Dr. Eliza Filby: Navigating Companies Among Multiple Generations

What does it mean to have a workforce and consumer base that spans four generations, and how can your business gain the advantage? Dr. Eliza Filby, Academic and Consultant, spoke at Oslo Business Forum 2019 on the importance of Generational Intelligence for the future.


Research by Dr. Eliza Filby found that we can’t assume anything about Gen Z, born roughly 1997-2015. While Millennials find comfort in tech, Gen Z wants alternatives.


She laments that we are obsessed with the future, but forget about people. “In the age of AI, understanding people is a priority. It should be a core part of business strategy.” Understanding consumers also translates to the workplace, as companies become multi-generational.

But Who are These Generations? Dr. Filby Describes the Four Generations:

  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964, the privileged generation, grew up in post-war prosperity and welfare state, and the benefactors of the asset boom. Where in Norway, 15 percent own a second home.
  • Gen X: 1965-1980, the ignored generation, are fewer in numbers and often ignored. They are the entrepreneurial and first tech generation, while more likely to be skeptical.
  • Millennials: 1981-1996, the Me generation, is often unfairly characterized as entitled. Her findings show the Millennials identity is characterized by expansion of cheap travel, expansion of higher education, and the invention of smartphones. Economically compared to Gen X in the same stage of life, Millennials in the Nordic countries have it better than compared to other parts of Europe. Whereas Norwegian Millennials have seen a 13 percent rise income, Millennials in Germany have seen a 9 percent drop.
  • Gen Z: the social media generation, is a generation that only knows today’s realities than what they were before. Knowing an economy rife with depression, they are skeptical, realistic, and different than Millennials. They often share the entrepreneurial spirit and skepticism of their Gen X parents.

Millennials and Gen Z: A Generation Apart or Similarly Bound?

Although Millennials and Gen Z share similar experiences, Gen Z seeks to separate from the Millennial identification. What makes them different?

Dr. Filby believes “Millennials are generally optimists, while Gen Z are more realists which will translate into the workplace. In terms of salary, potential promotion, or leadership.” Millennials champion diversity, while Gen Z questions the intersectionality of identities over checking off boxes.

Millennials are willing to share data, whereas Gen Z obsesses over privacy and digital footprints. Video is a tool for learning, communication, and engagement for Gen Z. Preferring a digital medium that disappears over digital albums. Although Millennials are more “slacktivists” Gen Z actively uses social media to coordinate offline protests; translating as consumers and employees. Moreover, Millennials are individualistic, compared to team-oriented Gen Z.

Lastly, Millennials prefer workplace perks, while Gen Z looks to mental and physical health. In the workplace, companies have risen to the needs of Millennials, and they will soon make up 75 percent of the workforce. Dr. Filby asks, “As managers, will they give Gen Z the same freedoms, generosity, and leeway they had at their age?”

Additionally, companies should understand the concept of intersectionality and identity politics by bringing Gen Z in to help make those transitions. “This will be the great testimony to the progressive nature of your company,” Dr. Filby said.


Growing Pains: The Transformation of Generations

Dr. Filby notes that the generational life cycle has changed overall with five markers for adulthood. Leaving home, finishing education, gaining financial independence, marriage, and having children. Where women were having their first child mid-20s in 1967, now it’s early to mid-30s.

We’re reaching adulthood 5-10 years later, which affects our lives, careers, and spending habits. Boomers experience a three-stage life, with the completion of education or training by 21, followed by employment and accumulation of wealth, and later a long retirement.

Millennials face automation, declining fertility, and impacts on the welfare state, possibly working until the age of 80. Automation means retraining for new skills or careers in one’s lifetime. “We are entering a time where technology in the workplace needs to be reassessed and realigned for greater productivity.”

With four generations in the workplace, Dr. Filby outlines 3 ways companies can set up for success:

  1. Skill Swap: Training and education of employees throughout their experience within the company. Education is an investment for retaining talent, while personal growth brings fulfillment. Different generations can also teach valuable skills to each other, and breaks down generational barriers.
  2. Democracy: Companies must create a level playing field where all voices feel they could be heard, but necessarily act on ideas. If young people aren’t heard, they will go.
  3. Values: Align the values of the business with the employees. As employees stay in the workforce longer, work becomes a part of their identity. Employees are the ambassadors and best marketers for the company.

Communicating to Consumers: Generational Differences

How we advertise to the generations of consumers is important. Dr. Filby considers Gen Z as prosumers, diligent about what they can buy and how they can use it as a producer.

Millennials are becoming parents, managers, and advocates of change. They are nostalgic, searching for experiences offline, and parenting in a nostalgic way; differently than their younger selves.

Gen X are mid-lifers looking after their elderly parents and children, short on time and money.

Boomers have time and money. Enjoying life and adopting habits of their Millennial children, they’re reinventing what it means to be old. They are also the fastest growing demographic on social media.

Applying Generational Knowledge to Your Business

What does this mean for hiring future employees? What is the future of consumer engagement?

Dr. Filby believes that businesses and products need to feel personalized. Employees and clients want involvement. Automation should be about saving personal time. By aligning values and promoting their personal brand, employees and consumers will reciprocate. Offer a sense of belonging in the age of dislocation. Lastly, companies should watch and understand how technology is affecting their employees and consumers.