In order for a company to be successful they need to have strong leadership that can set clear direction and communicate across all levels of the organization. As we move into the future, the top down ‘style’ of management must embrace the inquisitive nature of the Gen Ys.
The Boomer generation (1946-1964) is experienced and have led organizations through year on year growth, managing companies through one of the toughest economic downturns. CEO’s spend an average of 12.8 years at a company before being appointed and the median age of an S&P Fortune 500 CEO is 55. For these leaders, knowledge has come through experience and tenure.
Gen X (1965-1981) is being squeezed between the Boomers and Ys; however, they are next in line to take the helm. They were the first generation to grow up with computers, and technology has played a key role in their success. Significant investment has also been made in learning and development programs for this generation. The ASTD reported that U.S. organizations spent more than $156 billion last year on learning and development programs. Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), 360 feedback, and talent management programs have become a second language for this generation. The greatest ROI from this generation could simply be ‘bridging the gap’ between the Boomers and the Gen Ys.
Generation Y or Millennials (1982-1995) is known for always asking a key question, Why? The characteristics of this generation are sometimes described as the entitlement generation or trophy kids; however, these techy young adults should not be underestimated for the ability to get the job done. They are open to feedback and have inherent ability to find the answer to any question by using their fingertips. One of America’s best selling authors and executive coach for the top CEO;’s Marshall Goldsmith includes an entire chapter on how leaders can change for the better is based on the ability to be open to feedback. This characteristic comes naturally with the Ys.
As these three generations converge in the workplace success will be defined based on not only their ability to communicate and transfer knowledge from one generation to the next, but also on your ability as an organization to keep all three of them engaged (and happy) in their work. Each generation has traits that can be passed on or utilized by the next to create a cohesive work environment.
It’s important to embrace each generation’s differences. The combination of all three generations can be a great asset to your company. Likewise, as your Boomers head for retirement (at a rate of 10,000 per day in this country!) and Gen X moves up the ranks, a plan must also be in place for training future leaders–Gen Y.
Utilize and support each generation to their full capacity, focusing on the core strengths they bring to your organization. In turn, you’ll build a sustainable workforce and a culture that embraces differences and cross-generational work ethics.
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
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