The challenge of leading people of all ages in the U.S. workforce has always been around; there are always older generations and younger generations. However, each generation is slightly different in size and how they approach work.
The Baby Boom was called that, for example, because of the unprecedented “boom” of births that happened after WWII, when the soldiers came home and there were government-creative incentives and programs (in what was referred to as the “GI bill”) for them to buy homes and start families.
Let’s solidify the definitions for each generation since WWII:
- Baby Boomers – born from 1945 – 1964
- Gen X’ers – born from 1965 – 1981
- Gen Y/Millennials – born from 1981 – 1994
- Gen Z – born in 1995 and later
In the 1990s, Baby Boomers made up about 66% of the U.S. labor force. Millennials started to enter the job market in the late 1990s and have been playing a larger and larger role throughout the early 2000s to the present day. The “tipping point,” where Millennials outnumbered Baby Boomers, was in 2013 and – in 2017 Millennials became the largest sector of the U.S. labor force.
So you might ask, at this point, if Millennials are the dominant generation working, why are there such issues in managing them and diverse-aged teams?
The answer lies, in many ways, in who makes up senior management – and leadership – in most organizations. Baby Boomers represent less than 40% of the labor force now but their seniority means that, in many cases, they are the owners, CEOs, Presidents, senior partners, and fill other senior management roles in many organizations. This means they are the ones formulating the strategy and holding the budget purse strings, in many mid-size to larger organizations (with notable exceptions in new technology companies).
If it’s not Baby Boomers in these roles, it’s often older Gen X’ers – people over the age of 40, for example. Gen X’ers are an interesting group because the oldest were born in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and comprised about 50% of the workforce in the late 1990s. Like Baby Boomers, they started in offices, where it was important what time you got there and what time you left. Like Boomers, they coveted the prestige of the “corner office.” They may have been young enough to adopt new tech more easily – they come of age as the office environment was using desktop computers and the internet played a larger and larger role. So, in some ways, they are less fearful when it comes to new technology. But they are in an interesting space in between Boomers and Millennials in that they have a foot in both camps.
This means that, as senior managers and leaders now, they may act like Baby Boomers while being young enough to relate to older Millennials, who are in their late 30’s. For this reason, they are often referred to as the “in-between” generation.
Why is all this important? Because the success of an organization depends on the employees working together – often as teams – to get the work done. Many leaders – at the senior level, as well as managers and supervisors, recognize that teamwork is key to success. The best leaders focus their time and efforts on hiring, team-building, and teamwork. But it’s in this teamwork area, often, that breakdowns take place.
Part of the reason is that the idea of effective teamwork varies, depending on the person you are talking to. It’s important to understand the differences in how each generation approaches the idea of “teamwork.” And great leaders work across these definitions to create and motivate great teams.
Is this something your organization is struggling with? If so, contact me and let’s talk!
(Parts of this are excerpted from my book, OK Boomer! Revelations of a Baby Boomer Working With Millennials. To read more, download the free PDF here.)