved to learn what matters to them. Many companies are offering phased retirement and job sharing programs to keep near-retirement employees on board, share knowledge, and make transitions smoother. Others are even creating innovative support for menopause, grandparents’ leave, and sabbaticals in order to reward and retain older talent.

For more in-depth information on the characteristics and needs of the generations at work, check out our free eBook, Generations in the Workplace. For more on workplace trends and salary data for 2024, our free Salary Guide & Engagement Insights report is a valuable resource you can download now. When you have questions about hiring or just want to know what’s happening in the local employment market, contact the location nearest you.