The landscape of the American workforce is changing in a variety of ways. Based on a 2015 analysis performed by the Pew Research Center (Pew 2015), Millennials have now surpassed both Baby Boomers and Generation X as the largest living and working generation. Furthermore, a recent Gallop Poll (Gallop 2014) indicates that nearly 50% of Baby Boomers plan to continue working beyond the age of 65. Consequently, employers will soon be facing the most generationally diverse workforce in American history, and many companies are already confronting the challenge of managing three groups of workers with completely different perspectives on life, work, and the world in general.
Perhaps the most significant differences can be found when comparing the traits, strengths and weaknesses of the "Baby Boomer" and "Millennial" generations. While the differentiating characteristics of these two groups are often associated with their cultural and societal perspectives, the real opportunity is provided by the different strengths that each group offers. Baby Boomers possess a wealth of knowledge and skills, developed through many years of work and life experiences. Millennials, who are still fairly new to the workforce, are technologically savvy and bring with them an affinity for change that leads to an increase in efficiency and a better sense of community. However, generational strengths such as these are too often being idled due to the current acceptance of stereotypes reported frequently by the media and the structural hierarchy that most managers have grown accustomed to. Once companies begin to leverage these strengths by challenging that structural hierarchy, embracing the cultural shift and encouraging effective mentoring and collaboration, they can take advantage of the generational diversity and the opportunity that it provides.
The term "generation" is commonly used to describe a group of people who were born around the same time. While this is technically true, it does not fully describe the true nature of what forms a generation and what makes that generation unique. In their book, The Fourth Turning, the authors, Mr. William Strauss and Mr. Neil Howe, describe a generation as "the aggregate of all people born over a span of roughly twenty years, or about the length of one phase of life: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and old age." They further explain that "members of a generation … encounter key historical events and social trends while occupying the same phase of life" (Strauss 1998).