Kind of like a horoscope (unless you don’t believe in horoscopes… then not at all like a horoscope), when you were born affects your attitude towards work.
Every generation has a different relationship to work based on the values of the time, socioeconomics, and changes in technology over the years.
You may have encountered generational differences in your own place of work, in the form of friction between management styles, work ethics, or fluency with technology.
This blog aims to explore each cohort’s perspective of work, the context for their feelings, and how we can better understand and work with/manage our colleagues from different generations – creating environments where everyone’s value is recognised, and we all thrive.
The Silent Generation came of age against a backdrop of World War II and economic hardship. This group was concerned with building back. They found comfort in conformity and aspired to stability and reliability in their working lives. It was usual to work for a single employer for an entire career.
This cohort’s attitude to work was a traditional, pragmatic one, where mental health was not spoken about in relation to the workplace… or anything else for that matter. At this time too, women were relatively new to the workforce and had limited roles available to them. Broadly speaking, some old-fashioned views may still be exhibited by workers of this generation, who may disregard some of the issues younger staff are concerned with as ‘fuss’ – an example of their famous “keep calm and carry on” mentality.
Expected to contribute to the household from a young age, their attitude towards work is characterised by dedication, loyalty, and a strong work ethic. Though many of the Silent Generation have now exited the workforce, this is still the case for employees in this bracket: you can expect diligence, trustworthiness, and respect for the order of things.
Baby boomers, born in the post-World War II era, saw instability and strike-action across British industry, the rise of corporate culture, and unprecedented economic growth.
Taking cues from across the pond, Boomers’ work attitudes reflected the values of the ‘American Dream’. Climbing the corporate ladder and social mobility were their driving forces. Boomers were the first generation to popularise, if not glamourise, a ‘live to work’ lifestyle and, for the most part, reaped its rewards – with the social contract of work hard and be rewarded still intact.
However, this economic acceleration was mainly concentrated in London and the surrounding counties. In the North and other regional areas, both the closure and privatisation of British industry resulted in mass strike-action, unemployment, and anger at/disenfranchisement with the government.
Still, wherever you were in the country, Boomers saw hard work as a virtue, had faith in capitalism and its promise, and were committed to their employers through thick and thin - often accepting substandard working conditions/treatment as part and parcel of the employee experience.
In today’s workplace, Rest Less’ has identified that ageism in the workplace begins at the age of 55 and gets steadily worse as people get older. This is something employers should be vigilant of. Baby boomers bring a wealth of experience to the workplace and take great, moral pride in hard work.
Often stereotyped as the ‘slacker generation,’ Generation X are actually largely entrepreneurial and responsible for the rise in freelance working. They have higher levels of education than their predecessors, whilst benefiting from a lack of student debt, unlike the generations that came after them.
It is true, however, that Gen X are cynical about the establishment. Their formative years were coloured by the AIDS crisis, MTV culture, and the LGBT+ rights movement. Often ‘latch-key kids’ because their early Boomer parents worked a lot, this group exhibited disdain for “yuppie”* values and were more focused on work-life balance.
In terms of wellbeing in the workplace, Gen X trailblazed when it came to putting diversity and inclusion on the agenda. In more recent years, they have campaigned to raise awareness for, and create policy around menopause.
Generation X witnessed the advent of technology and the rise of (and economic necessity for) dual-income households. They were among the first to adapt to the digital revolution and emphasise the need for continuous learning and personal growth in the workplace. Gen Xers work attitudes are marked by independence, adaptability, and a healthy desire for balance.
Like generations before them, Millennials have been criticised for being lazy, entitled, snowflakey*, and shallow. But, aside from their penchant for selfies, this group have proven to be incredibly community-oriented, environmentally conscious, and have reshaped the workplace in profound ways - from introducing transformative technological solutions, to advocating for improved wellbeing and inclusion in workplaces, to bringing more informal, less hierarchical ways of working/workplace-dress into the mainstream.
Millennials are the first generation to know childhood with and without the internet, they have lived through two major recessions, countless terror attacks, escalating climate concerns, and deep societal divisions, concerning issues such as the Iraq War, Brexit, and rising university fees.
It follows then, that Millennials have higher rates of both student loan debt and unemployment than their predecessors. This generation is most likely to experience and seek support for mental health-related issues, due in no small part to the immense pressure to succeed like prior generations combined with the lack of economic opportunity to do so, as well as continuous digital connectivity leaving this cohort ‘always on’ and therefore more susceptible to burnout.
They are known for seeking meaning in their work and often value experiences and personal development over traditional career advancement.Millennial workers are characterised by their tech-savvy, sense of workplace-ethics, desire for flexibility and need to ‘people please’ aka employer please.
Gen Z is the first truly digital native generation. Their tech literacy far surpasses employees from previous generations and is an asset to contemporary organisations.
In fact, Zoomers have been nicknamed as such due to their preference for communicating through digital platforms - such as instant messenger, voice note, videoconference, and email (rather than over the phone or IRL, that is).
Still new to/yet to join the workforce, Gen Z place a strong emphasis on work-life integration and, in non-front-line roles, expect true flexibility/remote working as standard. More aware of social justice and political issues than the previous generation due to their enmeshment with social media, this cohort is socially conscious and seeks employment with companies that align with their values. They are not afraid to speak up or jump ship otherwise.
They value innovation, individuality, and authenticity in the workplace. And this, in turn, is what they bring to their employer.
Our attitudes toward work have undergone a remarkable transformation (!) from the Silent Generation to Gen Z, and reflect the shifting values of our society, of health our economy, and the ever-increasing role of technology in our lives.
Each and every generation, upon entering the workforce, has brought their own unique perspective and influenced the way work is structured and conducted. Embracing these generational shifts will be key to fostering a productive, inclusive, and fulfilling work environment for all employees, regardless of their age.
If you’d like to know more about building happier, healthier teams across the generations, Luminate offers workshops on Building Stronger Teams, Building Healthy Relationships, and The Benefits Of Kindness. Get in touch here to learn more.
*Yuppie: short for "young urban professional," this term was coined in the 1980s for a young professional person working in a city, obsessed with material objects and financial success.
*Snowflake: a derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, are overly emotional, and easily offended.