Work

Five Generations in the Workforce For the First Time: Can We Make It Work?

As modern technology accelerates and life expectancy increases, five different generations are now rubbing shoulders together in the workforce, says Kay Newton.

By Kay Newton

For the first time in history, there are now five generations within the workforce worldwide, and companies who understand and make the most of this unusual combination have the potential to become the leaders of the future.

Each generation has a different set of skills, their own unique expertise and insights. Despite stereotypical assumptions, there is a remarkable collaboration between them.

five generationsThe Baby Boomer Generation (1946 – 1964), for instance, was remarkably resilient about surviving difficult times in history and waves of immigration around the world. Minoo Saboori, an Iranian immigrant born in 1956, arrived in the USA in 1963, three days after American President Kennedy was shot.

“I spoke only six words of English when I arrived, yet I went to college and obtained a degree in electrical engineering. When I graduated I joined a technology company for 13 years, where I transitioned into business development,” she narrates.

Minoo then started her own business development and consulting company and has spent 30 years working with new startups, entrepreneurs and emerging technologies. She thrives in the exciting chaotic workplace, helping others find clarity in the chaos.

She quotes a viral tweet by economics student Zach Wallen: I love the Baby Boomers who write ‘kid’s don’t even know how to write cursive, in a negative way’ like ok Grandma you can’t even turn your laptop on without getting 6 viruses and wiring half your retirement money to a Nigerian Prince. (sic)

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Baby Boomer: Minoo Saboori, Las Vegas, USA

“This illustrates the concept and the opportunity before us,” smiles Minoo. “There is a massive chance to learn what you don’t know from other generations and also to impart what you do know to them, as long as we are all open to the process.”

The Las Vegas-based business architect does not fit into the usual ‘modern elder stereotype’ in that she has no problem solving computer issues, yet she does have friends who cannot use a TV remote. “Boomers may be the idealists who wore rose-coloured glasses, yet we do relate well to the youngest generation (Generation Z, born after 1998) in the workforce. We both came of age at a time of war and financial crisis, we are both natural collaborators and realistic about challenges. Gen Z’ers are, of course, very young and need the guidance and insights that the other generations can offer, yet they have all the best traits from their predecessors.”

After the Baby Boomers came Generation X (1965 – 1980) who are known as the grouchy pragmatists, resourceful and results-focused. This generation went to college before the internet, created the dot.com boom and bust, which led them to become level-headed bridge builders in the business.

Sammy Blindell (born 1976) is a classic example. The founder and visionary behind howtobuildabrand.org, a brand building resource for entrepreneurs of fast growth businesses, Sammy has launched seven different businesses over her working career.

“Life is so very different and opportunistic today,” says the award-winning speaker, explaining that the internet allows one to work anywhere in the world doing anything one can possibly dream of. “It is our new reality; if you recognise it and leverage it, you can create a life of happiness and live to your full potential. The sad thing is that many people think they cannot change their reality,” she adds.

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Generation X: Sammy Blindell, Kent, UK, and Calgary, Canada

According to Sammy, who runs offices in Kent, UK, and Calgary, Canada, every business drip we drop into the ocean of life will impact another person somewhere. “Any generation can create a positive impact on the rest of the world. When we choose to play all out, we will change the world. Helping others come together and impact lives is my mission,” she says, echoing the values of many of her generation.

The mission of reaching out to those outside one’s own limited arenas has only become accentuated with the coming of age of Generation Y (also known as the Millennials). This generation is open-minded, confident and understands the importance of connection: digital, mobile and social.

Take Delhi-based Tanya Khanna (born 1981), the owner of Epistle Communications, which provides bespoke, strategic consulting services for architecture, design and planning companies. “In today’s global market, full of information overload, individuality and creativity can get lost in the deluge of data produced globally. I love being able to help others stand out,” she explains of her work.

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Generation Y: Tanya Khanna, New Delhi, India

Tanya often thinks of her grandparents’ lives, and believes that there is a fine balance between staying focused and independent in thought, without rebelling or feeling confused about societal norms.

“It isn’t really just about which generation you fall into, it’s rather about the stage of life you find yourself at. Those who are just out of college, or those about to pursue post-graduate studies, or those recently married or those who are new parents… every stage has its own set of challenges,” she opines, adding that it’s important to keep learning and developing new skill sets.

“Skill-sharing takes place no matter what level is to be achieved. We never stop learning until we die.”

Sammy, Tanya and Minoo all have concerns for the future workforce. Says Minoo: “It is important that everyone sees how vital failing is in order to move forward. Failing leads to taking stock and adjusting as you progress.” She’s also concerned about the lack of competition in schools, especially in the US. “Not everyone can be a winner. Focusing on positive test results is also harmful. It is among the losers and marks failed where the true learning is,” she avers.

Her thoughts are echoed by Tanya, who puts it in her own context: “As a mum of a young son, I recall the intense pressure to succeed our generation faced. Yet it made us resilient and hard-working. I fear sometimes, that we now as parents overprotect our children, and in our effort to help them lead better lives than ours, we give them too much and prevent them from learning the real lessons of life. If you passionately want something in life, you need to fight – not everything comes easy.”

For her part, Sammy is certain that categorising and stereotyping generations is really not helpful. She sums up, “As society continues to shift, letting go of ageism, sexism and racism will be the true challenge.”

Follow the writer on Kay-Newton.com. Lead image credit: Pixabay

First published in the October 2018 issue of eShe magazine

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