American Knowledge Workers Across the Generations
American Knowledge Workers Across the Generations: Eight Dynamic Dimensions
With people living longer and healthier lives, workplaces will shift to support a workforce with a 60-year span across the generations. The future success of businesses will largely depend on the creativity and productivity of knowledge workers. Not many years ago, the workers with the most knowledge and advanced skills were those who had been in the workplace for many years. They grew their knowledge and honed their skills over time. With the transition into a knowledge economy, enabled by increasingly sophisticated communication and information tools, highly qualified workers will appear in all generations, including those in Generations Y and X. Teams of knowledge workers already include an unprecedented cross-generational mix. Over the next 10 to 20 years, many large and small businesses will have four, sometimes even five, generations in the workplace. Knowledge workers from each generation bring different formative life, technology, early work, and educational experiences to the workplace. The generations behave differently along many work dimensions.
Work behaviors and values shaped by each generation’s formative experiences heretofore have remained relatively steady throughout individual careers. But, given the severity and turbulence of organizational Badlands, innovation will be required on a continuous basis to attain business success. (for more information on the Outlook Program’s Organizational Badlands work, see IFTF SR #758). This will require knowledge workers in all generations to make fundamental changes in their personal mindsets, expectations and behaviors at work. To adapt, members of all generations will experience changing values and ideas about the meaning of work. New connective technologies will interconnect knowledge workers at work and home in newly configured and increasingly decentralized small groups. As corporate cultures evolve from hierarchies to networks, work life will change in profound ways. Managers will need to redesign their policies and attitudes to provide an optimal balance between instruction and inspiration. As innovation becomes the main source of productivity, companies will learn that a certain generational mix is a critical component of their optimal diversity.
We chose to research eight dimensions of work that are likely to be the most dynamic in the context of generational shifts (see matrix on page 8). The following pages present an overview of four generational categories along these eight dimensions today, and portend implications for the future.