Talking about our generations

Posted on Jul 29, 2019 :: Commentary
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Our workplaces are changing and not just because of technology. The real change is coming in the way of demographics as more baby boomers exit and more Generation Zs enter the workforce. And as the makeup of employees changes, so will the ways they’re managed.

Right now, four generations make up today’s workforce: baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z. Each one has different needs and wants, and successful managers need to figure it all out, according to Keith Herndon, a journalism professor at the University of Georgia who spoke at one of the breakout sessions I attended in late June at the Alliance of Area Business Publishers convention in Atlanta.

While we have heard plenty about millennials — they have high expectations of themselves, are self-confident, love working in teams and crave life-work balance — the discussion of Gen Z was new. Gen Z is defined as anyone born since 1995. Gen Zs thrive on independence and want direction, but only if it’s presented in a collaborative setting. For example, editors who hand a Gen Zer an assignment should spell out the expectations and let her get to work. 

“Gen Zs despise micromanaging,” Herndon said. “They want a mentor and coach rather than a boss. And they want feedback — lots of real-time feedback.”

Gen Zs grew up during and after the Great Recession, so they are driven to succeed and know hard work is needed, but they’ve also been educated in an environment where collaboration is valued. If you have children in school, think about all the group projects they do — that lays the foundation for working in a collaborative setting.

While there was plenty of talk about millennials and Gen Z, my generation — Gen X — was barely mentioned until I raised my hand and asked. Herndon agreed Gen Xers often get lost in the mix between the ambitious boomers and millennials. Many Gen Xers waiting for boomers to retire to move up the food chain will have to fight off millennials who expect to rise to the top rapidly, he added.

Depending on the business and the generations represented, managers will need to re-evaluate what they do and perhaps change their style depending on who they’re working with.


4 generations, 1 workplace

Wondering what’s the difference between a millennial and a member of Gen Z? Here’s how the different generations break down:

Baby boomers: Born between 1944 and 1964

Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1979

Millennials: Born between 1980 and 1994

Gen Z: Born between 1995 and 2015