With a rapid increase in population, it is no surprise that the makeup of the U.S. Labor Force is forever changing. Currently, four generations make up the American workforce – the Silent Generation (ages 70 – 87 in 2015), Baby Boomers (ages 51 – 69), Generation X (ages 35 – 50) and the Millennials (ages 18 – 34).
According to the Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, Millennials surpassed Generation X in the American workforce, with 1 in 3 American workers falling under the category in 2015. It was only last year that Millennials took the lead from the Baby Boomers who are retiring in large numbers yearly. Within the past 10 years, the Boomer generation has decreased in workforce size by nearly 30% from 65 million to 44.7 million, while the Millennials have rapidly grown to a massive 53.5 million. The Census Bureau has already predicted that the Millennial Generation will surpass in population size, to that of Baby Boomers, this year as the nation’s largest living generation.
But just how do these generations compare within working standards? Can a generation fresh out of school who have learned new strategies in the workforce compete against a generation of veteran experience who know the ins and outs of a company effortlessly?
A study conducted in 2013 by Ernst & Young, compared insights from over 1,200 professionals (managerial and non-managerial) across every generation and industries about the strengths and weaknesses of workers from different generations based on their peers. The report found that Millennials are tech savvy, but don’t work well in a team; Generation Xers make great entrepreneurs but rank low on executive presence; while Boomers are team players and loyal, but have trouble in adapting company changes.
"As management shifts to younger generations, the research reveals areas companies can focus on to enhance skill sets, address the challenges of managing multiple generations, and retain and engage employees by understanding which workplace perks they may value most," Karyn Twaronite, a partner of Ernst & Young, says in the study.
The study further explained workforce challenges that rose amongst the generations, with 77% of that being different work expectations and 72% of the younger generation lacking comfort in managing older employees. However, more than two-thirds of participants stated that their company has been making changes to alleviate the issues, including work style accommodations, team building exercises, generational differences training, cross generational networking and tailored communications.
Despite the differences in workforce, Millennials are not expected to slow down their growth any time soon. In 1998 when Generation Xers were the same age as Millennials today, roughly 80% were working with an increase to 84% of the Xer population in 2008, where the generation reached its participation peak. However, their role as the dominant generation in the workforce was short lived – about 3 years – when Xers took the title from the Boomers in 2012. Currently, in 2015, the Millennials have the title.
There are two possible occurrences that may give Generation X potential for a comeback. One, is the increase with immigrants into the workforce. Although the majority of newly arriving immigrants have been in the Millennial Generation, the next generation that come are the Xers which could steadily increase the generation’s workforce population. The second occurrence may come as a fix from an earlier setback. The labor force of Generation X was diminished due to the Great Recession. If the job market continues to improve then the generation has the possibility to return to the workforce. A thing to consider with this possibility is that the oldest Xer is 50, which is when workers are aging out of their prime working years. This may deflect any desire of returning to work.
In Ernst & Young’s survey, the incentive to continue working across all generations have remained in cash perks. Following suit were benefit plains including healthcare and retirement, which was a perk backed by a third of the Boomer study participants. Flexibility in work hours remained as the number one non-cash/benefit perk, especially among Generation X, with nearly a third of both Millennial and Boomer Generations saying they would leave a current job if day-to-day flexibility was absent. Millennials were the only generation to express their need of promotion and company growth.
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