An unprecedented five generations soon will be in the workforce simultaneously, creating never-before-seen challenges for HR professionals. Each generation works differently and expects different things from their employers. With that in mind, companies need to know what their employees want from them, and conversely, what to get from them to maintain a productive team.
In her book, The 2020 Workplace, I’ve found that Jeanne Meister gives very insightful information while she breaks down characteristics of those generations and examines how companies can maximize how they work with each of them. Meister breaks down the 2020 workplace as follows:
Born before 1946, traditionalists will be 75 years old by 2020. They are eligible for retirement, but they either enjoy working or are in no financial position to leave work. Because of their age, the number of incidents and duration of disabilities and/or illnesses are likely to increase.
This generation has experienced the greatest amount of technological change in their home and work lives. With this in mind, these employees are more likely to be working with an older computer or sitting in an older chair. Simple job accommodations — like a better monitor or keyboard or an ergonomically correct chair — can help keep these employees productive.
Finally, traditionalists have strong characteristics of dependability and sacrifice. It’s for this reason they are more willing to work in teams than individually, which puts great emphasis on keeping teams together at work.
These employees were born between 1946 and 1964 and are at or near retirement themselves — in their 40s through 60s. Just like their parents, the number of disabilities and/or illnesses will increase as they get older.
The biggest impact in their early lives was the TV. They steadily grew suspicious of authority, and because of this, baby boomers are more comfortable working on their own than in teams; they’d rather take ownership of a project than have to share with others.
In their 30s and early 40s, these employees are the “latchkey kids.” This bred independent thinkers and entrepreneurial spirits. It’s because of this that Generation X likes to work solo on the job. If this employee goes on a leave of absence (LOA), his or her absence is felt more than if the employee is part of a team that can pick up the work.
These workers are in their 20s and 30s and they have been living online since they were small. They have a constant craving for information, usually through emails and texts. Because these men and women want their information fast and furious, HR departments will need to be ready to react quickly to any kind of inquiry — whether it’s a benefits question or vacation request. In fact, a quick response will be expected.
This also is the generation that is most likely working from a remote location, not necessarily inside company headquarters. They mostly use laptops and mobile devices to do their work, so strong ergonomic practices will be vital — like how to position a laptop on an airplane, or the best practice for typing on a smaller keyboard.
These people will be new to the workforce in 2020. Many won’t go an hour without updating their Facebook or Twitter status. With the constant inundation of social networking, they could be increasingly more distracted at work and less productive.
These workers also will bring a newfound appreciation and demand for digital expectations at their jobs, like the latest computer software or mobile technology.
Become a driving force
This fall, Jeanne Meister and I hosted an exclusive webinar on the five generations and how companies can learn from them. During the webinar, we explored strategies for helping to keep employees happy, no matter what age bracket they fall into. We also discussed the Workplace PossibilitiesSM Program, a unique and proactive approach to helping keep employees at work and productive. The recorded version of the webinar can be downloaded or accessed here.
 New York: HarperCollins; 2010.