Diversity is a driver of innovation. In as much as innovation is a key element of long-term business success, innovative leaders need to be able to communicate their business vision, as well as, be able to generate enthusiasm for it.
Team members must be on the same page and be willing to invest their time and resources in making it happen. And while this seems like a no-brainer in theory, when it comes to putting this idea into practice, business owners can find it’s easier said than done.
As marketers, we understand the influences, priorities, and attitudes latent in buying behavior. We continually observe and study how consumers make their decisions and factor those insights into the organizational makeup of multi-generational businesses.
And as a multi-generation business ourselves, we recognize just how significant the contributions of each generation are to future-proofing your company. None of this happens without relentless reassessment and embracing change to remain relevant to the needs of the companies we serve. To dive deeper into this, we first must examine the motivating factors that make each generation unique in today’s marketplace.
In 2019, approximately 157 million people were employed in the United States. An additional two million employees will join the workforce in 2022. These millions of employees span in age from just-out-of-school to nearing retirement. The broad age and demographic spectrum of business cohorts certainly impact the way we manage a business.
Among the 159 million-strong workforce is the Silent Generation – 23 million people born in the years between 1928-45. They still wield influence as founders in organizational structure, but they are mostly retired from the workforce. This brings us to the top generational level of today’s workforce: the Boomers.
Born between 1946-64, the Baby Boomer generation is currently in their late fifties, sixties, and early seventies. Their work ethic is legendary, and they have forged a legacy redefining traditional values. Their definition of hard work often centers on visibility and long hours. They prefer structure and discipline and are less inclined to welcome change. Given how large this generation is, they still strongly influence today’s workplace culture.
Baby Boomers own more than two million small businesses in the U.S. and employ more than 25 million people. Many are at a crossroads. Will they be selling their business, passing it on to a successor, or sticking around in some capacity? One thing is certain: they are ready to pass on the workload and stresses they’ve been carrying.
As consumers, Boomers are loyal customers. Of all the generations, they wield the most disposable income and spending power and enjoy spending it on their diverse interests. Segmenting Boomers by age alone is a mistake made by some marketers, and even more so by younger generations. Compared to younger generations, Boomers have vastly different expectations and goals regarding lifestyle choices. They vary significantly in how they plan to retire. Some have no plan, little savings, and only vague ideas of what retirement will be like. Other Boomers have carefully planned and well funded their retirement. Therefore, it is crucial to pay close attention to each segment’s interests and motivations.
Generation X, born between 1965-80, is currently in its forties and early fifties. That means that most Gen Xers have at least 20 years of work experience and look forward to assuming leadership and its challenges as Baby Boomers retire. Some Gen Xers are more than ready. They are frustrated as Boomers delay retirement, while Millennials aim to take on more significant responsibilities earlier.
Their position – sandwiched between the Boomers and Millennials – has shaped how they work and lead others. They are good communicators and are invaluable in supporting both Boomers and Millennials. They value education and technology and thrive on clear goals and deliverables. They are independent thinkers.
As a generation, they invented the idea of a work/life balance, flex time, and similar concepts. They want to feel like they contribute to something worthwhile professionally. As consumers, they appreciate human contact. They engage in personal relationships with retailers and service providers.
Gen Y (Millennials)
The Millennial generation has come of age. Born between 1981-96, Millennials are now the dominant generation in our workforce and are even more prevalent as consumers.
Millennials are currently in their late twenties and thirties and have significant economic strength. They also exert significant influence upon business leadership by virtue of their innovative approach to the workplace environment and dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Millennials’ contributions in terms of technology use and adoption are well known. But they also changed how consumers buy products and relate to brands. Millennials want a relationship with the brand and gravitate to those brands that align with their own personal values. Moreover, their access to technology allows them to stay connected. This empowers Millennials to find the best price for a product while also evaluating levels of product quality. They earned their reputation as the “mall killers,” demanding quality and value over quantity and low prices.
Just as they have high expectations of brands, they also have high expectations of their employers. They demand flexibility, work/life balance, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their job. The latter has sometimes put them onto a collision course with older generations. Having firsthand experience with debt and financial instability from their experiences during the Great Recession, Millennials are saving for retirement earlier than any other generation.
Gen Z (Zoomers)
While much has been written about Millennials, when it comes to forcing change in the marketplace, the relative youngsters of Generation Z are now the ones to watch.
Gen Z, colloquially known as Zoomers, has never known a world without total digital integration. Born between 1997-2012, they are currently in their pre-teens, teens, and early twenties. Many are born entrepreneurs, often starting businesses through digital channels in their teens.
Incredibly self-motivated, Gen Z works hard but expects a lot in return. The integration of flexibility, convenience, and technology tools in their work setting are just a few standards they view as baseline demands. And they don’t understand when their environment doesn’t embrace these expectations. They are also an activist generation, willing to level their digital prowess, buying power, and voice against brands if they don’t align with their values. They are young but influential.
Zoomers’ lives were interrupted more than any other generation by the Covid-19 pandemic. They are a generation forced to learn online. They’ve celebrated life’s milestones such as graduations and weddings remotely, distanced, masked, or not at all. The impact of this is undeniable, and the next few years will reveal just how deeply the pandemic has shaped their attitudes and beliefs about their futures.
Clash of the Generations?
Moving past perceptions and harvesting the power that each generation brings is one of the most challenging issues, given today’s media climate that champions pitting groups against each other.
As we carved out our brand positioning and settled on the goal of helping multi-generational companies navigate the future, we did so believing that it is not only achievable but is key to future-proofing brands.
For marketers, a focus on individualized customization and personalization is the future. Knowing customer segments is critical to understanding how to reach and influence people across multiple platforms. All marketers must span social media, digital media, traditional media, and other non-traditional mediums. The seamless transition from one to another offers businesses the ability to reach consumers across multiple generations.
This idea of bridging multiple generations is the same for strategic business planning as well as for bringing time-tested brands into the future.
Every generation brings a different set of skills to the table, and more often than not, they complement each other. Generational diversity drives innovation. Skill diversity pushes us all forward, because a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds are essential for the development of new ideas.
How Generational Diversity Makes You Stronger
Without a doubt, the defining characteristics of the four influential generations create friction at times. The good news? If all embrace how the organization can benefit from generational differences, the friction can lead to forward-moving traction.
Vive la difference! Mature talent can share their knowledge and experience with younger generations. Young talent can help bring older generations up-to-speed with technology and digital platforms. The diversity leads to the transfer of crucial skills and institutional knowledge – both vital for the strategic planning of any organization.
Research also shows both older and younger employees are more productive in companies with multi-generational work teams. Generational diversity can improve organizational performance and potentially even reduce employee turnover. We go so far as to believe that an intentional distribution of generations in your company gives you a competitive advantage. As a business, you rarely ever cater to just one audience. So, having multiple generations on staff gives your company a broader, more articulated internal perspective. Cross-generational representation is also attractive for potential customers and future employees alike.
More in Common Than You Think?
It comes down to this: we are all influenced by different life experiences and have adapted our views of how we think an organization can be most productive and effective. It is important to remember, however, that we generally have the same goal. You would like to see your business, brand, and organization thrive.
We take great pride in having a role in this for our clients.
Research tells us that all generations share the following expectations – even though they may interpret them differently.
- Importance of family
- A healthy work/life balance
- A feeling of appreciation
- The desire for effective leadership
- Flexibility within structure
- Desire to have a voice
- Involvement in decision-making
- A sense of purpose in work
- Financial reward
And perhaps most importantly:
- A dislike for stereotypical perceptions of one’s generation
The most significant difference is that generations see different paths to achieving those goals.
At Traction, we find ourselves in the unique position of having four very different generations in the workplace catering to up to six generations of consumers. Each generation has its unique skillset, beliefs, and competencies to bring to the table.
Together we can lead organizations to unprecedented heights. Thanks to the diverse ways of thinking about work and life in general, each generation is a source of new approaches and perspectives (and, yes, challenges).
If you are looking for creative solutions to harness the generational power within your business, please reach out to us. We love meeting business leaders facing these challenges who want to turn them into opportunities.