The Multigenerational Workforce 

During their high school, college, and early job years, the Millennial generation regularly found themselves the recipients of disregard and contempt, often by Gen X and Boomers, as well as some late-night hosts! Then Gen Z arrived and as they entered school and the workforce, some of the frustrations aimed at Millennials were redirected to this group of individuals.  

In prior decades, it was more common to have a top-down organizational structure where younger individuals had entry-level jobs, and their supervisors or those in organizational leadership positions were typically more experienced and likely older than those in lower-level positions. However, with so many start-ups, disrupters, and technological advances, a shift has occurred in the past 20 or so years, that has leveled the field a bit, with multiple generations now working side-by-side in similar roles more than ever before. 

On top of the generational differences attributed to any specific time period, there are also cognitive developmental differences factoring in with the way people make decisions, think, and behave. With four generations working together, there can be numerous disconnects in their interactions– often based on miscommunication and misperceptions, and not laziness, stubbornness, or an inability to do the required task. Each generation brings in strengths and opportunities for growth, when people embrace one another’s ideas and ideals. 

Of course, variations are bound to occur, with no one way being right or the only way. Keep these and the tips below in mind as you enter the work force as an intern, co-op student, or full-time employee, to demonstrate your willingness and ability to be a productive member of the team. 

  1. Understand yourself – know your skills and talents, and how to properly articulate them, at the right times. No one appreciates a know-it-all. 
  1. Listen – to your peers and co-workers. It shows respect to someone who has a lived experience that does not mirror yours. Take a step back to observe and understand behaviors, to then adapt your style to theirs. Ideally, they will do the same for you! 
  1. Review the NACE Career Competencies for essential skills such as Communication, Critical Thinking, and Teamwork; according to this article from CNBC, there is a perception that Gen Z does not know how to use interpersonal skills well. It is up to you to redirect the narrative. 
  1. Take notes and ask relevant questions.  
  1. If you see a practice occurring that is actually unhealthy, unnecessary, or unacceptable, learn as much as you can before beginning the plan to affect change. Once you understand how decisions have been made, you will be in a better position to offer alternatives and solutions. There may be a mentality of ‘this is how it has always been,’ and to refute it, being savvy and strategic, will likely yield a better result.  

Regardless of your current age and work status, the facts remain that multiple generations are working together, in similar level roles, to get the job done. Working together to dismantle stereotypes, whether towards you or another generation, is key to your success. 

By Beth E Settje
Beth E Settje Associate Director, Experiential Learning & College to Career Transitions | Pronouns: She/Her