CDW Executive SummIT: Confronting Generational Differences in the Workplace

The current workforce spans four generations of employees

It’s probably no surprise that communication becomes difficult when conversations involve members of four distinct generations. Right now, the workforce is mostly made up of baby boomers, Gen X and Millennials, with Gen Z also starting to join us.

Lear explained that she uses generational theory “to capture the story of a shift in ethics, a shift in mood, the story of us as a society, and how that changes over time, and what it means for the way we work, our relationship to work.”

She defined generational theory as “rooted in sociology, not psychology. But both schools of thought are equally important, especially for leaders. Psychology looks at who you are as an individual, your unique upbringing, your relationships, your parents, how you practice religion. With sociology, we look at broader macroeconomic changes, demographic changes, cultural evolution.

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The workforce is undergoing a demographic shift

As Gen Z enters the workforce, baby boomers are aging and quitting their jobs. As a result, Gen Xers and Millennials are advancing to fill vacant leadership positions, and in many cases this change can create gaps in knowledge and experience. Such discrepancies have the potential to compound the staffing challenges that many organizations are already facing with the Great Resignation and a widely recognized talent shortage.

“In addition to all the other shifts that are happening in the workforce, we also have this generational shift of the guard,” which can be disruptive, Lear said. “We’re going through a transition that will have these huge ripple effects on how people perceive what’s expected of work and how businesses are organized.”

As younger generations continue to make up a higher percentage of the workforce, finding ways to pass on institutional knowledge becomes crucial. Sometimes this transfer of information requires a willingness from more experienced employees to understand the different communication and learning styles that their counterparts prefer.