Baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z, and now Generation A… how many different generations are there? And how can you possibly create an environment where every employee, no matter their age, feels welcome? It’s no easy feat, but the first step to creating an inclusive workplace is to know more about the people you’re including. So, how do the different generations break down, and what are they looking for from their careers?
In this post, we’ll break down the differences between each generation and dig into what Millennials and Gen Z are specifically looking for from a workplace.
Each generation grows up under different circumstances that inform and inspire different values and different aspirations. People who grow up around the same time have shared experiences, shared pain, shared economies, and shared societal events. This leads each generation to (very generally) have similar wants, needs, dreams, and values.
For example, Generation Y watched their baby boomer parents work the same 9 to 5 job day in and day out for most of their lives, going to the same place, talking to the same people, steadily paying off the same mortgage, and growing more and more set in their ways. This made Gen Y (Millennials) crave a different life full of freedom and new experiences. This, unfortunately, has led Millennials to have more unstable employment, which, in turn, has inspired the following generation, Gen Z, to be more cautious, prioritizing stability and financial security over freedom.
While not every member of a certain generation will hold exactly the same values, there are commonalities to be found within each generation, as each generation has its own idea of success. If you’re measuring your own success against that of your peers, there needs to be a generally agreed upon metric with which to rate everyone. If baby boomers measure their success by the size of their house, a Millennial might measure their success by the amount of freedom they have within their career.
The lines between each generation are a little flexible, and you’ll find slightly different age ranges depending on who you ask, but the following birth dates roughly apply to each generation.
|Birth Date/Age||Shared Experiences||Work Style/Values|
|Vietnam War, Cold War, Watergate, Moon landing, Woodstock||In-person, formal, physical paper, hard-working, judgmental|
|Fall of Berlin Wall, rising divorce rates, MTV, cable television||Email and text messages, voicemail, self-reliant|
|Gen Y (Millennials)||
|Y2K, 9/11, reality TV, diversity, President Obama, social media||Instant communication, collaborative, flexible|
|Climate change, economic downturn, school shootings, President Trump, COVID-19||
Structure, immediate, face-to-face, smart technology
|Gen A (Alpha)||
Born: 2010s +
|Climate crisis, polarized politics, misinformation, COVID-19||Ingrained tech, online learning|
What Does Each Generation Want From the Workplace?
Millennials (Gen Y) in the Workplace
Anyone who was born between 1981 and 1995 (some draw the Millennial line at 2000) is considered to belong to Generation Y, or, in other words, considered to be a Millennial. This means that Millennials are currently in their mid-20s to early 40s. They make up quite a large portion of the workforce, as Millennials are the largest age group in history.
Millennials were born and came of age as the internet, mobile devices, and social media became popular. They’ve seen a lot of technologies come and go, many went or felt a great amount of pressure to go to college (with diminishing returns), and many are politically active in their spare time, as they’ve lived through 9/11, the Iraq War, a couple recessions, and several civil rights movements.
Because of the massive technological growth that occurred during their lifetimes, Millennials are generally considered more creative, collaborative, progressive, and open-minded than previous generations. But they also have a bad reputation as people who are lazy, unprofessional, selfish, overly sensitive, indecisive, entitled, and wishy-washy. (But considering baby boomers can also be considered close-minded and overly judgmental, it’s not hard to see why they might give the more open-minded and freedom-loving Millennials a hard time.)
The bad reputation that Millennials have when it comes to working means employers are constantly searching Google for answers to questions like, “what’s the best job for Millennials” or “how to work with Millennials.”
The answers are a bit less complicated than you may think.
What do millennials want in a job:
- Millennials value purpose and meaning in their career more than a paycheck.
- Millennials value a good work-life balance and flexibility.
- Millennials want to work for a company that shares their personal values.
- Millennials want their boss to act as a coach, not a taskmaster or micromanager.
- Millennials want room to fail.
- Millennials want a job that will help them develop professionally and personally.
- Millennials want gender equality at all levels of the organization.
There are not necessarily specific or ideal jobs for Millennials; instead, it’s more about what a workplace has to offer. If a manager can effectively relate the goal of the business to a Millennial’s values, guide their professional development through continuous and constructive feedback, and provide flexible working hours, very likely, a Millennial is going to be happy in their job.
Gen Z in the Workplace
Anyone born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s (roughly 1995 to 2012) is considered to belong to Generation Z. This means members of Gen Z are in their preteens to mid-20s right now. Most members of Gen Z are the children of members of Gen X. Unlike Millennials, Generation Z has a few different colloquial nicknames, such as Gen Zers, Zoomers, and Centennials.
Because members of Gen Z grew up with the internet and mobile devices and never experienced a time without social media, they are regarded as the most tech-savvy generation to enter the workforce. Since they’ve been able to search the internet from a young age, they are very aware of the different environmental, social, and economic crises the world has been and continues to go through.
Even more than millennials, members of Gen Z are acutely aware of the impact previous generations have made on the Earth and the climate, so activism and social justice play an important role in their lives.
Members of Gen Z are generally more risk-averse and well-behaved than previous generations. They drink less alcohol and have lower rates of teenage pregnancy, but they have higher rates of mental illness and depression. While it has not been proven, this growing anxiety is thought to be caused by the prevalence of social media in their lives, overbearing parents, and Earth’s increasingly unstable climate.
Jobs for Gen Z aren’t as prevalent yet since members of Gen Z are just beginning to enter the workforce, but that doesn’t mean employers don’t have to worry about them. By 2025, Gen Zers are expected to make up 27% of the workforce.
So, what does it take to make a Gen Zer’s dream jobs list?
What does Gen Z want in the workplace:
- Gen Zers value diversity, inclusivity, equality, and equity.
- Gen Zers value flexibility and dislike strict work environments.
- Gen Zers want the company they work for to share their values and personal morals.
- Gen Zers value a stable work-life balance.
- Gen Zers value positive work relationships and in-person communication.
- Gen Zers value transparent, open communication and authenticity.
- Gen Zers want continuous, constructive feedback.
- Gen Zers want to work with up-to-date technology.
- Gen Zers want to work in an organization that sees failure as an opportunity.
- Gen Zers value independence more than collaboration.
As you can see, Millennials and Gen Zers have a good deal in common. Millennial and Gen Z career paths are not that far off from one another. For both Gen Y and Gen Z, work-life balance, shared values, flexibility, and equity are important. But the ideal Gen Z career has a few subtle differences.
Gen Z is continuing the push for a more inclusive, equitable work environment for everyone, and they’re arguably more committed to the causes they hold dear. Gen Zers walk the walk and talk the talk; by and large, they won’t compromise their values to land a job.
Regardless of what generation your employees or future employees belong to, the best course of action is to ask questions and gather feedback. Ask your employees how your company can improve. What can you do better? What would they change about your company culture? What about your work environment could be more inclusive or equitable? How can you further cultivate trust? What team building opportunities would they like to see more of?
No matter how excellent your company culture is, there’s always room for improvement. Ask your team for feedback and do all that you can to create a work environment that celebrates diversity, encourages empathy and inclusivity, and promotes a continuous improvement mindset.
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