There is a new stressor in the workplace – a stressor that has nothing to do with economics, downsizing, or global competition. For the first time in American history we have four different generations in the workplace. The distinct set of attitudes, behaviors, expectations, habits, and motivations that each generation brings into the workplace creates stressors that can affect retention, company culture, and productivity.
Understanding what is important to each generation can go a long way toward resolving issues and creating a more productive workplace. So here’s a brief overview of characteristics of each of the four generations, and why some may actually choose working on a project-by-project basis rather than working as a full-time employee. Note that there is some disagreement as to the precise birth years for each of the generational designations and certainly not every individual within a generation will adhere to the traits and characteristics summarized.

Veterans or Traditionalists, born between 1922 and 1945, are conservative, fiscally prudent, and loyal to their employers. They view work as an obligation. In the workplace, they work hard, respect authority, attend to duty before fun, and adhere to rules. They thrive where their wisdom and experience are valued, and their satisfaction lies in a job well done. These people comprise about 5% of today’s workforce. Some of them have re-entered the workforce after official retirement as contractors.
Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are ambitious multi-taskers. They comprise 39% of the U.S. workforce. They are the most educated of the current workforce generations, have a strong work ethic, and are loyal to careers and employers. They view work as an exciting adventure and many are workaholics. They work efficiently, crusade for causes, seek personal fulfillment, desire quality and question authority. They respond to rewards of money and title recognition. Some Boomers, especially those whose company loyalty has been repaid with layoff notices, have swapped their goal of career growth for one of increased flexibility. Many of these individuals are finding the opportunity to exercise their considerable work skills through contract assignments that are less tied to a 40-hour schedule and that provide breaks between assignments for travel and spending time with family.
Generation X or Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980 (32% of the U.S. workforce), are independent, have the highest number of divorced parents, are products of dual income families, and are self-sufficient. To them, work is a difficult challenge and a contract. They tend to be skeptical, to desire structure and direction, and to see opportunities to eliminate tasks. They seek balance in their work and family life and to value freedom to do things their own way. Many opt for an entrepreneurial path. Contract staffing may provide the flexibility and freedom they seek.
Generation Y and Millennials, born from 1981 to 2000 (25% of the U.S. workforce), grew up in an environment similar to that of Generation Xers, but with a different parenting approach (e.g., timeouts rather than spankings, very protective parents). They are environmentally and globally conscious, open minded and accepting of differences (in race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation), and concerned with personal safety. They view work as a means to an end and expect to have fun on the job. In their work lives, they tend to major in multi-tasking, to be tenaciously goal oriented, tolerant, entrepreneurial, and always alert to “what’s next.” They seek balance in their work and family/social life, and are motivated by work they consider to be meaningful and the opportunity to work with people like themselves. They see themselves as free agents and expect that their career will provide many experiences with flexibility as a key component.
Good business is based on understanding others. There is no single right way to accomplish a task or to run a company. Understanding generational characteristics and motivators may help your workforce be more efficient and effective – and your company to increase productivity and quality.
Contact Talencio to discuss your Life Sciences staffing needs. Talencio, LLC is the preferred provider of vetted, accomplished consultants and contract professionals to the Life Sciences community.
How to Manage Different Generations – The Wall Street Journal
Conflict and Generations in the Workplace – ASTD
Four Generations – One Workplace — Can we all Work Together? – Inside Indiana Business
Contracting Corner newsletter, Second Quarter 2013, Top Echelon Contracting

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