28 Mar

The way we show up for work each day changed radically due to Covid-19. One study showed that 49% of the American workforce is now working from home at least part-time since the beginning of the pandemic. This shift to working remotely has presented a series of interesting challenges to employers who are working hard to ensure productivity and efficiency in a decentralized workforce that is currently made up of folks spanning four generations. The challenges among these generations vary greatly and require creative leadership solutions to solve. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the four generations currently in the workforce are the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen X (born 1965-1980), Millennials (born 1981-1996), and Gen Z (born 1997-2012). Millennials make up approximately 35% of the current workforce with that number rising to 75% by 2025. Millennials and Gen Z make up groups of individuals known as “digital natives” as they grew up with full-time access to the internet.  

One would think that the “digital natives” in the workforce would make the transition to remote work seamlessly and without much trouble, but contrary to popular assumptions, the opposite has been true. A recent survey showed that only 47% of Gen Z workers and 40% of Millennials feel that they are productive and able to get their work done while working remotely, while over 60% of Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers felt productive and enjoyed working from home.  Millennials and Gen Z workers are reporting higher levels of anxiety and sleeplessness over older workers and over 62% of younger workers feel their work/life balance has been adversely affected by remote work. 

Gen Z workers seem to be having the most difficult time adjusting, and environmental reasons might be the most likely culprit. This youngest generation of workers is reporting increased boredom, a lack of connection, and skills gaps that are interfering with their daily work. Gen Z is known for their desire for interpersonal connection and reports feeling less connected and less trusting of their peers and managers during this time. Also, because most of these workers are just entering the workforce, they are more likely to worry about losing their jobs and less likely to have the job skills to function at high levels without training. 

Millennials are often bearing the responsibility of raising small children while trying to work from home and are more likely to have a smaller financial cushion than older workers and may still be dealing with student loans and other debts. They may also have increased job anxiety as many entered the job market for the first time during the Great Recession of 2008. Millennials traditionally value work/life balance over high salaries or other monetary benefits. This value set may be causing some friction in an environment where it is very difficult to separate one’s home and workspaces and employers are finding it difficult to honor the standard workday. 

By contrast, Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers tend to be doing well even on the tech adoption front. Overall, these older, more experienced workers have a higher degree of comfort working in this decentralized environment and it may be, in large part, to having faced work transition changes in the past. Their work experience, initiative, and ability to tow the company line have become valuable assets in the work-from-home economy.  

Each generation is facing unique challenges during this transition, and it is up to leadership and managers to navigate their way through each of them.  Ultimately, keeping a finger on the pulse of each of their workers and regular check-ins on mental health can help keep all members of the team rowing in the same direction.

Learn more about the traits and work styles of each generation in today's workplace in a helpful infographic from Purdue Global.