01 January 2024

Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

(C) Simply HR Inc.

"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and wiser than the one that comes after it."

--George Orwell

What if the global pandemic's disruptive force is causing 2030 to arrive earlier than scheduled? Pairing that possible contraction with cultural, technical, and economic change moving faster helps explain why organizational life is so challenging. Too much too soon is another way to describe this moment. That's especially true when recruiting, developing, and retaining employees.

Recasting the workforce

A consequential labor trend worth attention is the decentralized workplace. Does this type of structure positively or negatively influence productivity, promotions, and corporate culture? Who occupies that space? And most importantly, what do different age groups think and value? 

"Millennials, a diverse and educated group born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 28 to 43 in 2024), are quickly becoming the most present population in the workforce and leadership roles," reports Inc. Magazine. "By 2030, all members of the baby boom generation, the only cohort officially recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau, will have reached the retirement age of 65, with an average of 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and then," Inc. adds.

At the end of this decade, though, there will again be a multi-generational workforce similar to the one we have now (Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, Generation Z). The silent cohort will nearly disappear, but the labor participation rate of the boomers, who are 75 and older, is projected to reach 11.7% in 2030. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

And as one observer noted, "The marketplace changes in tandem with employment trends."

A reason for optimism

How do we get to a 2030 workplace? 

To quote Socrates, "The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." 

Thinking ahead is a function of leadership. Which means setting aside time to consider a desirable outcome in hiring. Determining what's involved in attracting candidates to your business or nonprofit. Identifying what needs to be done, by whom, and when to get the right people in place. Be at the front instead of the back of the talent line.

Change requires stability. For that reason, Gen X (65.2 million) could provide ballast between the baby boomers (71.6 million), millennials (72.1 million), and Gen Z (69.5 million) (U.S. Census Bureau population estimates) 1

Gen X, 33% of the current U.S. workforce, born between 1965 and 1976 (ages 44 to 59 in 2024), is indispensable to a workplace transformation. Research among Gen Xers shows a strong work ethic, communication skills, and problem-solving ability. More than baby boomers, they will hand over executive and senior management responsibilities to millennials and Gen Z as 2030 approaches. 

Passing the torch

As 70% of leadership development is getting the right experience, Gen X leaders are the ones to prioritize millennial and Gen Z opportunities, enabling them to learn and grow, often from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Hardships build character.

Since the Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum created the first organizational chart in 1854, the failure of management to set clear expectations around performance has kept productivity unnecessarily low and employees from being fully accountable for how work gets done. 

Great supervisors make a difference in the unfolding of one's career. That job is vital in communicating expectations and giving everyone real-time feedback, especially tech-literate millennials and Gen Z, who are racially and ethnically diverse and the most highly educated generation.  

More than a third of U.S. companies have abandoned traditional annual performance appraisals and replaced them with an increase in frequent conversations between managers and employees. (Harvard Business Review)

Demographics--a cautionary tale

Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, believes we should be careful about reading too much into generational headlines:

1. Generational categories are not scientifically defined. The boundaries that place one person in Gen Z and another in the millennial generation are not precise or universally agreed upon.

2. These generational labels can lead to stereotypes and oversimplification. All millennials and baby boomers are not the same, just as all Southerners, all Catholics, or all Black Americans are not the same. Shared experiences and identities should be recognized but not at the expense of individuality.

3. Discussions about generations often focus on differences instead of similarities. Conflict gets more attention than consensus, with media overstating the divide between younger and older generations. Think about your family relationships. We're more alike than not.

4. Conventional views of generations can carry an upper-class bias. Popular history recalls that Baby Boomers in the 1960s and '70s were deeply opposed to the Vietnam War. However, many high-quality surveys at the time showed that younger Americans – most of whom were not attending college – were more supportive of the war than older generations who had lived through previous conflicts.

5. People change over time. Don't assume that what you see today, you'll see tomorrow. People change as they grow older, pursue careers, and form families. Generational signals can sometimes be long-lasting, but youth itself is not permanent. 

Under the corporate arc 

With innovation and technology always in play (AI going mainstream) and demographic transitions in progress, what's a reasonable way for leaders to think about 2030?

A study by McKinsey & Company, Organizing for the Future, provides direction. The published findings suggest clarifying corporate principles to achieve the desired end. 

Where to focus?

Who we are: Strengthen identity, setting purpose in motion. Use culture to differentiate in recruiting, positioning, and execution of strategy.

How we operate: Flatten structure and speed up decision-making. Many decisions require less than half the steps executives imagine necessary. Treat talent as scarcer than capital.

How we grow: Cooperate internally and collaborate externally. Future-ready organizations see partners as extensions of themselves. A substantial amount of value in organizations is linked to as few as 25 to 50 roles. That's enough to accelerate learning and spread authority and responsibility across a larger platform.

Add to the McKinsey list--

Who will work, and how: A projected employment of 165 million awaits. More women than men; shorter work weeks--same pay; hybrid locations for the office class, with holographic meetings the next new thing. Even with more AI-driven automation, humans will likely be the principal source of ideas and inspiration. 

Finding common ground

By 2030, a rebalanced multi-generational workforce will be in place, with each individual having the potential to make a unique contribution to group purpose.

A reasonable course for Gen X is facilitating a promising outcome through organizational renewal, clarifying corporate character, and tapping baby boomers' experience before they walk out the door. Engage in this process, knowing millennials, Gen Z, and others will decide what they want to do and who they want to be.

The previous thirty-six months revealed that many enterprises are designed for a world "passing from sight." In that sense, the contagion carried with it a warning for some and possibilities for others--as different and better ends await those who prepare now for a future that's near.

1 "Generations" defined by Pew Research Center: Generation Z, Born after 1996**; Millennial, born 1981 to 1996, age in 2024: 28 to 43;; Generation X, born: 1965 to 1980, age in 2024: 44 to 59; Baby Boomer, born 1946 to 1964, age in 2024: 60 to 78; Silent Generation, born: 1928 to 1945, age in 2024: 79 to 96  **No chronological endpoint has been set for this group.


© Bredholt & Co.