Examining Workplace Values from Baby Boomers to Generation Z
Today’s workforce consists of 4 generations: (ordered from oldest to youngest) Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. These generations were raised in different social and political atmospheres and therefore, correspond to different childhood upbringings and familial environments, which beget different values, wants, and needs in adulthood.
Early and late psychological researchers have proven this to be true: the environment in which an individual is brought up in, namely the things that they lack or are deprived of in their childhood, strongly influences their value development throughout adulthood.
But how exactly does this tie into the ever-changing workplace status quo and where do employers fall in? We can generalize these individual upbringings that influence different adulthood values to the changing social, political, and technological atmospheres surrounding each generation that underlie (and influence) different generational workplace values.
To cultivate a workplace environment where all employees can thrive, employers must be wary of these values, as well the nature of the social, political, and technological atmospheres that generated them.
(Born 1946 to 1964)
The Baby Boomers, or “Boomers,” were born and raised in post-WWII (post-World War II) American society. This period saw younger marriages, higher childbirth rates, and, resultingly, greater resource scarcity. Being raised in a society with limited resources, limited jobs, and limited schooling inspired a generation of competitors: individuals who operated with a “work as hard as you can, then work even harder the next time” mindset.
According to liveaboutdotcom, some common workplace and worker values/mindsets associated with the Boomer generation are work-centric and workaholic, independent and self-assertive, goal-oriented and career-focused, competitive, and self-actualized. Together, these values and mindsets suggest a generation that prioritizes efficiency and efficacy in the workplace but has little regard for a work-life balance, with work tending to be the center of their lives.
(Born 1965 to 1980)
Generation X, or Gen Xers, is the generation that follows the Baby Boomers. Knowing that the preceding generation was characterized by a work-centric lifestyle, it’s no surprise that the generation that followed almost entirely rejected this belief. Gen Xers were raised in a time characterized by early technological developments (analog to digital), transformative socio-political change, and minimal adult supervision.
Together, this fostered a generation with hyper-independence (with often both parents always working) and hyper-flexibility (from having to constantly adapt to the rapidly evolving status-quo) that, contrasting Boomers, prioritizes a work-life balance: operating under a “work hard, play hard” mentality. According to indeed, some common workplace values to Gen Xers are independence and self-sufficiency, healthy work-life balancing, flexibility and informality, and technological creativity.
(Born 1981 to 1996)
Generation Y, or more commonly known as Millennials, follow Generation X and precede Generation Z. Millennials are the most populated generation and compose the majority of today’s workforce, (approximately 35% according to U.S (United States). Bureau of Labor Statistics) which make their upbringing and workplace values especially of interest to employers. As the name suggests, most Millennials were raised at the turn of the millennium, serving as the last generation to see life before and after the complete digital takeover. In addition to witnessing extreme technological growth and development that spawned unprecedented levels of communication, Millennials were old enough to understand 9/11 and its aftermath and grew up seeing the importance and benefit to the work-life balance that Gen Xers prioritized.
These childhood environments resulted in a highly progressive, empathetic generation that was the first to integrate moral values into the workplace: striving to only work in environments that aligned with their core socio-political values, even at the cost of a pay-cut. The Millennial workplace mindset is best described as “work hard, play harder, but try to only work where you can see yourself play”. According to Haillo and indeed, some common workplace values essential to the average Millennial worker are personalized and frequent internal communication, diversity and inclusion, flexibility + remote options, teamwork, professional growth, and professional development (emphasis on learning new skills.)
(Born 1997 to 2010)
Lastly, but surely not least, is Generation Z, (or Gen Z’ers,) the incoming generation of today’s workforce. Currently, Gen Z accounts for 30% of the world’s population and is projected to compose about 30% of the workforce population in less than 5 years. As the first generation to truly exist without knowledge of what it’s like to grow up without digital technology, it’s no surprise that there are many qualities unique to Gen Z that clearly set them apart from the past three generations we’ve discussed.
Growing up with emergence and proliferation of social media apps and the world wide web, Gen Z has been named “the first global generation,” with access to everything (and everyone) at just one click of a button. Pair this with the global economic and health upheavals caused by the global financial crisis that spanned 2007 to 2009, the global distress caused by the climate emergency, and the economic fallout from COVID-19 that transitioned the world online, we would expect this lack of stability would produce a generation of similar values and beliefs to those of the Boomers. However, what Gen Z had that Boomers did not was the ability to communicate openly and honestly about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of other people experiencing similar (or worse) upheavals. Gen Z is the first generation to have access to every perspective; the first generation where almost no traumatic or unpleasant experience was isolated, unrelatable, or unique– the first generation of global community.
According to Zurich and McKinsey & Company, Gen Z is the generation of truth, exploration, and identity (or lack thereof). Gen Z is driven by an insatiable hunger for underlying truths and seeks freedom from any confining labels that limits any exploration of these truths. Resultantly, retaining Gen Z in the workplace presents even greater difficulty than retaining Millennials. Taking the previous generation’s prioritization of working at companies with similar socio-political values a step further, Gen Z has no problem leaving a company or business that contrasts with their beliefs. Moreover, Gen Z is the generation with the least regard for salary, often placing workplace values over competitive pay. For this generation, these values include meaningful work, diverse and inclusive company culture, mental health prioritization, open and honest communication, stability and balance, professional growth and development, collaboration, autonomy, and flexibility (emphasis on remote work options).
Workplace values are the most important guiding principles for how, when, and why employees work. Over time, these values have become increasingly progressive in the workforce, transforming from work-centric ideologies to person-first mindsets. Where Baby Boomers were content with devoting their lives to the work they found, Millennials and Gen Z seek purposeful devotions that serve both themselves and the communities they care about. For employers, understanding how the changing times result in generations with different workplace and worker values will not only help to better understand your employees but will also help to ensure the workplace environment you cultivate attracts, retains, and empowers all of your people.
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