There are five generations in the workforce, each with unique values, communication styles, work preferences, motivators and technology habits.
This article will focus on generational diversity for your frontline agents and self-help – the point of contact for many customers. The five generations in the workforce today are listed below, but, at least in the U.S., the Silent Generation accounts for only one percent of the total workforce. Our survey would indicate even less so within contact center frontline positions. So, we’ll focus on the more recent four generations even though five technically exist.
The Five Generations in the Current U.S. Workforce
It is important to be aware that the years listed for each generation are not universally accepted. Sociologists, such as those researching the workplace, have different criteria for defining when one generation ends and another begins, and because there is no universal standard, different interpretations exist. Hence, take these as guidelines rather than absolutes since individual traits are also valid.
We can glean knowledge from the qualities of the four generations typically employed in customer-facing roles. Then, we can use this to inform our management style and promote collaboration between them, considering their respective motivations.
While this is different from the intention of the focus, we can also apply this knowledge to how our customers might wish to interact with us in the future.
Predominant workplace traits by generation
Let’s look at the traits of the most recent four generations and what we can learn from them:
Baby Boomers (~ 59 to 77 years): Boomers are dreamers with high hopes, both independently competitive and team-success oriented. Of all generations, they understand the most how their work contributes to organizational success. Baby Boomers excel at adapting to any communication style since they’ve seen them all, with no bias toward one method like the Silent Generation. They embrace loyalty, responsibility and success.
Boomers are the generation most likely to tend towards the term “workaholic.” In the past, this would have been seen as a strong trait. Current managers tend to encourage Boomers to achieve a better work-life balance to prevent burnout.
Baby Boomers are adaptable to technology and eager to learn new skills. While there is a perception by younger generations that Boomers are less oriented to computer work, they invented the modern-day PC and the internet. Hence, those still working are much more computer savvy than common perception. This generation had to learn to connect to the internet through multiple methods, from phone lines to cables to routers.
As far as their role in a frontline team, Boomers are becoming a popular choice as they are far more likely to work beyond retirement age, part-time or full-time. Reasons for their drive to continue in work can vary – anything from lack of savings to needing more comprehensive and cost-effective healthcare choices. Younger, more educated Boomers, in particular, welcome working with younger and more diverse workers than older Boomers and are likewise more accepting of diversity of all types.
Boomer employees can be outstanding mentors for younger staff and love learning from them. Boomers want to do their best for the company and appreciate any endeavors that pave the way for team and organizational success.
Generation X (~ 43 to 58 years): Generation X (GenX or GenXers) are adaptable, professional and self-directed. They are also more skeptical than the idealistic Boomers before them. They communicate directly, candidly and often. While some say GenX is less likely to want face-to-face interaction, no data supports this perception.
Because of their flexibility, GenXers will divert to whatever is most efficient as a default, no matter the channel. If they realize one communication channel is ineffective, they will resort to the most effective channel to improve their overall efficiency.
GenXers value work-life balance, autonomy and constructive feedback. They are motivated by results and rewards but more so by flexibility. GenX is considered the “sandwich” generation who have always valued work-life balance, even as young adults. By the early 2020s, they value this balance even more.
Because people live much longer, adult children often provide care and support for their older parents. Simultaneously, they are providing care or support for their children in the subsequent two generations who are either still in school or young adult workers.
They are proficient in technology. If Boomers invented the internet, it would be fair to say that GenX gave rise to the dot-com boom.
Motivators for GenX include diversity, change and staying engaged (they are quick to move if an employer fails to meet their needs). And while they like work change, they decidedly often do not like if change at work negatively impacts their personal lives. As a manager, you can benefit most by giving GenXers immediate feedback and remote or flexible work arrangements that they choose based on their level of work-life balance desires. Like Boomers, GenX can make great mentors to younger generations. In fact, of all the generations, they are the most likely to bridge the gap between the two generations by mentoring Millennials and reverse-mentoring Boomers.
Millennials: (~ 27 to 42 years): Like their younger Boomer parents, Millennials can be more competitive and achievement oriented. They are among the most civic-minded generation, which sociologists believe to be shaped by the vast exposure to their surroundings and events because it is all at their fingertips and has been since their youth or teen years.
Social media platforms and websites have enabled new forms of involvement in civic activities, e.g., online petitions, crowdfunding and digital activism. But not all Millennials share the same views on any given civic matter, so leaders should keep that in mind.
They show trust in each other, work together and think innovatively. Conversations often occur through digital platforms like social media or messaging apps.
Millennials are the most diverse and inclusive work generation in U.S. history, with high racial, ethnic, religious and sexual diversity. They value diversity and inclusion as societal virtues and are more likely to support causes that promote equality and justice for marginalized groups.
Millennials were given a bad rap as the “boomerang” generation, given that they, compared to previous generations, boomeranged back to their parental home by their early to mid-20s. The term “boomerang” fails to account for the fact that the early Millennials were caught up in the Great Recession that started in 2006 and did not end until nearly 2010 – the most significant and prolonged economic downturn since World War II. Millennials were 18–28-year-olds during the Great Recession period.
Millennials are motivated by challenges and opportunities for growth. They are also inspired by having a purpose. They are modern technology-raised and expect to use it in every aspect of their work.
As a leader, get to know your Millennials personally, manage by results, be flexible with their schedule and work assignments, and provide immediate feedback. Millennials are significantly impacted by the quality of their manager, meaning they are likely to leave a boss who does not measure up. They like unique work experiences, so leverage that to give them the challenges and opportunities for growth that they seek.
Generation Z (~ 18 to 26 years as of 2023): Gen Z (GenZ or GenZs) represents the most diverse cohort in the U.S. workforce, bringing a unique blend of realism, entrepreneurship, social consciousness and financial ambition. They have developed their values, tastes and habits influenced by modern technology, social media and world events.
GenZs are fluent in technology and use multiple devices simultaneously. They expect to work with modern, efficient tools that enhance their productivity and creativity. They also prefer to work remotely or flexibly as long as they have access to reliable platforms to do their work, or they will go elsewhere. (They will usually ensure they have reliable internet, even if they want their company to reimburse them).
They communicate visually and succinctly, readily using emojis or videos instead of text. They value authenticity, flexibility and impact. They are motivated by personalization and acknowledgement.
Gen Zs are independent, capable of seeking new knowledge, adept at taking chances, and eager to try out novel ideas. They are resourceful, courageous, and open to experimentation. They value autonomy and flexibility in their work and are more likely to pursue freelance or gig opportunities than previous generations. They are more entrepreneurial, so a GenZer is okay not being “an employee” at all. Their entrepreneurial tendency could be useful to Gig Customer Centers and could be a strategy for future bright workers in tech support.
Unlike the generation before them, GenZs want to be more fiscally sound, so they are less idealistic and more money-motivated. Generation Z also endured the economic hardship of the Great Recession. They are all too familiar with the effects of job losses, home repossessions and economic woes, and are thus more aware of the financial problems they may face in the future. This awareness has made them prioritize stability, safety and savings over consumption.
Leaders should offer opportunities to work on multiple projects simultaneously, allowing them to be self-directed and independent. Leaders should bear in mind that as GenZ comes of age, their tolerance for inefficient tools that impede job performance is low; thus, informed decision-making is necessary to ensure maximum productivity and minimal waste of time.
Since they are money-motivated, they will leave a job for a different job if it means they can improve their income in a way that is stable and minimal risk to their overall financial plan.
Today’s workforce is multigenerational, each with its own values, communication styles, work preferences and even technology habits. Comprehending the disparities and likenesses among these generations can help administrators and employers construct a positive and effective workspace that takes advantage of the abilities of each generation.
At CRS Nashville, COPC Inc. is hosting an engaging workshop about transforming leadership approaches to get the most from your work relationships. This research-based workshop will provide attendees with:
- 2023 research on generational preferences of global contact center agents
- Opportunity to create a leadership enhancement plan utilizing your own data
- Methods for leading different generations using individualized strategies for each team member
Guest blog post written by COPC.
Join their panel at Customer Response Summit (CRS) Nashville on Wednesday, September 20th at 4:00 pm, led by Rick Zayas, Vice President at COPC