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Four generations in the workplace: new reality for employers comes with challenges

Edmonton workplaces adapting operations to a multi-generational workforce say they are seeing the benefits.

Companies increasingly find themselves with four generations of employees under the same roof … or virtual roof: generation Z, millennials, generation X and baby boomers.

Statistics Canada says gen-Zers are those born between 1997 and 2012; millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996; gen-Xers are those born between 1966 and 1980; and boomers are those born between 1946 and 1965.

The age range in an employment space can be decades wide, and workers in these generations come with unique preferences and expectations, from office etiquette to flexibility around schedules and working from home.

WATCH | How a multi-generational workplace works

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As more Generation Z individuals join the workforce, employers are grappling with a new challenge: how to adapt to a workplace that fills the needs of four unique and distinct generational groups that each come with their own skills, hopes and expectations.

According to local businesses CBC spoke to, it’s worth it.

“It helps [companies] know how to attract talent to their organization,” said Evangeline Berube, an Edmonton-based associate director with talent firm Robert Half Management Resources.

“Understanding what each generation really would look for will help you attract talent. Then it will also help you retain the talent.”

For instance, Berube said, millennials with young families are most likely to want to continue working from home if they did that during the pandemic. Baby boomers, on the other hand, tend to accept the five-day office week they grew up with.

While bridging those gaps, businesses are also identifying the strengths of each generation for mentoring opportunities.  Baby boomers tend to have a lot of industry experience and familiarity with face-to-face communication, while gen-Zers and millennials grew up with technology.

Accommodating a multigenerational staff comes with its challenges, but they can be navigated, Berube said. 

“Having an awareness that there are differences and being able to communicate through that and find common ground between the generations will just make it work better for all employees.”

Smiling woman standing in front of brick wall and white board in office.
Shani Gwin says a multi-generational staff makes their work more creative. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

As founder and CEO of the public relations agency pipikwan pêhtâkwan, Shani Gwin supervises employees ranging in age from 20 to older than 60.

A multigenerational staff enhances creativity and inspiration while helping to reflect the four stages of life recognized in Indigenous culture, Gwin said.

“A lot of people in the older generations, they’ve worked in a lot of workplaces that are very colonial and hierarchical, and I find that when they come, they’re like, ‘We’re not leaving,'” she said.

Side profile of man on phone in front of Edmonton city hall.
Haruun Ali says a multi-generational workforce improves workflow. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

In contrast to many Gen Zs who only stepped into the workplace after the pandemic, Haruun Ali, 20, has worked in restaurants, grocery stores and offices, and for non-profits.

He said he stayed a lot longer at jobs where there was a diversity of ages. “When you have diversity in that age range, it makes the workplace a lot smoother.”

But he also noted that employers have a responsibility to keep those diverse teams happy.

“If something’s happening in your personal life that is going to affect your work, I think it’s on managers to work with employees much more to bring that flexibility,” Ali said. 

“Team environments are crucially important when people my age are looking for work. But also, a compassionate understanding that, you know, life happens.”

Gwin agrees that offering a diverse and positive work environment is something younger workers really value. 

“They want something that’s purpose-driven. They want something that’s going to be world changing. And in a lot of ways, we change the world every day.”

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