Skip to main content

Welcome to the weekly Careers newsletter from The Globe and Mail. To subscribe, click here.

Déjà Leonard is a copywriter and freelance journalist based in Calgary.

  • Modern workplaces comprise four generations, each with distinct motivations and challenges
  • Three main effects influence human behaviour: aging effect (changing preferences over one’s life), period effect (shared experiences like crises affecting a generation) and cohort effect (differences within a generation shaped by unique experiences)
  • Companies can meet diverse needs and bridge the generational gap, by designing inclusive workplaces with clear expectations, customizable benefits and empathetic leadership

Most workplaces currently have four generations working side by side: baby boomers, generation X, millennials and generation Z. Each with their own motivations, expectations and demands.

“When they have to work together, it can be like having a dysfunctional family dinner,” says Eddy Ng, Smith professor of equity and inclusion in business at Queen’s University in Kingston.

The elements of a multi-generational workforce

Mr. Ng says there are three main things that affect people and how they might show up in the workplace.

The first is the aging effect. This means that our preferences change overtime — like being a fan of screamo music when you’re younger and liking classical music when you’re older — but it’s just part of your lifecycle and doesn’t have much to do with your generation.

Next is the period effect. These are changes that affect an entire population at a specific point in time (usually during your formative years) like crises, political events and economic circumstances. It’s a shared experience you have with people around your age.

“Those things actually define or help you form your worldview,” Mr. Ng says.

The last is the cohort effect. A cohort is a group of people who have experienced a particular event during the same time period, but have differences based on social, cultural, economic and environmental factors they experienced during their formative years.

“That’s what gives rise to generations,” Mr. Ng says. “All those things matter because when you put all those people in the same space and have them work together, they are bound to have differences.”

He says at the core most people are looking for the same thing - a job they enjoy that allows them to pay their bills and meet their basic needs.

“But once all those things are done, there are differences in terms of what people prioritize, and this is where work values really make a difference,” he says.

For example, Mr. Ng says that millennials are typically focused on rapid promotion opportunities, while Gen Z may prioritize job security because they saw their parents struggle during the 2007–2008 financial crisis.

Then, baby boomers are looking for better work-life balance because they are often less focused on advancement and come to work not only for money but also for social identity. Gen X may also be looking for work-life balance because they are raising kids and supporting aging parents at the same time.

Putting insights into action

“Diversity of any sort makes a business stronger,” says Nora Jenkins Townson, chief executive officer of HR consultancy Bright + Early.

She says employers should try to design cultures, policies and practices that meet the needs of employees from all age groups.

There are three main things she says companies should keep in mind:

  1. Have clear expectations: Have documentation for processes and how to work with other teams. Companies should also provide as much clarity as possible around compensation and promotion decisions. “When those things are crystal clear, people are free to work or adapt in their own way,” she says.
  2. Customize benefits and perks: “You can have a menu of different perks or benefits that folks can pick and choose from to suit their life stage and their lifestyle,” she suggests.
  3. Think inclusively: Ms. Jenkins Townson says that keeping people with different needs in mind and leading with empathy can go a long way. “Think about things like health and safety and accessibility,” she says.

Ms. Jenkins Townson says companies can help bridge the gap between generations by creating a culture that is based on trust and collaboration, and have leadership model those values.

“Give people opportunities to learn from each other and collaborate,” she says. “Plan inclusive social stuff outside of work too, with folks from different life stages. Have some fun together, get to know each other as people — because that’s what breaks down harmful stereotypes and builds relationships.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • High-performing employees are even more likely to leave a company that employs strict return-to-office policies, as discussed in an article. Plus, nearly half of employees believe that these policies “prioritize what leaders want versus what employees need to do good work.”
  • LinkedIn shared their data-backed ranking of the 20 fastest-growing jobs in Canada. First on the list is Growth Manager, who measures changes in a company’s market presence, audience size and revenue, and develops strategies for making gains in those areas.
  • According to a new report from Cisco, 27 per cent of companies have banned the use of generative AI, at least temporarily. Here are the top concerns about AI.

Have feedback for this newsletter? You can send us a note here.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe