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Generation X
Generation Y

Best Companies Bridge The Generation Gap

The Globe and Mail recently reported that more than ever before, many of the companies on this year’s list of Best Employers in the GTA (greater Toronto area) are spending time and money in an effort to close the generation gap among employees.

The Globe and Mail recently reported that more than ever before, many of the companies on this year’s list of Best Employers in the GTA (greater Toronto area)  are spending time and money in an effort to close the generation gap among employees.

Indeed, as the battle for talent escalates, employers everywhere are realizing they can’t appeal to all employees in one fell swoop. I like to refer to it as the ‘buffet’ approach. Gen Ys want flexible workdays, Gen X wants childcare benefits, and the Baby Boomer is swayed by phased-in retirement options.

But cutomizing the workplace is easier said than done.

First, it means realizing the one-size-fits-all approach to employee satisfaction and success will not fly. Then, companies must survey employees in different demographic groups to ensure everything from benefits packages to daily work schedules are tailor made.

Whew! That’s a lot of work to make work work! But it’s worth it.

Peter McAdam, vice president of employee experience in corporate HR for TD Bank Financial Group, told the Globe and Mail that accounting for generational differences is directly linked to a company’s financial success.

“We’re a growth company and we need talent in order to grow,” he said. “We want to be the place where the best people want to come to and we know there’s a cost to not doing that.”

For several years I’ve been preaching on the risks associated with ignoring demographic shifts, and  I’ve had the conversation with countless naysayers who insisted that generational differences were over-inflated and that everyone just needed to show up and get the work done.

It’s time to come to grips with reality. Generational differences do exist and do impact the bottom line. If you do not have engaged employees, you have higher turnover which costs money and results in lower engagement and increased risk.

Here’s what a few of the award-winning workplaces in Toronto are doing to bridge the gap:

  • PwC is trying to close the generation gap by partnering less experienced workers with senior staff on larger projects. Gen Y workers, who tend to learn best while doing, shadow senior staff and get the chance to brainstorm over major accounts. The consultancy, as well as other companies that made the list, also offer flexible benefits packages that cater to different age groups, family care programs that include caring for ill parents as well as young children and phased-in retirement.
  • TD Bank Financial Group executed an “agile workplace strategy” that allows employees who don’t deal directly with clients on a regular basis to work remotely. They work remotely most of the time and come into the new offsite workspace when they need to collaborate with colleagues or attend meetings. The pilot project includes employees from three groups within the bank – wealth management, corporate real estate and corporate HR.
  • Loblaw Companies Ltd., a retail chain, is using IT to address generational differences. It recently began offering an e-learning course to help employees understand the different demographic groups, believing the insights would help improve communication across generational lines.

This quote in the Globe and Mail from Hazel Claxton, a partner and human capital leader at PwC in Canada, pretty much sums it up:

“We’ve been talking for a long time about the war for talent but that war is going to become increasingly more fierce. You need to attract and retain people and ensure their success because that leads directly to your firm experiencing success.”

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

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.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

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.

Zs were raised to be competitive

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.

Zs are career-focused.

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 are seeking financial security. 

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.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

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.


Zs want to be challenged.

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.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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