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Optimum Talks Blog

Generation What?

by Kim Hirsch

When reading business articles about different generations in the workforce it seems that about 80% of articles are focused on Millennials (Gen Y) with 20% of the content reserved for Baby Boomers. What’s frustrating about this is that we are leaving two whole generations out of the conversation — Gen X and Gen Z.

While there are general timeframes for each cohort, an online search shows that there are numerous different date ranges referenced. Even Wikipedia doesn’t use specific years, rather provides these rough ranges:

Baby Boomers: birth years starting from the early- to mid-1940s and ending anywhere from 1960 to 1964.

Gen X: birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s.

Gen Y (Millennials): birth years starting in the 1980s with the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.

Gen Z: mid-1990s to mid-2000s as starting birth years.

This means that someone in their mid-to-late 30s may have thought they were a sophisticated, hard-working Gen X, when in reality they are an entitled, social media addicted Millennial! Now of course, I say this with complete sarcasm, but I do so to prove the point that while individuals within these generational cohorts may certainly share some characteristics or behaviours driven by the environment during which they grew up, it is completely unfair and unrealistic to paint everyone with the same brush.

In the current workforce you are likely to have colleagues spanning across all four cohorts. Instead of getting hung up on the challenges and assumptions of working with different generations, why don’t we look at the amazing opportunities available from having such a diverse age range in our current business world? Here are a few thoughts:

Learning Opportunities: Everyone has something to offer. Take advantage of the mentoring opportunities both downwards and upwards. Your baby boomer boss can impart wisdom on management practices or handling difficult conversations, while your Millennial colleague may teach you how to use a new program to be more efficient with your time or show you the benefits of using your LinkedIn profile for personal branding.

Diversity and Innovation: Diversity is a great thing for business. Whether it is gender, race or age, bringing people with different perspectives to the table can mean significant increases to your business success and profits. The major historical events that occurred during the formative years of the different generations results in new thinking, approaches, and beliefs that can be beneficial when handling challenging situations or brainstorming innovative ideas.

Purpose: Whether it is career progression, getting a foot in the door or simply bringing home a paycheque to support their family, everyone you encounter in the office is there for their own reasons, one that may be much different than you think. Instead of assuming that twenty-something colleague is just sitting in the chair for a year before getting bored and moving onto a new role, have a conversation to understand their goals and career aspirations – you may be surprised what you hear!

Culture: If you celebrate and promote the benefits of having an age-diverse workforce, your corporate culture can become more inclusive, unique and dynamic. This can be used as a key differentiator for your organization and strategically applied in your attraction and retention efforts in today’s competitive business world.