Beyond the Boomers: It’s time for X, Y and Z to come together

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In 13 short years, according to the U.S. Census, all Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65. This means that the majority of a firm’s workforce will be comprised of Generation X, Y and Z professionals.

Generations X and Y (more commonly referred to as Millennials) have had ample time to get to know each other’s unique characteristics. They’ve also experienced a natural tension as both generations are eager to develop relationships with their Baby Boomer leader counterparts and ascend themselves into leadership. It is now crucial that Gen X and Millennials set aside any generational resentments and prepare to lead their firms — together. The two cohorts must also begin understanding the next bench of talent they’ll be relying on: Generation Z.

The start and end dates for Gen Z are still too early to be well-defined. For now, we will assume that Gen Z includes anyone born in or after 2001. These individuals are the first digitally native and the most diverse generation to date. It’s important to understand each generation’s unique demographic factors, their communication style and work preferences. It’s also important to have clarity as to where generations align with one another, so that they can collaborate better.

Similarities with Gen X and Millennials:

Interested in work-life balance. Gen X, whose members are sometimes referred to as “latchkey kids,” started the work-life balance movement so they could be more involved parents. Millennials made work-life integration and the blurring of lines between work and life the norm. Members of both generations have likely worked for either type of employer — one that scoffed at flex, and one that was an early adopter with certain flex initiatives. These groups can work together to embrace a culture and best practices that celebrate work-life integration.

Similarities with Millennials and Gen Z:

  • Strong attachment to tech. Millennials are often characterized by their high attachment to technology. This attribute is multiplied in Gen Z. These individuals are the most tech-savvy generation, with many knowledgeable in some form of coding language. They expect instant connectivity and 60 percent won’t use a slow-loading Web site or an app, according to an IBM survey. These groups will find it beneficial to explore how they can help the firm make technological advancements to improve internal workflow, collaboration and the client experience.
  • Interest in personal and professional growth. Both Millennials and Gen Z seek opportunities for building their skills and gaining experience. These professionals seek purpose in their careers. They want to understand where they can contribute and how their contribution plays into the big picture. They seek to learn quickly and nontraditionally, especially in experiential settings. Millennials and Gen Z can collaborate by sharing knowledge with one another and learning collectively from their more experienced leaders. They’re encouraged to make a strong effort early on in gleaning as much knowledge around technical skills, the firm’s service offerings, clients and practice management strategies as possible.
  • Expectation for experiential learning. Millennials and Gen Z members were educated in a combination of hands-on, interactive, group-based learning activities and individual self-study (including reading and watching videos). In addition, many grew up actively participating in transparent family discussions and decisions. They expect to have the same learning opportunities in their workplaces, too. To gain the personal and professional growth they desire, these individuals will need to be proactive in developing relationships with colleagues and asking for opportunities to shadow work.

Similarities between Gen X and Gen Z:

  • Lower risk tolerance. Many Gen Z members are the children of Gen X parents and both generations have been directly impacted by difficult economic and political times. Gen X experienced the Great Recession and associated financial and job losses, while their Gen Z children watched. Gen Z has also grown up in a time frame sprinkled with terror activity and major world changes. As a result, these groups have more practical viewpoints about the world and risk-taking than the Millennial generation has exhibited. They will benefit by acting as a sounding board for Millennial-driven ideas and ensuring that the costs and benefits are vetted of any specific initiative. They will also need to be pushed to take more risk.
  • Less vocal. Both Generations X and Z tend to be less outspoken than the Millennial generation. Gen X often stood behind the outspoken Baby Boomers, producing the work that the Boomers sold. Gen Z watched their older Millennial friends, brothers and sisters make the mistake of sharing too much information publicly online. As a result, Gen Z members are more private online and less likely to vocalize an opinion until well thought out or solicited by others. It will be important for both generations to share their ideas and questions. Gen X will take over many leadership positions, but there is no such thing as a silent leader. Gen Z will find it beneficial to begin practicing outward collaboration and brainstorming with others early on.

Similarities among Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z:

  • Seeking efficiency. All three generations seek better ways to work and better work-life balance. There is high hope for the future with these generations working together to identify process improvements and changes in workplace and client service norms.
  • Embracing flex. Flexibility that enables work-life balance is a common attribute for Gen X, Y and Z. The idea of work-life balance and flex differs slightly among the generations. Gen X historically preferred a distinct separation between work and home. Millennials and Gen Z are the first groups to blend work and home — willing to answer e-mails, calls and texts at any time of the day and often from anywhere. While many still enjoy an unplugged vacation, it’s becoming more common to work and play — checking in on work once or twice while traveling. The three generations will need to foster open and ongoing communication on this subject, as it can be easy for Millennials and Gen Z to resent the Gen Xer who won’t respond to an “off-the-clock” e-mail. Likewise, Millennials and Gen Z may need to consciously unplug.
  • Adaptive to tech. All three generations appreciate and embrace technology, and it will be important that they collaborate on an effective IT strategy for the firm. Continued research and adoption of new technology will be important, along with ongoing learning.

The succeeding generations have exciting times ahead. They have great opportunity to collectively build a workplace that serves a new type of client and employee, leading a firm unlike any before. Those who are proactive now in leveraging generational strengths will experience the greatest success.

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