Meeting the Challenges of Age Diversity in the Workplace

By Bell, Nancy Sutton; Narz, Marvin | The CPA Journal, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Meeting the Challenges of Age Diversity in the Workplace


Bell, Nancy Sutton, Narz, Marvin, The CPA Journal


The modern CPA firm has four generations working side by side: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. Because of demographic realities, managers must both develop new programs to attract younger workers and entice older productive workers to delay retirement. Many employers are finding that flexible work arrangements are effective in meeting both these challenges.

Generational Attitudes Toward Work

A generation is defined by demographics and key life-events that shape, at least to some degree, distinctive generational characteristics. Although sources disagree on the exact birthdates that define each generation, there is a consensus that employees over 60 in 2006 belong to the Traditionalist generation. Those in their mid-40s to 60 are Baby Boomers. Employees in their late 20s to early 40s are Generation X. The new generation entering the workplace, in their early 20s or younger, is generally called Generation Y.

Cultural generational changes create trends that can be noticed over time. Looking at the background and characteristics of each generation can be useful in understanding the distinctive talents and challenges each individual brings to the workplace, as well as identifying long-range trends that are changing the culture of the workplace. There appear to be distinctive trends toward dual-career families and an interest in having flexible work arrangements that help employees achieve balance between their work and family life.

Traditionalists may be credited with the typical work environment, where individuals work in the office from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., along with frequent evening and weekend work and extended work hours during tax season. Traditionalists are frugal, hardworking conformists who respect authority and put duty before pleasure. They spent most of their careers with one or two employers. Nonworking wives typically tended to family matters to support the long hours husbands spent at the office. Although they are steadily retiring from the workforce. Traditionalists remain connected and influential.

Having been raised by Traditionalist parents. Baby Boomers entered the workplace with a strong work ethic, but also as dualcareer couples, with highly educated women working alongside men. Baby Boomers value personal growth, hard work, individuality, and equality of the sexes. They question authority and have led a trend toward less-hierarchical work structures. They have had smaller families and enjoyed affluent lifestyles that led to their being labeled the "Me Generation." With this comes a trend away from long-term relationships, both personal (through divorce and second marriages) and professional (through multiple employers, downsizing, reengineering, and second careers). Boomers are 30% of the population, but represent the heart of today's management. They are leading a trend toward delayed retirement, with nearly 80% wanting to work at least part-time during retirement (AARP, Baby Boomers Envision Retirement II, 2004).

As children of the Baby Boomers, Generation Xers saw the toll that having both parents trying to "have it all" took on the family, and they are working to change it. They are a relatively small generation, sometimes called the "baby bust." They are self-reliant, optimistic, and confident. They value education, independence, and parenting above work. Consequently, they do not have a strong loyalty to an employer, and they have developed a repertoire of skills and experiences that they take to the employer that best meets their needs. They seek balance in their lives as they raise their families. As Exhibit I, summarizing a survey by the Families and Work Institute, demonstrates. Generation X employees tend to be more family oriented than Baby Boomers. The majority of those surveyed put family first (52%); more than a third are dualfocused between work and family (35%); and only 13% put work first.

The newest employees entering the workplace are members of Generation Y, also called the millennials, the Internet generation, and Echo Boomers, because they are the relatively largest generation since the Baby Boomers. …

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