Generation Z is already entering the workforce, and the Silent Generation hasn't even left yet. That means companies are starting have five generations on their payrolls, the other three comprising the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y a.k.a. millennials. And though millennials get a lot of the credit for shaking up workforce conventions, flexibility doesn't benefit only them. Flexibility benefits all.
This five-generation spectrum is a recent development. In 1994, there were only three generations working, according to the Pew Research Center: Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1966) made up 50 percent of the workforce, Gen Xers (born between 1966 and 1985) made up 29 percent, and the Silent Generation (born before 1945) made up 21 percent.
These days, millennials (born between 1986 and 1996) have the highest representation with 35 percent, followed closely by Gen Xers and 33 percent. At opposite ends of the spectrum, Generation Z a.k.a. post-millennials (born after 1996) have entered the workforce at 5 percent, and the Silent Generation is still represented with 2 percent.
We previously covered how flexibility is necessary to retain millennials and to prepare for Generation Z. In short, our research shows that millennials report one of the widest flexibility gaps—with 97 percent demanding flexibility but only 50 percent able to access it, according to our research—and they're more likely than the average respondent to say their current workday structure makes it difficult to perform optimally or sustainably over time, to feel inspired or energized by their workspace, to bring their whole selves to work, and to foster skills to develop in their careers. And as for Generation Z, flexibility ranked among the top three deciding factors in their job selection process, meaning this kind of flexibility gap would deter them from a job prospect.
And flexibility is an appealing prospect for other generations, as well. In a recent survey, flexibility ranked as the second most desired change in the workplace among Baby Boomers, and 39 percent of respondents from the Baby Boomer generation said they wanted more agile work parameters and less commuting hours. "For some older workers, the flexibility to go from full-time to part-time can provide a smooth transition into a phased retirement," Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, writes in a Forbes op-ed. "Other boomers need flexibility in order to provide care for an elderly parent or loved one suffering from illness."
Indeed, amid the constant generational turnover, it's advantageous for companies to do what they can to keep their older workers content. "Providing flexible workplace arrangements, including part-time schedules and the opportunity to telecommute, to Baby Boomers who are delaying retirement can bridge the talent gap in a tight employment market," writes ADPVoice contributor Jasmine Gordon.
Werk co-founder and co-CEO Anna Auerbach recently emphasized the importance of flexibility across generational lines, having just connected with HR professionals at a life sciences conference a week prior. "Flexibility isn't just a differentiator—it's table stakes," she wrote. "If companies want to poise themselves for growth as baby boomers transition out and these generations take over, flexibility must be a core part of their culture."