Survey: The best workforce contains many generations

Even though the workforce is aging, a new study has found that Baby Boomers, GenXers and Millennials seem to truly value each other in the workplace.

According to a national survey commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority in Virginia, and conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, employees and business decision makers believe that the best workforce contains representation from many generations.

“The way we tend to discuss generational difference in the workplace focuses on just that – our differences – and the issues they present for employers,” said Gerald L. Gordon, Ph.D., president and CEO of the FCEDA. “This survey surprised us showing that a majority of employees, regardless of age or station, believes that each generation is valuable in its own right.”

He added that, “While the results of this survey provide encouraging news with respect to many of the cultural issues surrounding this demographic shift, the fact remains that employers will need to address – sooner than later – a broad array of issues surrounding our aging workforce, including handling different expectations among older and younger workers, changes in benefits packages, succession planning, physical changes in the workspace and developing new products.”

About 78 million “Baby Boomers” were born between 1946 and 1964, according to the U.S. Census. Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 50 years old, according to Matt Thornhill and John Martin of the Boomer Project. This rapidly shifting change in the American demographic landscape is also reflected in the workforce. And, according to the Boomer Project, it’s not easy to predict when Baby Boomers will retire…if ever.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has also noted the shifting demographics of America’s workforce. According to the BLS, about 39 million Baby Boomers will be working in 2018 and make up 23.8 percent of the workforce. That’s up from the 12.4 percent of the U.S. workforce that was 55 or older in 1998.

Most of the people surveyed believe their company’s leadership is prepared for an aging workforce, with more managers (70 percent) than rank-and-file workers (59 percent) thinking that is the case. Among the different generations, 67 percent of younger employees thought their company was prepared compared to 59 percent of older employees.

Ninety-two percent of the 18 to 34-year-olds and 95 percent of employees over age 55 agreed with the statement that the best workforce is one that has a good contingent of younger and older workers.

When asked if one group – older or younger workers – was more valuable to the workplace than another, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of employees aged 18-34 and three-quarters (78 percent) of employees aged 55 and over said that both were equally valuable in their own right. Employees aged 35-54 also agreed (77 percent).

Both workers and their managers (business decision makers) agree that no amount of enthusiasm can replace experience in the workplace. Even younger employees, who arguably can contribute enthusiasm more readily than experience, agree (62 percent) with the statement. Seventy-two percent of middle age and older employees agreed.

There was inter-generational consensus as well that experienced employees also are an asset to a company. Younger employees agree only slightly less readily (89 percent) than older employees (97 percent).

Notably, almost one in five older employees (22 percent) conceded that the best ideas at work typically come from younger employees. Overall, 32 percent of American workers believe that the best ideas at work typically come from younger workers and their managers are split – 51 percent agree and 49 percent disagree with the statement.

Some age stereotypes persist. Most managers and workers agree that, in general, older workers are more resistant to change in the workplace. Younger employees are much more likely (80 percent) to think so than their middle-aged (71 percent) and older (62 percent) colleagues.

A majority of business-decision makers (71 percent) and regular workers (61 percent) agree that it’s tougher being a young working professional now than it was a generation ago.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority promotes Fairfax County, outside of Washington, D.C., as a business and technology center. The FCEDA offers site location and business development assistance, and connections with county and state government agencies, to help companies locate and expand in Fairfax County.

It interviewed 2,000 employees and business decision makers across the country for this survey.


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