Twenty-five years ago, there were three generations working together in American offices. Today, there are five—and those dynamics are upending the workplace.
Business has “no choice” but to adapt to millennials, who will make up 75% of the American workforce by 2025, said Lindsey Pollak, author of The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace, speaking at Fortune‘s CEO Initiative in New York on Tuesday.
But there’s more to smoothing over intergenerational office issues than conquering the well-documented culture clashes between Baby Boomers and millennials. Gen Z, the post-millennial generation, is already entering the workforce. And more Americans than ever in history are working past 85 years old—think Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rupert Murdoch, Pollak said. That means the Silent Generation is still at work—and we can’t forget about Gen X.
The 2020 presidential race is a perfect case study. Thirty-seven-year-old Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a millennial, is running against 77-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders—”people four decades apart in age applying for the same job,” noted Pollak.
To adapt to workforces that contain different generational perspectives, companies should adjust their training and benefits, she said. A younger employee can “reverse mentor” an executive, and a company might offer “executive communications skills for young leaders”—teaching a Gen Zer who has only ever answered their personal cell phone how to answer a call coming into a large organization.
“We have to rethink what kind of training is possible,” Pollak said.