Can different generations work together in harmony?

With four generations in the workplace, we explore whether there’s space at the table for everyone or whether Gen Z and millennials need to wait their turn

Millennials and Gen Zers have always been known for one thing: speaking up. As younger generations enter workplaces, structures are being challenged, such as salary requirements, DEI initiatives and flexible working allowances.

Yet, Gen X and Baby Boomers – older generations who are typically their managers – believe they should ‘pay their dues’ before earning the right to speak their minds and change the world of work.

Martin Kilduff, professor of organisational behaviour at University College London says: “Recent entrants into the workplace do seem a lot more comfortable talking about flexibility, work-life balance, fairness, about the kinds of expectations they have for their working lives, compared to older generations. 

Since entering the workforce, millennials have been striving to get their voices heard, with 90% stating in 2011 that they wanted leadership to acknowledge their ideas. Researchers share that this passion has rubbed off on Gen Z, who are now expectant of the same standards. 

Time for employers to act

Recent research from SHRM found that 26% of Generation Z need to have a purpose while at work, which corresponds with their desire to work for employers that prioritise DEI initiatives. 

Although the younger generation may not be getting their voices heard just yet, they do hold an advantage – which is that there is power in numbers. 

Author Haydn Shaw, shares that we’re in a “seller's market, not a buyers market”, in terms of employment. 

By this, he means that employees of all ages are expected to be offered the same perks, such as pay rises and flexible working. If they’re not receiving these benefits, Gen Z and millennials hold confidence in knowing that they can simply go elsewhere to find an employer that listens to them and meets their needs. 

They also hold the knowledge that replacing staff is somewhat difficult and expensive. 

"It's expensive to hire young professionals – it costs a lot of money to search them out, recruit them, to bring them in and train them," says Kyle Brykman, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor, in Ontario, Canada. "If they're not happy and they don't tell you, you're going to lose your investment."

Is there room at the table for everyone?

Although Gen Zers and millennials may not have the privilege of having their voices heard just yet, there is hope for the future. 

Martin Kilduff explains that younger staff members can borrow social “social capital” from mentors or senior employees who are allies. By presenting ideas and information to senior allies, younger generations can share their ideas with those who have more capital. 

Yet Haydn Shaw adds that employees from all generations need to feel “psychological safety” to share ideas. This means that they should feel comfortable sharing their ideas, without fear of backlash. 

Although we are seeing more Gen Zers and millennials taking a stand and speaking their mind, experts agree that they somewhat have to tread carefully while more senior generations are in charge. 

This will likely change as more millennials step up to take promotions to positions that hold more decision-making power.

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