If you thought engaging Gen Y was tough, wait until Gen Z enters your office. Born in the late 90s, Gen Z already accounts for 2 to 3 per cent of the Australian workforce. By the end of the decade, they will be one in seven workers.
They are more likely than any other generation to have a tertiary education and they are even more technologically equipped than the Gen Y digital natives.
Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, each born in a different era, bring different mindsets, values and communication styles into the workplace. This can, and often does, create friction.
- Born during a time of post-war jubilation (1946-1964), they were raised to believe anything was possible.
- Currently accounting for a third of the Australian workforce, their career pattern has been very traditional, with loyalty highly valued and measured by job tenure.
- Their work experiences were shaped in a structured, hierarchical leadership environment and progression through the ranks was quite linear.
- Gen Xers, while sceptical about many things, are seen as individually minded and cope quite well with change.
- Gen X, born from the mid 60s, grew up in a time of uncertainty – there was the Vietnam War, Watergate, the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.
- Gen Xers were also known as the ‘latch-key kids’ – the first to grow up when single parent or double-income families were a social norm.
- Gen X, which currently makes up 42 per cent of the workforce, was also entering the job market at a time of relatively high unemployment.
- Born from the early 80s to the mid 90s, Gen Y grew up in an era of self-esteem.
- As children of the latch-key kids, they received messages from their parents such as ‘you are special; you are going to change the world’.
- They have only ever known the world of the internet and were educated in the past decade when Facebook and Twitter were becoming ubiquitous.
A 2011 study by PwC, Millennials at Work – Reshaping the Workplace, shows that of the 4364 graduates surveyed across 75 countries, personal learning and development was the first thing they looked for in an employer.
Flexible working hours came in second and cash bonuses third. The study also showed that while Gen Y feel comfortable working with older generations, 38 per cent believe that older senior management do not relate to younger workers and 34 per cent said their personal drive was intimidating to other generations.
Neuroscientific and psychological research
Legal mediator Catherine Davidson has seen many workplace disputes that were the result of generational biases.
“I was seeing people being written off at a certain age as they weren’t considered to be as good at things that younger people perceive themselves to be good at,” she says.
In collaboration with Neuroawareness Consulting Services, Davidson spent a year completing a meta analysis of neuroscientific and psychological research into the brain across various age groups.
They found specific age-related differences in the brain:
- Adults over 30 show stronger activation of the orbitofrontal cortex, the section of the brain that has greater sensitivity to risk.
- Older adults show more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that regulates emotion.
- “In one study, older adults reported less distress and reactivity to interpersonal conflict,” says Davidson, adding that emotional regulation also tends to make older adults better conflict resolvers.
“If you’re going to build intergenerational know-how in your organisation … you need to completely separate yourself from generational stereotypes,” says Davidson.