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Understanding Employee Differences: Be Inclusive!

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Henrik Bresman and Vinika D. Rao looked at a 19-country survey to analyze the differences and similarities between Generations X, Y and Z. As a quick refresher: Generation X is generally considered to include those born before the 1980s, but after Baby Boomers; Generation Y (Millennials) are those born between the 1980s and the mid 1990s; and Generation Z is roughly defined as the cohort born after 1997.

The survey looked at 18,000 professionals and students across all three generations and in 19 countries. Here are some of the interesting findings reported by Bresman and Vinika.

Leadership Ambitions

The survey found that Generation Z was slightly less likely to say that becoming a leader was important to them (57 percent of respondents) than Generations Y and Z (61 percent for both); but the real distinctions were between countries. For example, leadership aspirations were much higher in Mexico (76 percent) than in the Nordic countries (47 percent for Norway).

What does this mean for you? Not all employees seek leadership positions. Recognizing this, and taking the time to understand what most motivates your employees, can help you to ensure you’re engaging them appropriately.


There were distinct generational gaps in terms of training preferences among respondents. “When asked if they would take an online course if offered one by their employer, 70% of Gen Z respondents said yes, while 77% of Gen Y and 78% of Gen X professionals said they would take it,” write Bresman and Vinika. Given a choice between live and online only 13 percent of the Gen Z respondents chose the online option. Gen X respondents, on the other hand, were more likely to choose an online option; still, only 25 percent preferred this to in-person. Among Gen Y respondents, 21 percent preferred online over live training.

What does this mean for you? Clearly, while online training options has a place for any organization, live, face-to-face interactions matter most. Finding the right balance is critical not only for conveying information but for providing an opportunity to seek input from employees.

Fitting In

Fitting in was important to all generations across all the countries surveyed; however, an interesting takeaway is that while fitting in was especially important for Generations Y and Z, Bresman and Vinika report that, “what most bothered Gen X in general was not being able to enjoy retirement, getting stuck with no opportunities, or losing job security. Not being able to enjoy retirement emerged as a top concern in the UK, the U.S., and Spain.”

What does this mean for you? Again, engagement and conversation are critically with today’s workforce which is more diverse than ever before—not only in terms of generational differences—but a wide range of other differences as well!

The bottom line: finding opportunities to connect and engage with employees, face-to-face, can go a long way toward encouraging input and ensuring inclusion. Be inclusive!

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