Four generations + one workplace = today’s human resource challenge

April 18, 2016

Human resources have moved beyond personnel management and staff development to become a strategic business cornerstone, and HR professionals are dealing with a diverse—and fleeting—workforce.

On average, 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day, and 70% of college grads leave their first job after graduation within 2 years. One of the biggest challenges facing HR professionals is how to attract, engage, and retain employees from four generations.

Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z are vastly different from one another. Each generation has its own set of values, strengths, weaknesses, and expectations. Following are a few characteristics about each generation HR professionals need to know in order to create effective recruitment, retention, and employee development.

Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are loyal, confident, and hard working. They prefer in-person or phone communication—they were not a generation that grew up with email or text messages. They are open to flexible work environments for different reasons than their younger counterparts, and are fearful of losing jobs to younger, more tech-savvy employees.

  • Attract them: Baby Boomers have already established themselves in their careers. What attracts them to positions comes in the form of strong job titles and salaries, as well as benefits (e.g., health care) that fit their needs as they grow older.
  • Engage them: Emphasize how valuable their experience is to the company, and provide them with opportunities to mentor and share their knowledge.
  • Retain them: Provide learning opportunities that will keep Boomers engaged and up-to-date with the latest industry trends and changing technology.

Generation X

Generation X has often been called the “neglected middle child”—the smallest of the groups flanked by two much larger generations (Boomers and Millennials). Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers are self-reliant and highly individualistic. They favor concise communication, with email being the preferred channel, and are used to multi-tasking on the job. Gen X looks for transparency from companies. Building trust is key.

  • Attract them: This generation has seen a decline in pension plans and 401k benefits, so they worry about retirement. Showcase the benefits you provide employees, especially retirement plans.
  • Engage them: Spend one-on-one time with this generation to develop trust. Highlight their results and accomplishments. Provide career development opportunities—they’re in the thick of their careers and are looking to “take the reins” as they move up the ranks.
  • Retain them: Forget micromanagement with Generation X. Give them the lead on assignments and let them figure out their own way of doing things. As for meetings? Keep them few and far between. Gen X would rather get things done via quick email messages.

Generation Y

Gen Y—the Millennials—were born between 1981 and 1997 and make up the largest generation at the moment. They are confident and have been noted to portray a sense of entitlement. This generation thinks digitally and enjoys using technology to problem-solve. Generation Y also worries—about debt, the world, the economy.

  • Attract them: Gen Y is drawn to brands and organizations that offer ways to get involved in their communities to make a positive impact. Attract them by highlighting your company’s involvement in outside activities, community service, and civic involvement.
  • Engage them: Millennials are multi-taskers and enjoy moving from project to project. Affirmations are key. As a generation that was micro-managed by their parents, they look for constant feedback.
  • Retain them: This generation is interested in work-life integration and drawn to companies that can offer perks such as flex schedules and telecommuting.

Generation Z

Generation Z, born in 1998 and later, is the most technology-savvy, educated, and sophisticated generation compared to any of its predecessors. Also described as “screenagers” and “digital natives,” this generation is realistic and creative, never knowing life without technology. Gen Z is tolerant of diversity and very entrepreneurial minded (72% want to start their own business).

  • Attract them: Demonstrate how diversity, acceptance, and technology play a role in their jobs. Offer explanations of how your company supports social impact—60% of Gen Z is looking for this. They are also attracted to career advancement over money; show them how they can move up in your company.
  • Engage them: Gen Z is best friends with their parents and is used to calling teachers by their first names. They expect to be able to communicate with whomever they want—despite rank or title. This generation is in need of constant, quick feedback but contrary to popular assumptions, Gen Z prefers traditional forms of communication over instant messages or texts.
  • Retain them: As one of the largest entrepreneurial-focused generations, Gen Z will appreciate opportunities to create their own projects. Give them a seat at the table by inviting them to kick-off meetings for new projects or initiatives.

Strategies for Workplace Success

Businesses could have four to five different generations at any time in the workplace. The best thing HR professionals can do is embrace the diversity. Here are three ways to engage all generations in the workplace:

  • Mentorship programs. Pairing up younger and older employees benefits everyone. Older employees can pass down their knowledge from years in the workforce, and the younger employees can help the older employees with technology trends and new ways of communicating.
  • Flexible schedules. Each generation has a different idea of what a typical workday should look like. Some Boomers might prefer the 9-5 day, while Gen Y and Z employees may be happier working remotely. Businesses can accommodate everyone’s needs by introducing flexible schedules (allowing work to be done from home, a mix of in-person and phone/Skype meetings, etc.).
  • Understand the generational differences. A well-trained HR professional understands how employees work differently and teaches management how to effectively communicate with each generation. Engage your staff in professional development that includes diversity and generational training.


An online human resources degree prepares students for a wide range of HR responsibilities, including generational training, engagement, and recruitment strategies.

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