Put 100 nerds like me in the same room, who care about differences between generations, and you’ll get 101 varying opinions on the start and end years for each generation.
For years, the focus of employers was on recruiting and retaining what used to be the largest generation in U.S. history: Baby Boomers. As that generation's people are now 54 to 71 years old, employers have been far less focused on recruiting and retaining, and instead, replacing these aging workers.
I’m a proud member of Generation X, commonly abbreviated to Gen X and even more commonly overlooked. Quite simply, there aren’t a whole lot of us. We were born between 1964 and 1984 and so, we're 33 to 53 years of age.
Recently, employers have been hyperventilating about Millennials, also called Generation Y or Gen Y. Born between 1985 and 1998, these 19- to 32-year-old folks now comprise the largest generation in U.S. history. For many employers, Millennials also comprise the youngest generation in the workforce. Alas, those employers are mistaken. There is, in fact, a younger generation now entering the workforce.
Welcome Generation Z, Gen Z or, as those concerned about the impending end of alphabetical references sometimes call them, the iGeneration. The oldest people in this generation are 18 years old, and they're entering college and the workforce.
So, now that we’ve defined the people that we’re about to stereotype, let’s move on to the discussion about whether employers should treat Gen Z differently than Gen Y, or Gen Y differently than Gen X, or Gen X differently than Baby Boomers. To simplify the discussion, let’s focus on the two largest generations: Gen Y and Baby Boomers.
While considering how different Gen Y are from Baby Boomers, the vast majority of those differences are related to age instead of generation. In other words, when employers think of the needs and wants of a 22-year-old Gen Y’er and how different those are from a 62-year-old Baby Boomer, that employer should understand that the 62-year-old probably had pretty much the same needs and wants when they were 22.
That said, there are some generational differences. Gen Y’ers were the first generation in American history less prosperous than their parents. Gen Y came of age after 9/11 and so for their entire young adult life have known only insecurity, alarmist news broadcasts, war, civil strife and ever-increasing polarization in politics. When employers wonder why Gen Y care so much about personal and financial security and are willing to tradeoff the risk and reward of taking chances, those employers need to understand the grave uncertainties that Gen Y has experienced.
Oh, and if you feel badly for Gen Y, think some more about Gen Z. Not only have they only known insecurity, strive and polarization for their entire adult lives, many of them have lived their entire lives in that atmosphere. Consider that the oldest members of that generation were two years old on 9/11. They simply don’t recall a time when the U.S. wasn’t at war and when people weren’t being forced to measure their liquids before going to the airport or hearing about suicide bombers killing civilians in marketplaces. The oldest was nine years old when the financial markets collapsed and therefore, many of them didn’t even have bank accounts. Yet they’ve also grown up in a world where communicating instantly, easily and at no cost with someone across the ocean is a given.
Do your recruitment and retention strategies and tactics align themselves to the needs and wants of all four generations who are in your workplace? If not, you’re likely sending the best candidates – the ones who have the most choices – to your competitors. If that’s as troubling to you as it is to me, then consider joining me on Dec. 7, 2017, a date which will surely live in infamy, for the New Strategies to Engage With Gen Z and Other Modern Candidates webcast.