Generation diversity: elephant in workplace?

The mere mention of diversity in the workplace ignites a passionate and varied reaction from … let’s say a diverse group of people.

diversity in the workplace What was once a topic isolated to differences in color and gender now extends into age, ethnicity and even sexual preference.

Whatever your position, world view or personal bias, one thing is for sure: the workplace is more diverse and changing rapidly.

To remain competitive, viable and profitable, companies must continue to capitalize on the growth of women, people of color, ethnicity and gay and transgender people in the labor force.

But many discussions about diversity tend to leave out what is becoming the elephant in the workplace – generational diversity.

For the first time in history, we have five generations working side by side:

• Veterans or traditionalists – born before 1946.

• Baby boomers – 1946 to 1964.

• Generation X – 1965-1980.

• Generation Y (or millennials) – 1981-1998.

And now we have Generation Z, or the “homelanders,” – born after 1998 – coming of work age.

This diversity of age and more importantly world views is something executives and business owners have never had to deal with.

There is no precedent at managing a workforce ranging from 16 to 90 years old. There are no proven management models to follow.

Being the pioneer is risky business but ignoring the reality can be fatal. Each company needs to understand generational dynamics and devise a plan that fits marketplace reality and company culture.

Talent management is no exception.

Each generation is different from its predecessors in a number of ways that affect how employers recruit, manage and retain employees.

While all generations share similar basic needs, motivating and engaging each generation differs. While many companies got away with one-size-fits-all management for the last 50 years, that approach isn’t working anymore.

Even while baby boomers hang on to their jobs longer than expected and the oldest Gen X-ers reach 50 next year, millennials and now Generation Z will make up more than 75 percent of the workforce within the next decade. What works to retain baby boomers won’t attract or retain their replacements.

And these younger generations are the most diverse in history when it comes to color and ethnicity. This isn’t a wave that will hit the front doors of business, but a tsunami that will alter permanently the labor market.

It will be wise for every business to analyze its workforce composition by asking the following questions:

(1) What is the generational composition of your existing workforce (and customer base)?

(2) What will be the composition in five years?

(3) Does the proportion of generations in your workforce reflect the proportion in your industry, your profession and your customer base?

(4) Is there a concentration of one particular generation staff/associate vs. management positions?

(5) Is there a higher attrition rate among members of one generation?

(6) How does the present and future generational composition change the way you will do business?

(7) How will the three- to five-year employment outlook for our region affect our ability to execute your business plans?

Published in Lehigh Valley Business Journal – September 8, 2014



Ira S Wolfe


  1. […] Read more about Generational Diversity […]