In today’s workforce, several generations work alongside one another, from not-yet-retired members of the “Greatest Generation” and Baby Boomers to bright-eyed Gen Z’ers just starting their careers. Each of these generations brings different strengths and priorities to the workplace, shaped by different experiences in their formative years and education. Understanding each generation individually is key to making the most of their talents in your organization. Let’s take a look at how organizations can attract, retain, and support top talent from each generation.
At most workplaces, Baby Boomers comprise the “senior” generation, though some “Greatest Generation” or “Silent Generation” employees, born in the mid-to-late 1940s and earlier, are still active employees, albeit in smaller percentages. In 2018, Boomers comprised about a quarter of the overall U.S. labor force. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, working Boomers often reevaluated their current status. Over the two years from 2020 to 2021, 3.5 million more adults aged 55 and older have retired – a major shift from the usual level of 1 million new retirees each year.
For those still working, Boomer employees tend to hold more traditional views about what work looks like. Security and stability are top priorities, with Boomers often viewing work as an extension of the self and a sense of satisfaction derived from a job well done. These longtime employees often have a unique depth of knowledge and expertise, and they’re usually happy to share their hard-won know-how. Because they’re later in their careers, these employees are typically attracted to jobs that offer things like a positive working atmosphere and a clear, stable organizational structure, rather than career development perks, which are less relevant to them.
In 2018, Gen X made up approximately one-third of the workforce, putting them just behind Millennials as the second-largest share of the workforce overall. This set includes employees who were born between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, meaning they’ve spent their lives (and careers) experiencing significant shifts in technology, work, culture, and politics – in some ways, they’re a generation defined by change itself.
Despite often being overlooked in favor of “trendy” younger generations, Gen X’ers can be a major asset in a workplace. Resilient, creative, and great at problem-solving, this group also is notable for their loyalty: only 14% of employed Gen X’ers said they considered leaving their jobs during the Great Resignation. However, they also highly value autonomy, flexibility, and work/life balance to be among their major priorities. With established careers, they tend to be more risk-averse and believe it’s important that their expertise be respected. These flexible, knowledgeable employees can be ideal workers in IT and cybersecurity, with their dedication and knowledge – but it’s critical that employees offer sufficient flexibility and autonomy in order to entice these employees to sign on and stick around.
If you guessed that Millennials are currently the largest demographic in the workforce, you’d be right. In 2018, they just barely came out above Gen X, with Millennials comprising 35% of the total labor force, but their share continues to grow. This generation came of age and entered the workforce during an era of exponential growth in technology, meaning that many of them are used to rapidly adjusting to new ideas and tech. For IT and cybersecurity, where keeping up with fast-moving tech is critical, this skill sets Millennials apart.
The majority of Millennials also entered the workforce either during or immediately following the Great Recession, which affects their risk-taking and their long-term view of career development. They’re often willing to look for new opportunities, but they’re motivated to move around by finding work that aligns better with their values – or out of a “hustle” mindset. They value workplace attributes like positive culture, a feeling of positive impact, fair compensation, and a sense of individuality. Millennials also are looking for jobs where they can advance: one 2016 Gallup poll revealed that up to 87% of Millennials prioritize the potential for career development from day one in their job search. Having clear paths for advancement, training, and certifications can help to attract and retain these workers in tech jobs.
Gen Z, born in 1996 or later, is the most recent generation to age into the workforce. They only comprised 5% of the whole workforce in 2018, since the oldest members of the generation were only just graduating and starting their full-time careers. This generation shares some traits with Millennials, such as a relative comfort with handling rapid changes, especially in technology, and a preference for a workplace that prioritizes respect and a people-first approach.
From one perspective, Gen Z is a bolder, more self-assured version of the Millennial generation. They share priorities – a commitment to diversity and inclusion, a sense of purpose at work, fair and transparent pay, and clear paths to career advancement – but they’re even more up-front about asking for them, even more willing to leave a job that doesn’t meet their needs, and more willing to prioritize rest over the “hustle.” In fact, a LinkedIn study found that job transitions among Gen Z were up 80% year-over-year. In the competitive IT and cybersecurity space, this means that this in-demand, flexible generation may be even harder to attract and retain. Still, they’re young and still learning the ropes of the workforce, and while they’re excited to reshape norms towards a healthier and more inclusive view of work, they also may require a little more time and compromise to get there.
By Daniel Midoneck