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Generation Y
Generation X
Generation Z

What's Happening in the Workplace

Boomers, Gen Xers, a few Traditionals and the newest addition to the workforce, Gen Z, are all affecting the way we do business. This week scary stats are focused on how these factors are shaping the world at work.

By now you’ve come to accept (we hope) that we’ve undergone the largest generational shift of our time. Millennials make up the biggest piece of the population pie and they’re going to be around for a while. We took a glimpse into world of Millennials last week (check it out), but they aren’t the only players in the game. Boomers, Gen Xers, a few Traditionals and the newest addition to the workforce, Gen Z, are all affecting the way we do business. This week scary stats are focused on how these factors are shaping the world at work.


  • 54% of adults in the labor force say it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills in order to keep up with changes in the workplace. (source)
  • Union membership peaked in 1954 at nearly 35% of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but in 2015 the unionization rate was just 11.1%. (source)
  • More older Americans are working. In May of this year, 18.8% of Americans ages 65 and older – nearly 9 million people – reported being employed full- or part-time, continuing a steady increase since at least 2000. (source)
  • Only 31.3% of teens are working summer jobs, compared to 58% in 1978. Only 20% of younger teens (16-17) had summer jobs last year, less than half its level as recently as 2000. (source)
  • Nearly 15 million Americans are self-employed. (source)

Engagement and Job Security

  • 52% of executives believe Gen X workers are the most engaged generation. (source)
  • Only 29% of Millennials are engaged at work. (source)
  • 49% of American workers say they are very satisfied with their current job. (source)
  • 51% of employed Americans say they get a sense of identity from their job, while 47% say their job is just what they do for a living. (source)
  • 60% of employed Americans say it is not at all likely that they will lose their job or be laid off in the next 12 months. (source)


  • In 2014, the median compensation for a 30-year-old was $19.30 an hour—practically the same as it was for Baby Boomers in 1984 when adjusted for inflation and more than $1 less than it was for Generation X workers in 2004. (source)
  • College graduates ages 25 to 34 working full time in 2015 earned more $20,000 more annually than employed young adults holding only a high school diploma. (source)
  • The chief executive officers of America’s largest firms earn three times more than they did 20 years ago and at least 10 times more than 30 years ago. (source)
  • Overall, 58% of Americans favor increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15. (source)


  • Baby Boomers are expected to retire at a rate of 10,000 per day through at least 2030, when almost 73 million Americans will be age 65 or older. (source)
  • Millennials who start their careers with $30,000 in student loans could find they have $325,000 less in retirement savings compared to debt-free peers. (source)
  • One quarter of employees are not saving enough money to receive their employer’s 401K match. On average, those employees are missing out on an extra $1,336 a year. Overall, Americans are losing an estimated $24 billion every year in matching contributions. (source)
  • 48% of pre-retirees don’t have plans for generating income in retirement. (source)
  • Only 11% of workers called themselves “confident” about the investing they do through their employer-sponsored retirement plan. (source)

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.

Sonja Moseley

Director of Strategy and Innovation at XYZ University, Sonja is passionate about growing intentionally. She isn’t afraid to ask tough questions that break down barriers and lay the groundwork for success. A Master of Nonprofit Studies coupled with leadership roles in nonprofit and membership organizations have equipped her with a unique perspective on mission-driven management. Sonja draws upon her experience to help organizations uncover opportunities and develop young talent.

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