Do generational differences in the workplace matter? You be the judge.

Experiences and characteristics of different generations in the workplace

The perceptions and realities of the different generations in the workplace were reflected in the second Integral Employee Activation Index, conducted in partnership with The Harris Poll in May 2022. We heard from employees from four generations, a cross-section of industries, and company sizes about their workplace experiences. Talk about generations in the workplace seems to revolve around how to manage generational differences in the workplace or cultural differences between generations. Although it is impossible to overlook generational differences, we think they need not always result in generational divides. Therefore, we would like to share the research from the Index with you so you can decide for yourself whether generational differences in the workplace actually matter. 

Generational participation in The Index

First, it is important to understand the generational breakdown of the participants in the Integral Employee Activation Index.

  • Baby Boomer (between the ages of 58 and 76). 19% of survey respondents.
  • Gen X (between the ages of 42 and 57). 33% of survey respondents.
  • Millennial (between the ages of 26 and 41). 37% of survey respondents.
  • Gen Z (between the ages of 18 and 25). 10% of survey respondents.

The median age of survey respondents was 43. Additionally, keep in mind that the participants are representative of the overall working population. Gen Z is still entering the workforce and millions of young Baby Boomers retired early during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees were asked to describe their organization’s culture, express their feelings about their job, and respond to questions about societal and political issues that they thought were the most important for their organization to try to make a positive difference on. Let’s explore some of the specifics around these topics and how employees from different generations in the workplace responded.

Supportive work culture perceived by all generations

Organizational culture plays a crucial role in organizations because it has a significant impact on employees and organizational outcomes. Employees surveyed for The Index were asked to describe their organization’s culture by selecting from any of the following: 

  • Caring
  • Collaborative
  • Supportive
  • Purposeful 
  • Always learning
  • Innovative
  • Stimulating
  • Results-oriented
  • Authoritative
  • Competitive
  • Safe
  • Predictable
  • Risk-averse
  • Methodical
  • Fun
  • Toxic 

It appears that employees from all generations have come to similar conclusions about how to characterize the culture of their organization. Supportive, purposeful, and safe were the most selected positive attributes. The most common descriptors of culture, broken down by generation, were:

  • Baby Boomer: supportive (44%), results-oriented (40%), purposeful (37%)
  • Gen X: supportive (36%), purposeful (30%), safe (28%)
  • Millennial: supportive (39%), safe (37%), purposeful (33%)
  • Gen Z: supportive (36%), always learning (35%), caring (34%)

All generations describe their organization’s culture as supportive more than any other positive attribute. According to research conducted by MIT, the most important predictor of a company’s culture score is whether managers support employees. A supportive culture promotes psychological safety which may explain the selection of “safe” in tandem with “supportive.” It’s comforting to know, especially post-pandemic, that employees from all generations are describing their workplaces in positive ways.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all hardwired for negativity, so you might be curious about how employees from different generations reacted to negative words that could be used to describe their organization’s culture. Here’s the skinny:

  • Baby Boomer: authoritative (7%), toxic (4%), risk-averse (7%), disorganized (8%)
  • Gen X: authoritative (7%), toxic (10%), risk-averse (6%), disorganized (15%)
  • Millennial: authoritative (15%), toxic (9%), risk-averse (6%), disorganized (9%)
  • Gen Z: authoritative (9%), toxic (4%) , risk-averse (8%), disorganized (9%)

Employees from all generations appear to be working in environments that aren’t signaling too many culture red flags. Also, in describing their feelings about their jobs, employees from all generations skew positive.

Generational differences in feelings

The use of “confident,” “motivated,” and “grateful” transcends generational lines. 

Here is how employees are feeling across generations:

  • Baby Boomer: confident (46%), motivated (39%), grateful (32%)
  • Gen X: motivated (33%), confident (32%), grateful (32%)
  • Millennial: confident (40%), motivated (37%), grateful (36%)
  • Gen Z: motivated (46%), proud (28%), grateful (28%)

According to McKinsey & Company, organizations need to take employees’ wants and feelings seriously – to build an optimal employee experience. Building a positive culture and achieving organizational success depend heavily on employee sentiment. While employees seem to have an optimistic outlook on work, it should be noted that 24% of Gen Z reports feeling “tired”, more than double that of other generations, and 15% of Gen X is feeling “underappreciated.”  Responding wisely to negative emotions can be just as impactful as promoting positivity in the workplace.

Six takeaways from The Index that address generational differences in the workplace

  • Millennials are significantly more likely than all other generations to feel people should be able to express their political views at work (59%) – double that of Baby Boomers (29%).
  • Gen Z is looking to form interpersonal connections and build relationships in the workplace. Gen Z and Millennials enjoy organization-provided social activities more than Gen X and Baby Boomers. 60% of Gen Z and 58% of Millennials enjoy or sometimes enjoy organization-provided social activities vs. 40% of Gen X and 39% of Baby Boomers. 
  • Employee loyalty is high among all generations. “I am loyal to my organization.” yielded somewhat agree/strongly disagree responses from 72% of Gen Z, 80% of Millennials, 80% of Gen X, and 83% of Baby Boomers.
  • 47% of Gen Z and 46% of Millennials share content about or promote their organization on social media at least once a month. Older generations are far less likely to share – only 28% of Gen X and 15% of Baby Boomers share/promote on social media at least once a month. While there might be a lack of sharing on social, employees from all generations are more willing than not to give their organization a positive review on a job website: 65% of Gen Z, 74% of Millennials, 66% of Gen X, 70% of Baby Boomers. 
  • The appeal of remote full-time work declines from younger to older workers. 56% of Gen Z say they want remote full-time work, vs. 35% of Baby Boomers. 

Does the data on generational differences in the workplace matter?

Yes, it is up to you to assess whether generational differences in the workplace matter for your organization. And Integral is here to help. Revisit our previous recommendations for ensuring your messages reach the right audience in a multigenerational workforce or delve further into the organizational science about age, aging, and generations at work. As they do in the broader culture, generational perspectives matter – so do needs and attitudes that vary by race, gender, political philosophy, and other characteristics. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reaching and including all your employees. 

Learn more from the 2022 Integral Employee Activation Index by following us on LinkedIn and joining our newsletter mailing list.