How Gen Z and millennials work differently than baby boomers

Existing in a multi-generational workplace, employee business outlooks differ on many accounts, but not salary.

Generation Z (ages 18-25), millennials (26-35), and baby boomers (56-65) work side-by-side in the modern workforce. This collaboration does have its benefits, but the varying age groups differ dramatically in work styles, a Comparably report found.  

SEE: Managing Millennials: A guidebook (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The report surveyed more than 175,000 US employees across age ranges to identify the similarities and differences in business practices. Overall, the two younger age groups were different from baby boomers, but all age groups agreed on one thing: Money. 

Across the board, all employees cited a raise as more important to them than a title promotion, the report found. 

Salary woes 

When asked if compensation was more important, younger millennials answered "yes" slightly more often. Boomers, however, answered "yes" even more frequently, with 86% of older working boomers finding more personal value in a larger check than an improved title. 

Asking for a raise, however, had mixed responses among employees. Less than 50% of older boomers said they would feel confident asking, while 54% of Gen Z respondents and 60% of millennials said the opposite.

Discussing compensation with co-workers has been a long-time debate. Younger generations prove to be more transparent, according to the report. Millennials begin by agreeing, but as the age of respondents increases, so does the skepticism. By the time the respondents reached older boomers, most responded they would never share compensation information. 

Career outlooks 

Another area that differed across ages involved children. When asked if they thought having kids would hamper their careers, younger respondents unsurprisingly mostly responded "yes," while older generations mostly responded "no." 

This difference was because older employees most likely already had children, according to the report. 

When looking at soft skills in the workplace, however, there was some unity. All respondents chose persistence as the soft skill that has most helped them advance their careers. For Gen Z and millennials, the least popular choice was "empathy," while for boomers it was "humility," according to the report. 

The report also asked what soft skills the employees would most like to improve upon; Gen Z and millennial employees cited communication as their top choice. Boomers, on the other hand, chose adaptability. 

Those results aren't terribly surprising either. Older generations are known to have better soft skills than younger generations, with technology being the specialty for Gen Zers and young millennials. 

At the end of the day, regardless of skills, all employees are worried about becoming stagnant, according to the report. 

Because of this fear, many young employees said they were eager to begin their own business as soon as within the next five years. Between 35% and 40% of Gen Z and millennial employees said they hope to have their own business ventures, while that number plummets for older generations. 

Attitude toward management 

Each age group wants various things from their bosses. All respondents said the best quality a boss could have is being supportive and collaborative. The worst quality a boss could have, across age groups, is being a micromanager, the report found. 

However, only 55% of boomers said they would feel comfortable giving their boss any feedback; even if a boss was micromanaging, older generations might not feel comfortable discussing the issue. 

More than 60% of Gen Zers and millennials on the other hand said they would feel comfortable offering feedback to superiors, according to the report. 

As for what they would want bosses to change, the top choice Gen Zers listed was increasing employee pay (26%). Millennials and boomers most often wanted bosses to have a better vision and strategy. 

Managers clearly have some work to do, since respondents across age groups listed coworkers as the people most loyal at work, surpassing bosses or managers, the report found. 

Workplace culture

How a manager leads a team sets the culture of the workplace. Managers must ensure that their employees are maintaining a healthy work/life balance, or else risk employee dissatisfaction or burnout, according to the report. 

The majority of Gen Z (64%), millennials (67%), and boomers (56%) seemed to be at ease with their work/life balance, but nearly half of respondents across age groups did report feeling burned out. 

SEE: IT burnout: Watch for these 9 warning signs (TechRepublic)

The top stressors impacting burnout, across age groups, included unclear goals and bad managers, the report found. 

When asked what the most important thing to them was at work, besides salary, employees across the board responded with work/life balance. Having this work/life balance helps to avoid burnout, allowing employees to have some breathing room and step back from their work. 

TechRepublic's Tom Merritt also suggested managers avoid employee burnout by automating and delegating where possible, consistently training employees, and building strong relationships with staff. 

Future of work 

Looking ahead, employees differed significantly on where the future of work is going. Rumors of robots taking over jobs has circulated the workforce for years, but most employees don't seem to have that concern. 

The majority (89%) of older boomers are not scared of robots taking over their jobs at all, mainly because most of that age group are looking ahead to retirement, according to the report. 

Even the youngest Gen Z employees, however, don't seem to be too worried, with 63% of those respondents reportedly not afraid of robots taking jobs. More than half (58%) of Gen Z employees said they believe the benefits of the technology outweigh the risk, the report found.

For more, check out Gen Z speaks out: Dispels misconceptions about the always-on generation on TechRepublic. 

Methodology

Data for Comparably's Workplace Trends: Gen Z vs. Millennials vs. Baby Boomers report was collected between Feb. 25, 2019, and Feb. 25, 2020, based on a total of 175,428 employee responses. Employees came from small, medium, and large companies including Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Uber. 

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