Several years ago there was a movie entitled ‘The Intern’ starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro. The story centered on the challenges of having a workforce made up of members of two significantly different generations. The extremes were those in their 60s and 70s versus those in their 20s and 30s. True it was a Hollywood movie and yet it addressed the reality of what was going on in businesses of all sizes and types.
Although it’s safe to presume that all of us wish we could speak about a truly POST-Covid, it remains, Yet even in its’ current state we are all somewhat used to changes that have been required of the way we live our lives. The business world is one area that has been impacted significantly as the often referred to ‘new normal’ becomes defined and established.
Of interest is that the generational divide that existed and created challenges just a few years ago has been altered. No one in today’s workforce can claim any past experience of life during a pandemic regardless of age. Thus, accepting and adapting to the imposed changes has dulled any differentiating lines created by age. On the other hand, the way this has impacted various ‘generations’ and how business leaders have needed to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach is significant.
For clarity, here are the working generational divides as they are known and the related ages of each:
- Baby boomers — born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X — born between 1965 and 1980
- Millennials — born between 1981 and 1996
- Generation Z — born in 1997 or later
There are several commonalities that are found to exist among the majority of all age groups of employees that the shared experience of COVID have created. These include:
- The hybrid approach to work is here and viewed as the look of the future
Perhaps not surprising, younger employees prefer and want to work in an office and the socialization it provides is key. Conversely, the older employees prefer the hybrid approach that allows completely home-based or a combination approach of office and home.
- Productivity on an individual basis is increasing
The older the generation the more positive the adaptation to remote work. They have come to see the related benefits of the ability to focus, spending less time commuting and greater flexibility. Still positive, however not preferred, is typical of the ‘Zs’ as they prefer the support of others around them as they are learning.
- Across the board all express satisfaction with employers
They recognize the required rapid shift toward remote or hybrid work. That this entailed greater use of technology it only presented added challenge at to Gen Z level. Even then, and with time and training, this has become of reduced significance.
- Flexibility, wellness and a growth mindset are considered mandatory
Remote work has made more in the workforce much more aware of their physical and mental wellbeing. Commuting has been replaced with exercise. The gained time has allowed for hobbies to be resurrected and enjoyed. This is especially the case for the ‘Boomers’ however the large majority of all age groups see flexibility as mandatory.
Perhaps a surprise added benefit is the large portion of employees who have shifted their thinking to one of envisioned growth. As such the willingness to strive to improve their knowledge and growth has become more of a front-burner focus.
- The pandemic’s impact on work-life balance and mental health is significant
Employees have struggled with what, to many, is an overwhelming sense of isolation. Added to that is the blurred lines between work and home and the expectation to be available and reachable beyond work hours.
- Remote work success is significantly enhanced with good communication
Maintaining a strong cultural bond is key for remote workers. This leads the ‘must have’ list even over regular meetings and a flexible schedule. The greater awareness of a focus on mental health is evident with the younger generations. Having a reliable form of communication … either group or 1 on 1s … brings a positive impact.
- Team collaboration has become more challenging
There is little disagreement that along with the various benefits that have been realized with adjustments over time, teams have experienced added challenges. It has been a matter of devising ways to achieve collaboration with each working from varied locations. The likes of zoom have offered a solution however people are also feeling ‘zoomed out. This has been one of the drivers that have created the ‘hybrid’ approach within companies.
Summarizing, common to all workforces across the board, are the things they want and look for in today’s work environment that include:
- A company that is strong and secure
- Training to enhance value and increase the potential for advancement
- Work that they feel in important to achieving the organizational goals
- The ability to truly feel pride in the work they individually and collectively do
- A positive work environment
- The feeling that they are contributing to a positive societal impact
Clearly there are pros and cons to what today is an emerging normal regardless of age group. The ability to have more control over how one is able to split work vs. personal time and the flexibility to balance the various components of one’s life is a real positive. The negative aspects of today’s employment include the blurred lines between work and personal in the ‘boss’s’ approach. The added sense of social isolation and boredom that accompanies remote work add to diminished positives.
Is there good that the pandemic forced upon us related to the generational divide in organizations? To the extent that it lessened the divisive aspects that previously existed the answer is yes. How each group interprets and responds to any reality is going to be different simply because of where they are in their age and experiences. And yet, as this experience has been and is something new to all, it has served in many ways to lower the wall of differentiation effectively.