Gen Z and the Workplace Multi-Generational Mix

In this article, we look at how to make the most of the increasing diversity in the workplace and use it to perform at the highest level possible.

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For the first time, probably in history, the workplace includes people from at least four broad generations. As some people work longer into what would formerly have been their ‘retirement’ phase, the newest generation on the block is growing in numbers and having an impact on the organisations they are joining, especially in traditional corporate environments. This article looks at some of the things leaders and co-workers should be thinking about and poses some key questions to consider about to make the most of the increasing diversity in the workplace and use it to perform at the highest level possible and deliver customer excellence.

Are the Generations Really Different?

The descriptions of the broad generations (Boomers, Generation X, Millenials and Gen Z) can pose a problem in themselves. Even the dates vary depending on what your source of information is! However, there is no arguing that when you have people in your organisation who range from those in their early twenties, or younger, to those in their seventies, their life experience, needs and expectations do differ.

• Boomers (born before the early 1960s) have grown up in a relatively stable, structured and largely optimistic world. Many have experienced managed, hierarchical career development opportunities, at least in theory, and many have long service records with one, or just a few organisations. They may be considering reducing the amount of time they work in a formal environment to allow time to pursue other interests but are not fully ready to leave the workforce. They may be driven by sharing their experiences with others to help them grow in the workplace and succeed.

• Generation X (born before the early 1980s) employees are likely to be mid-career and juggling family responsibilities, often both eldercare and childcare, with their work. They are typically regarded as being more entrepreneurial and innovative than previous generations. Their experience in the workplace has been one of accepting a growing reliance on technology and the impact of automation, often resulting in frequent change and restructuring. Some may be experiencing change fatigue and a reluctance to embrace new ways of working.

• Millennials (born in the last two decades of the 20th century) have grown up in a predominantly tech-enabled world. They typically strive for greater process efficiency and value employers that are clear about their purpose, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do. Their grasp of tech gives them the confidence to challenge traditional thinking and ways of working, and they are likely to be more demanding of the organisation they choose to work for. They will often want to be sure that the organisation is ethical, on a path to sustainability and minimising adverse impact on the planet and society. They may be starting families and seeking a more blended work environment to give them the flexibility they need.

• Gen Z (born in the early 21st century) people have never known life without technology. Their childhoods were framed by technology, an immediate access to information of all kinds and a collaborative approach to problem solving, finding like-minded people and creating content. They are often described as having a more global mindset than previous generations, having a deep concern about the state of the world and consequently a strong sense of corporate social responsibility. As so often happens, they are the latest generation to face the biases of their elders who seem to regard them as less inclined to work hard and accept ‘norms’, more inclined to expect the workplace to meet their needs.

Misunderstanding between generations, particularly at the extremes, is not new. Think back to the time when it is said ‘the teenager’ was born. Different attitudes and expectations prevailed – different hair styles, clothing and music was frowned upon. Younger people were branded as ‘long-haired layabouts’, or dreamers. So is there anything really new about intra-generational misunderstanding? Probably not, but we should all be very aware of the inherent bias within the terminology and making assumptions about what is driving other people in the workplace. Interestingly, when we use these categories to describe ourselves and others, there is no reference to the impact of national culture, individual personality or learned behaviours. However, there is no doubt that there are indeed challenges facing organisations, leaders, managers and co-workers operating in a muti-generational workplace and welcoming Gen Z into it.

Here are four key areas to consider (in no particular order) and a few simple questions to ask:

• The digital workplace – technology is everywhere and becoming ever more powerful. Many are embracing the possibilities and opportunities, others see a squeeze on traditional skills and jobs and take a more dystopian perspective. Some of us remember working without computers and AI, others know of nothing else. This simple difference of experience will impact how employees deal with change, learn and accept new technologies and tasks, believe in the potential benefits of technology, and frame how they expect their leaders to embrace and advocate new ways of working. Is the development of new technology and its impact on society and work really any different to the changes that have taken place at regular intervals in history? Does the organisation have different ways of appealing to the myriad responses of its employees to the introduction of new technologies? What skills and behaviours can we usefully learn from the first true ‘digital natives’ of Gen Z?

• Organisational purpose and values – nearly all organisations these days will have a defined purpose and actively promote their values which build on their mission, vision and goals. Employees will respond to and engage with their organisation’s purpose and values in different ways which may be framed by their generational experience. The delivery of an organisation’s goals, and the achievement of customer service excellence will always be paramount, but now we must also think deeply about how the employees’ experiences play out. Is the organisation meeting the expectations of its employees and energising them all to high levels of productivity and customer service? How does an organisation appeal to the Gen Z talent it wants to attract and retain without alienating others?

• Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) – evolving from the early days of gender equality, often linked to equal pay, employees of all generations are increasingly seeking a far broader approach that encompasses diversity of thought and experience, ethnicity, religious belief, age, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities, neuro-diversity and economic status. It is commonplace to see organisations and their employees embracing diversity in a proactive way and creating workplaces that truly offer opportunities to everyone. Are opportunities in the organisation really accessible to all their employees? Can other generations learn from their Gen Z colleagues’ greater tolerance to what differentiates us from each other?

• Ways of working – the workplace was changing before 2020 and the pandemic. The pace of some of those changes increased rapidly in many sectors as technology enabled people to work differently, often away from the workplace. The lines between home and work were blurred for many in ways that were clearly beneficial to some, or simply created more challenges and stress for others. Many advertised roles are now described as ‘hybrid’ or ‘onsite’ to help manage applicants’ expectations. People who entered the workplace in the early part of the 2020s have had a very different experience of what it means to enter the workplace, onboarding, socialising and learning from others. How are organisations embedding their culture and making sure that newer employees feel included, and understand the expectations of them? Does Gen Z really have a different perspective about what work means?


In conclusion, the multi-generational workplace offers huge opportunities for organisations to explore. Leaders, managers and co-workers have a unique chance to learn from each other in a way that will help them all achieve greater success. Organisations should be encouraged to promote intra-generational learning through mentoring and reverse mentoring schemes, forming diverse multi-generational teams and building a culture of respect and curiosity in order to fully embrace the diversity in their workforce.

Author Bio

Alison Pennington is a senior organisational development and effectiveness professional with extensive experience gained as a consultant to private and public sector clients, and in global corporate environments. Now operating as an independent consultant and mentor. Find her on LinkedIn.

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