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4 generations in the workplace: how do you create sustainable careers?

02 February 2023 Britt Winnepenninckx Employers

The baby boomers (BB) and generations X, Y and Z have created a four-gender workplace. Four fundamentally different generations in the workplace: don’t click, then clash? Yet they have more in common than you may think.

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Generational thinking versus pigeonholing

Today, the working population in our country is represented by the BB, X, Y and Z generations. They all work together, all have different work ethics and attitudes. This can also be seen reflected in the workplace:

BB, X, Y and Z grew up in a different context and Zeitgeist, which automatically gives them a different perspective of the world. And that sometimes leads (wrongly) to pigeonholing: BBs are sometimes said to be inflexible, Xs are doers, Ys are performance-oriented and Zs live in a virtual universe 24/7.

Age is just a number

Yet, you have probably never met a millennial (gen Y) who matches the characteristics of his or her generation 100%. Not surprisingly because, of course, people are more than just their age.

Research shows that individual differences between people are greater than the similarities within certain generations. By individual differences, we mean, for example, character, but also culture, gender, and so on. No two thirty-somethings are exactly alike. This makes it perfectly possible for someone from generation Y to connect more with a boomer.

From BB, X, Y, Z to A, B, C

Even when it comes to basic needs, generations have more in common than not. Because they haven’t changed over the years. Just because young people are often preoccupied with their smartphones, does not mean they do not need to connect. The need is just met differently. That smartphone is a product of context.

According to Self-Determination Theory, people are motivated to work in a healthy way when the following three basic needs are met:

  • Autonomy
    • Room for initiative
    • own input
    • Options
    • Controlled Space
    • Willingness
  • Belonging
    • Belonging connectedness
    • Striving together for a common goal
    • Need for interaction
    • Caring for one another
    • Personal attention
  • Competence
    • Be successful, achieve your goals
    • Being able to use your talent
    • Encourage development
    • Sharing knowledge

'Boutique' sustainable careers for every generation

ABC applies to everyone, but the interpretation differs from generation to generation and from person to person. The key to sustainable careers, therefore, lies in jobcrafting.

Through job crafting, the employee makes changes to his or her job. It’s about minor adjustments that can make a big difference. And in different areas like: job content, relational, working hours, location, and so on.

With jobcrafting:

  • your employees will continue to work productively for longer, as the work better suits their preferences;
  • your employees’ qualities, interests and talents are better utilised, which also increases productivity;
  • the continuity of your organization is assured;
  • find and engage talent more easily;
  • invest in a 'timeless' HR policy, maintaining a 'fixed framework' to some extent, without resorting to pigeonholing.

Generation-conscious and future-oriented recruitment

You can also use jobcrafting as an asset in your recruitment and selection process. It is also necessary to tailor your recruitment strategy to the different generations you want to reach. Therefore, try putting yourself in the shoes of each age group as best you can. For instance, people with more experience like to share their stories, while generations Y and Z prefer to meet briefly via videocalling.

In other words, broaden your horizons by putting on another person’s glasses. And when you wear those glasses, you may already be able to catch a glimpse of the next generation in the distance. Within a few years, the first graduates of Generation Alpha will start trickling into our companies. They will value self-development and the ability to tinker with their careers even more than their 'predecessors'.

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Written by Britt Winnepenninckx

Experte Talent bij Acerta Consult

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