News & Media

Where the Workforce’s Four Generations Differ — and Where They Align

Experts say finding common ground is a good way to build culture in a multigenerational workforce, but that common ground can be elusive.

By   –  Associate Editor, The Playbook, Charlotte Business Journal

With four generations in the workforce, experts say finding common ground is one key to maintaining a harmonious business culture. However, finding that common ground can be tricky — even when it comes to a seemingly universal issue like compensation.

A new report from talent and business consulting firm Robert Half International Inc. found a competitive salary with regular merit raises has the biggest impact on job satisfaction for millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

But Gen Z — a particularly critical generation for employers to connect with — ranked other factors higher than compensation when it comes to job satisfaction. Gen Z said the flexibility to choose when and where to work, as well as a positive work culture and team dynamic, each outranked compensation.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, said building and managing teams remains among the toughest challenges for top executives as workforce demographics and priorities continue to shift. “Ultimately, all professionals want to feel supported and valued,” McDonald said in the report. “Understanding what makes different generations tick and striving to create a work environment that addresses their various needs can go a long way toward improving engagement, productivity and retention.”

Here are some key takeaways from Robert Half’s report:

Gen Z is seeking the best of both worlds. While Gen Z prioritizes flexibility, it also wants more in-person interactions than employees of other generations.

Six in 10 Gen Z workers noted being concerned about missing out on project opportunities and promotions when working remotely. When asked how they wanted remote work to evolve, they were the most likely generation to say they wanted people back in the office more frequently.

Who wants office returns?

Members of generations were asked how they wanted remote and hybrid work to evolve. Here is the percentage of each generation who said they wanted people to return to the office more frequently

As we noted in our special report on Gen Z, many employers are misinterpreting Gen Z’s desire for flexibility as an opposition to onsite work.

Robert Half’s report suggests a hybrid policy could be key for retention of young employees. It also noted contract work is particularly attractive to younger professionals, with half of Gen Zers being interested in contract work.

Workers are concerned about AI. While Gen Z is considered digitally savvy, 78% of that generation is concerned about AI impacting their job — the most of any generation surveyed.

The AI Effect

Here’s the percentage of each generation who said they were unconcerned about the effect of artificial intelligence and automation on their jobs:

Deal breakers. All generations ranked a lack of salary transparency, unclear or unreasonable job responsibilities and poor communication with a hiring manager among the top reasons to withdraw from consideration for an open role, Robert Half found.

As we’ve noted, there is a push among employees and governments alike for pay transparency — and many companies are voluntarily sharing more details about pay. Of course, so are employees themselves, especially those in younger generations.

Speaking of pay, Gen X (32%) was the most likely generation to feel underpaid, followed by baby boomers (24%) and millennials (22%). Only 12% of Gen Z feels underpaid.