The Differences Between the Three Main Generations in the Workforce

Doug Horn on March 23, 2015 9:52:00 AM EDT

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WAIT. Don’t click away. Before you go thinking this is another blog post about how to recruit Millennials, I need to clarify. While this post will certainly detail some of the traits Millennials have, this is intended more to trace the evolution from one generation to the next, and how those changes have carried over to hiring. There are inherent traits of each generation unique to them and only them, and those traits have a profound impact on the way companies recruit and manage.

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The three generations that make up (most of) the workforce right now are Baby Boomers (ages 51 - 70), Generation X (ages 31 – 50), and Millennials (ages 11 – 30), however if you're hiring a lot of 11 year olds, you probably have bigger problems than you realize. While members of both the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation may be working, they will not be considered for the purpose of this article.

In a recent whitepaper entitled “Three Generations of Talent: Who’s Searching for Jobs Today?” by the Indeed Hiring Lab, chief economist Tara Sinclair said, “Looking at how these generations search for jobs, we’ve uncovered some unique characteristics, but also surprising similarities in their approach. Most notably, we found that job seekers at every age respond to labor market conditions, searching more in occupations and locations where there are many jobs. And with unemployment down and confidence high for the first time in many years, employers are finding it more important than ever to attract and retain the right talent and are adapting rapidly to these changing conditions.”

That whitepaper from Indeed pointed out that while the workforce is divided almost evenly between Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers, by 2020, Millennials are projected to make up half of the workforce. Naturally, this will cause employers to change their recruiting tactics moving forward.

In the workplace, Baby Boomers value loyalty, stability and a positive work ethic. They prefer companies that have long standings in their communities and positive financial futures. This allows them to contribute to the organization while also mentoring the younger generations. Employers looking to retain Baby Boomers should demonstrate that they care about careers, body of knowledge, and contributions to the company.

Generation X, on the other hand, prefer organizations that are stable, provide flexible work arrangements (e.g. telecommuting), offer childcare and eldercare benefits, and promote a balance between work life and social life that allow their employees to enjoy life while they are still young. Stock options, incentive plans, and benefits are also big draws for this generation.

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Millennials seek work that is productive and meaningful. They also look to work with innovative technology that supports their use of information sharing. Companies that offer their employees the opportunities to receive continuing education, voice opinions on workplace matters, and create flexible schedules are particularly appealing. Millennials do not seek long tenures with their employers, but rather want meaningful positions that will provide the experience and prestige that will allow them to advance to the next stage of their careers.

Additionally, when it comes to mobile job search, 73.4 percent of Millennials click jobs via mobile devices and 71.3 percent of Generation Xers do so. Bringing up the rear are the Baby Boomers, at 48.4 percent. As Millennials begin occupying more of the global workforce, look for mobile recruiting to explode in popularity.

The main three generations in the workforce right now certainly have some similarities, but it is the differences that matter, and the companies that understand how important these differences are will be the ones able to recruit the best talent moving forward.