From senior to entry level, each generation brings something valuable to the table. For the tech industry—a space that has drastically changed over the last few decades—it’s especially vital to recognize how each generation has contributed to its growth.
But with Millennial and Gen Z workers set to make up 75% of the workforce in 2025, the tech industry also needs to use generational insight to adapt for these emerging leaders.
This post is looking at generations in the workforce, their varying leadership styles, and a few tips for tech companies on attracting and retaining talent amid generational shifts.
Let’s get a quick refresher on how the generations are grouped, and which stages they are in professionally.
Note: There are still members of the Silent Generation in today’s workforce, but as they make up less than 2 percent of the total workforce, this blog post will only focus on the four subsequent generations
- Baby Boomers: Born from 1946-1964, this generation makes up many of the oldest members of the workforce. The number of Baby Boomers is steadily declining though, as 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 (the standard age of retirement) each day. However, this does not mean that 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each day, as they continue to work past the standard age of retirement.
- Generation X (Gen X): Born from 1965-1980, many members of Gen X still occupy the workforce and often hold more high-level positions. This is especially true within the tech industry as Gen X was working during the rise of the “dot-com bubble” and made up many of the IT hires during this time. And because Gen X is statistically less likely to switch careers or industries, many of those who entered the tech industry are still there today.
- Millennials: Born from 1981-1996, Millennials currently make up the largest portion of today’s workforce at about 40 percent as of 2020. Older members are in their late 30s-to-early 40s, indicating they likely hold many mid-to-high level roles. Millennials were some of the first to be known as “digital natives,” having grown up during a time when advanced technology was rapidly becoming more accessible. Their dominant presence in the workforce translates to the tech industry, where they make up a majority of IT workers and innovators.
- Generation Z (Gen Z): Last but not least: born from 1997-2012, Gen Z is the youngest generation in the tech industry. Much of Gen Z has yet to enter the workforce, with the oldest members being 25. But together, the Millennial and Gen Z generations are set to make up more than half of the tech workforce by 2025. The torch of “digital native” seems to have passed to Gen Z, and their lifelong relationship with technology has resulted in a generation fluent in tech and all its trends. Within the tech industry, Generation Z is quickly being recognized as the most entrepreneurial generation—creating their own apps, launching personal brands, and easily mastering digital selling and marketing.
Generations in Leadership
Now, let’s look at how leadership styles have evolved through these generations. Keep in mind, though, these are general trends and traits that do not apply to every member of each generation.
The Baby Boomer generation is characteristically known for its traditional take on leadership. Their leadership style is most often a hierarchical, top-down model, wherein leaders deliver instructions, and the direct report follows them. This is also referred to as command-and-control, and the dynamic has been criticized in recent years for its lack of collaboration.
As Generation X began moving into more leadership roles, the overarching style began to shift and prioritize collaboration, mentorship, and open communication.
Gen X leaders also often prefer a coach-like leadership style—providing frequent feedback and stepping in to help their teams adapt to new skills or processes. The concept of commands didn’t necessarily go away, but rather, Gen X leaders are more involved in helping teams reach goals.
Millennial leaders are credited with speaking out and challenging the status quo of business processes, helping them disrupt traditional top-down leadership styles.
This generation has carried on the Gen X trend of authentic, empathetic, and servant leadership and have taken it even further. In addition to the teamwork model, they are also known for flexibility and prioritization of work-life balance and personal development.
As the youngest generation in the tech industry, the majority of Gen Z is not in leadership—excluding a few entrepreneurial outliers. However, what they’re looking for in their leaders will be addressed in the next section.
Hiring and Retention Among Generations in Tech
Because Millennial and Gen Z workers are poised to take over the tech industry in just a few years, we’re going to focus on these two generations for tips on fine-tuning your hiring and retention strategies.
These tips outline things that both generations are searching for in future roles and companies. Plus, qualities that will not only attract them, but also make them want to stay. And because job stay has generally been declining—on top of IT workers having a 10.2 percent lower job stay rate than non-IT workers—retention strategies should be a top priority in the tech industry.
Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
The tech industry has received some criticism for being behind the curve on DEI initiatives, and it’s a major obstacle to attracting Gen Z workers who are considered the most diverse generation. Per McKinsey:
- 83 percent of tech executives are white
- Women make up just 26.7 percent of the tech workforce
- Only 27 percent of VP roles in software companies are held by women
Millennial workers have been trying to combat this problem, calling attention to issues like the broken rung and other inequitable standards in the tech industry. But many Gen Z workers are more likely to dodge companies without DEI initiatives altogether to avoid exclusive and inequitable workplaces.
A focus on DEI has many benefits for existing members of your organization. But on top of that, it can make your organization more attractive to this younger generation of workers, ensuring it will be in good hands in the future.
Support Meaningful Work
Around 26 percent of Millennials and 21 percent of Gen Z workers are choosing opportunities based on whether they can derive meaning and fulfillment from their work.
That means about one in four Millennials and Gen Zers are evaluating opportunities based on how well they align with their values. And for Gen Z especially, a lack thereof can contribute to their decision to leave certain roles. Work that aligns with their interests, makes a difference, and feels purposeful has become top criteria for choosing a career. And if they feel disconnected from their work, they are less likely to stick around.
Try finding ways to tie your organization’s work to something bigger. This can be achieved through ESG initiatives, mission or vision statements, or by instating shared values. Outline the ways that working for your organization contributes to a greater purpose.
Create an Empowering Culture
Millennial and Gen Z workers are also prioritizing workplace culture when searching for their next opportunity. A Deloitte survey revealed the top factors to be healthy work-life balance, learning and development opportunities, sense of belonging, and a flexible working model.
Of these, it seems that learning and development ranks higher than most as 76 percent of Gen Z workers are searching for opportunities to learn new skills. And in the tech industry, sponsoring certifications and other methods of upskilling or reskilling is a strong approach to attracting and retaining talent.
Building A Cohesive, Intergenerational Workplace
Once you have hired and worked to retain employees from all generations, you must now create a peaceful and productive day-to-day environment. This means recognizing everyone’s strengths and placing them accordingly.
Some generations seem more suited to leadership than others, depending on the type of organization you have, the average age of your workforce, and the goals you are trying to achieve. Some generations in tech are better suited for specific jobs than others.
For example, due to their extensive knowledge of tech and IT, Millennials and Gen Z are well-suited for advanced leadership positions in IT. The trick is knowing how to play to everyone’s strengths and encouraging collaboration.
Let’s go through each generation and talk about how they can play roles on an IT team.
Baby Boomers aren’t all suited for executive leadership positions, and not everyone wants that. Just because their generation grew up largely without the advanced technology we have today does not mean they can’t be successful in IT.
Tips for success: Most IT professionals know that keeping your knowledge up to date is just as important as how well you perform in your current role. Encourage seasoned workers to do so by offering stipends for continuing education (CE) or pairing them with a younger person who can show them new aspects of the industry.
On the other hand, don’t assume that just because someone is older, they don’t have the skills necessary to fulfill the requirements of the role. After all, the iPhone was designed by a Baby Boomer (Steve Jobs).
Gen X came of age during the dot-com boom and were early adopters of much of the technology we use today. However, a study found that many members of this generation have grown weary of the tech culture they created.
Tips for success: Encourage engagement by offering a better work-life balance to a generation that places value on flexibility. Also, as a generation that values, collaboration and respect, make sure to create a work environment that puts collaboration at the forefront.
Over 90 percent of Millennials own smartphones, so it’s safe to say that they’re comfortable with technology. As more and more people in this age group move into leadership positions, it’s easy to see how workplaces are changing with them in charge.
Tips for success: Help Millennials keep current with their skills through CE opportunities. Also, invest in them as leaders and mentors!
Newest to the workforce is Gen Z. As a generation of digital natives, they sometimes trip up older generations with their vast knowledge of everything tech. They’re more likely to have high expectations about their place of work–no matter the industry or function—regarding the tech stacks and culture.
Tips for success: Give Gen Zers the opportunity to express their opinions and ideas in meetings and the decision-making process. They can often have more creative ideas that utilize technology in ways older generations might not think of.
Work Better, Together
It’s vital for businesses to recognize and adapt to shifts in values, needs, strengths, and motivations to have future success. But understanding generational trends can also help teams grow by cultivating a sense of connection, belonging, and togetherness.
Using generational insight, leaders can improve workplace culture, boost productivity, and facilitate meaningful professional relationships.
To hear directly from Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z workers, check out our live recorded panel on Generations in the Workplace!