Commentary: Capitalize on generational differences

By Sheron Patrick
For The Cordova Times

We’ve all heard the stereotypes: Millennials are entitled. Gen Xers are slackers. Baby Boomers can’t adapt. And Gen Z? So far, the youngest generation to enter the workforce has been dubbed “too obsessed with themselves to produce quality work.”

But, when we dig deeper, we find that the labels that define each generation really have no basis in fact. Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific believes capitalizing on this diversity helps business owners work toward an improved company culture.

Understanding generational differences is critical to maximizing individual strengths. To do so, it’s important to look at each demographic through the lens of the era they came of age.

First, take Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – they lived through the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Today, we perceive them as the generation that’s out of touch. But what are they really known for? Baby Boomers are extremely hardworking. They value employee and employer loyalty, because to them this signals security.

Then came Gen Xers – born between 1965 and 1980. This cohort became the skeptic bunch, having come of age during the dot-com bust. This generation is stereotyped as the middle child – sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials, often forgotten. In the workforce though, Gen X employees are known for being very efficient to avoid working harder than needed.

Millennials now make up the largest demographic in the U.S. workforce. Those born between 1980 and 1995, Millennials grew up during an era defined by two very distinct moments: the dawn of the internet and the rise of global terrorism. This group is picked on for being spoiled, having been catered to by their Baby Boomer parents. In reality, Millennials tend to have an innate ability to multitask and develop with changing times and technology.

Finally, Gen Z, also known as iGen, is the current generation growing up and entering the workforce. This demographic was born between 1996 and 2015. Gen Z is unique because those born during this time have never known a world without internet. As such, they are extremely digitally savvy and quick thinkers. But they’ve been labeled the “me generation,” perceived as being self-absorbed.

When we think about the times in which each of these demographics grew up, we’re able to see why certain aspects of a job are more important to some than others. For example, Gen Xers place a high value on work/life balance, as well as flexibility. Millennials want a company culture that is diverse and inclusive, with team building incorporated into it. Baby Boomers, many of which are still in the workforce, value commitment and a strong work ethic. And finally, Gen Z employees want to work at a job that serves a purpose and has a clear mission.

All of these factors need to be considered by business owners as they hire and grow their teams to work toward a larger business development strategy. It’s why BBB advocates business owners to first define their company culture, and then be intentional in who they hire to their team.

What’s interesting is that when it comes down to it, employees of all ages want the same things: a basic paycheck, to feel safe at work, to be part of a team, to be recognized and, finally, feel fulfilled in what they do. The difference is what each demographic value or emphasizes beyond these basic needs.

In the past, BBB sponsored a seminar with a featured speaker: Donna Davis, founder of Washington-based Engaged Consulting. She discussed in depth how business owners can bridge the generational gap. Her main piece of advice: open communication.

Davis stressed the important of owners and managers taking time to talk to their employees, get feedback and truly listen to what they need or what they would like to see changed. For business owners to capitalize on generational differences, it’s critical there is an immediate feedback loop in place where everyone’s voices are frequently heard, not just year-end reviews.

As another method, Davis suggested mentoring programs between older and younger employees. This ensures older generations get to share their experience and career wisdom, while younger generations get to help their older co-workers adapt to rapidly changing technology and workplace expectations. Not only is this a win-win for each employee, it’s a major victory for the business owner.


Sheron Patrick is the communications manager for the Better Business Bureau of Northwest + Pacific serving Alaska. He lives in in Anchorage and writes articles and alerts on tips to help keep Alaskan consumers safe.