Most people are familiar with the concept of “Generations” – those stretches of history that are defined depending on what year a person was born. But how many people know which generation they are a part of? And out of those, how many know what the next generation will be? The next generation is “Generation Alpha” and they will be joining the workforce in as little as 4 years. With this in mind, we should try to understand the current generations better: to identify their needs and pain points. Applying those learnings will help us to integrate and celebrate the next new generation in our communities and in our workplaces.


Generation X – Born from the mid 1960s to early 1980s.


The oldest generation in our workforce at present is generation X. This generation was born into post-war stability, however, they also grew up into the instability of rising divorce rates. During the 1960s and 1970s, this generation was characterised as free spirited and rebellious in their youth when compared to their hard-working parents and grandparents. However, these stereotypes have since been debunked as unfair and inaccurate. In a 2016 study by Workfront, Generation X was found to be the most hard-working employees (as voted by over 60% of the study’s respondents).


Perhaps owing to the increase in divorce rates at the time, it has been said that Generation X are a resourceful and independent generation, often left to their own devices and thus, from a professional standpoint, they value responsibility and freedom and will try and tackle obstacles head on before seeking help from others. This generation also have an innate desire for an even work/life balance meaning they often have great time management skills as well as a natural talent for organisation.


Generation Y (Millennials) – Born between the early 1980s and 1990s.


Generation Y were the first generation to be introduced to social media either at school, university or during their early careers. They discovered new ways to see and engage with one another’s experiences. They also taught the wider world a new way to influence and shape the socio-political landscape. The rate of university graduates increased significantly for this generation. However, the economic financial crash of 2008 saw a divide in those who beforehand, had taken advantage of the access to further education. Some graduates thrived as inner city professionals with vast travel and culture opportunities, whereas some were left with low employment options and a housing market that seemed – and for some still is – unattainable.


Millenials are the most likely generation to not want to work long hours and generally prefer a flexible work day compared to the previous generation. However, it is said that they are more likely than their predecessors to hold down multiple jobs in their professional lifetime, staying in one specific role for an average of 2 years before moving on to the next one. This is due to the fact that they have been the first generation to favour job satisfaction over a high salary. 


Generation Z – born between the mid 1990s and early 2010s.


Generation Z are the largest generation on earth, accounting for around 32% of the human population. This is the generation that currently dominates many of the HR and Recruitment narratives such as; Remote work, Diversity Equity & Inclusion, company culture, employee branding, candidate experience and more. They are the most diverse generation in Europe’s history and the first to be born into a tech native society, they have never known a world without technology. Being tech native and comfortable with social media, their voices are typically bullish when it comes to the topics they are passionate about. The extinction rebellion movement – particularly before the pandemic – is an example of a community largely made up of Generation Z that was unwavering in its commitment to the cause.


Their hard skills in technology are highly desirable for employers. But this “tech native” culture may not be all that desirable in and of itself. In a 2015 study by Microsoft, 77% of respondents aged 18 to 24 said yes to the statement: “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone”. This compares to just 10% for those aged 65 and over. 


Despite Gen Z being at the forefront of the “Remote work” topic, they are actually the generation that most prefers human interaction. In fact, a recent survey by The Workforce Institute found that 75% of Gen Z respondents said they would prefer to get feedback from their manager face to face and in real time.


But what unites the generations?

This brief insight into each generation consists of sweeping generalisations. At AssessFirst, we know from the 5,000,000 personality profiles we’ve helped people to generate, that everyone is unique. But each generation has some defining cultural trends that manifest through behaviour in the workplace. Looking for differences in those trends or behaviours is important but so too is identifying commonality. And the commonality amongst all generations, amongst all people, is their desire to find “happiness”.


Whether happiness is derived from buying our dream car, finding the perfect partner, living in the perfect house, travelling to our favourite spots around the world, or working in a motivating job, most of us are chasing that contentment and satisfaction. But what if there was more than? More than just ‘being happy’? What if being happy at all costs was not the ultimate mission for us? What if being happy was just the consequence of a meaningful life? 


And it is with this mindset that HR and Recruitment Leaders can help the next generation – Generation Alpha – find their true meaning in the world of work and ultimately, in society.


How do we start? We should look at our current workforce; see how the different generations work together, how they help one another, how their skill sets differ, or realise there are more similarities than we might have imagined amongst our people – regardless of their age.  In as little as 4 years, the next generation – Generation Alpha – will be joining these workforce generations and all of us as People leaders will need to be ready for them.