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Multi-Generational Workforces

I recently ran into an interesting article by Terry Carroll, Market Intelligence Manager for Kimball Office.  Carroll explained that to fully understand how the mind works at work, we must first appreciate the office environment we work in, and understand how workplace dynamics complement the mind.  I would like to share some of the variables she identified in an office setting, and the impact they can have on how the mind works at work.

 

When you stop to think about it, a multi-generational workforce is nothing new.  Most people enter the workforce in their 20’s and, if they are lucky, retire in their 60’s.  But a major difference between workforces now, and say 40 years ago, is the management and workspace styles used to capture employee knowledge and ideas.  To be effective, companies must understand how each generation thinks and what is needed to produce quality work.

 

Before you can dive into minds at work, you must first know who is working.  It is important to be aware and acknowledge each group’s strengths, weaknesses and differences.  Today’s workforce includes the following four groups of employees:

 

Older workers, born prior to 1945, are experienced and knowledgeable about their field, and can provide excellent insight and wisdom, if companies are willing to listen.

 

The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 – 1964, also have a wealth of knowledge and experience, are mostly optimistic and competitive and tend to place value on titles.  Both Older Workers and Baby Boomers have a sense of loyalty towards their employers.

 

Generation X, born between 1965 – 1980, place more emphasis on improving and nurturing skills than on titles.

 

Generation Y/Millennials, born after 1981, grew up in the age of computers, video games, and nearly instant gratification.  Both Gen X and Y tend to have less loyalty towards employers, perhaps reflecting the environment in which they were raised.

 

Carroll suggests that Older Workers and Baby Boomers have a tendency to be more individually focused in their work, but have adapted to a more collaborative style, in order to compete.  Although these generations prefer individual space, they understand the need for shared, team environments, and are becoming more comfortable working in the open.  Gen X and Y grew up working in teams and open environments, so the trend to a collaborative workforce is nothing new.

 

In an effort to satisfy employees’ preferences of individual space and the need for collaboration, employers are providing space for both individual work and group huddles.  This is accomplished by moving private offices with desks deeper into the building, providing more space for cubicles in open plans, less private offices and more conference rooms for group meetings.  Designers are beginning to create workspaces that provide non-assigned space to employees, but increase employees’ ability to work individually or together when necessary.  Employers should make sure both needs are met so employees can work at their optimum level.  It seems that the days of uniform workstations are beginning to drift away.

 

As technology continues to change, so do the generations that accompany it, and the way these generations communicate.  Communication and open mindedness are vital to the success of any organization, which is why workplaces are seeing a change in attitudes towards collaboration.  Employers and employees must appreciate the varying degrees of creativity and knowledge among co-workers.  This diversity is a competitive advantage to companies that can harness each employee’s strengths, and channel that strength into a better team with increased productivity and quality.