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Generations at Work

Generations at Work

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Published by Coy Davidson
Herman Miller whitepaper on different generations in the workplace
Herman Miller whitepaper on different generations in the workplace

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Published by: Coy Davidson on Sep 30, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Research Summary / 2010
Generations at Work.
Whenyou take members of differentgenerations, blend them together,and ask them to work side by side,you have both an opportunity anda challenge: the opportunity toengage a mix of people who bringtheir unique experiences and skillsto an organization and the challengeof dealing with the generationaldifferences that distinguish them.
Generations at Work Research Summary / 2
The 21st century has ushered in a new, generation-bending era in the U.S. workplace.Fifty-five year-old Baby Boomers are on project teams with 22-year-old Millennials andreporting to 45-year-old GenXers while Vets, though fewer in numbers, retain positionsof power and influence. Within the context of this new generational reality, dynamicchange—economic, social, political—is continuously affecting individuals, organizations,and workplaces; at the same time, amid all these influences, the very constancy of lifeand human nature remains unchanged.This convergence of generations has far-reaching implications for them and theorganizations they serve, and it raises some crucial questions:
What impact does such a multigenerational workforce have on the workplace andits design?
What role should differing generational values, work styles, and communicationmethods have on that design?
How can each generation be most effectively engaged, both as individuals and asmembers of teams and participative processes?This merging of generations is happening amid an economic climate that has changedplans and altered expectations. “We see both individuals and organizations looking tosurvive and to prepare for what’s next, whatever that looks like,” says Ginny Baxter,Applied Knowledge Network Lead at Herman Miller. “We see individuals looking forconnection to each other, their work, and the organizations they work for. We seeorganizations focusing on engaging their employees and succeeding in the marketplace.
Different Generations, One Workplace
The generations that find themselves as colleagues in this new environment havecome to be known as Vets, Baby Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials. Together, theyrepresent a vast pool of talent and skill, the most crucial resource that organizationshave. Understanding and appreciating the factors that shape each generation, or allgenerations, can help with everything from recruiting new employees to motivatingseasoned ones. It also goes a long way toward helping recognize how best to utilizetheir strengths, enable their success, and engage them in the kind of efforts that bring outthe best in everyone, no matter their age or generation. Since the financial performanceof any organization is strongly related to the degree to which its employees are engaged,the stakes are high, the rewards substantial.As we discuss generations in the context of this paper, we’re talking about thosepeople whose work usually finds them in offices (their own or others’), conferenceareas, or anyplace (coffee shops, airports, park benches) where they want or needto be. People who do more physical, hands-on work for an organization usually haveless latitude in terms of worksite choice or workday flexibility, so they are not withinthe scope of this discussion.Our focus is on the workforce of the United States, where the designations of Vets, BabyBoomers, GenXers, and Millennials have been established and generally recognized.
Generations at Work Research Summary / 3
Although the idea of generational differences is global, generational definitions arespecific to given societies, influenced by the particular socioeconomic and politicalevents that shaped them.
Other demographic factors will continue to differentiate theU.S. workforce. Compared to Europe’s and Japan’s, it’s still relatively young, due in partto higher birth rates and large numbers of immigrants.
The U.S. is also “graying” to alesser extent; it’s the only developed nation that has replacement-rate fertility—thenumber of children women must have, on average, over their childbearing years toproduce a stationary population: 2.1 children per couple.
Although still active in many profit and nonprofit organizations, members of the Vetgeneration (born between 1919-1942 and now 68 - 91 years old) make up anincreasingly smaller percentage of the U.S. workforce. With all due respect to thatgeneration, this paper focuses on the three generations that followed it. Likewise,members of the newest generation, those born since 1998, have not yet enteredthe workforce, so while we pay attention to them, they are not part of this paper.
Baby Boomers
Born between 1943 and 1961, and now between 49 and 67 years old, Baby Boomersgot their name from the massive increase (“boom”) in births in the United States thatfollowed the Great Depression and World War II and peaked in the late 1950s. They hitsociety with huge, game-changing numbers—72 million strong. Growing up during thecivil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the fast-ascending women’s movement,Boomers witnessed radical change, social upheaval, and changing mores. “Theyemerged with strong beliefs in themselves and their ability to set and achieve goals,says Patty Bergquist, Applied Knowledge Research Manager at Herman Miller. “Suchself-confidence and resolve were nurtured in many cases by strong families, increasededucational opportunities, a growing economy, and their own optimism.
Technology has brought tremendous changes during their careers—to life in generaland the workplace in particular. Boomers’ ability to adapt to change of all kinds hasbeen honed by years of dealing with change firsthand. Having to adapt to newtechnologies has been a necessity and in some cases a challenge, not just the use ofthese technologies but the impact that they have had on the protocols of acceptableoffice behavior. Two-thirds of Boomers, for example, say that laptop use duringin-person meetings is distracting; less than half of Millennials agree.
It's likely Boomers will have a continuing need to adapt to technology in the workplace.One recent survey found that 52 percent of working adults ages 50 to 64 plan todelay their retirement.
Forty-four percent of participants in another study said they willcontinue working either "much later" or a "little later" than age 65. That compares with38 percent of those in their 40s and only 25 percent of workers under the age of 40.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, members of the workforce aged 55 and upwill grow at an annual rate of four percent, four times faster than the growth expectedfor the entire workforce.
Having to adapt to newtechnologies has beena necessity and in somecases a challenge, not just the use of thesetechnologies but theimpact that they havehad on the protocols ofacceptable office behavior.

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