Millennials and The Gray Ceiling

by Danielle Foster


Thanks to a combination of delayed retirements, increases in the cost of living and the increasing life expectancy, older workers are waiting longer to leave the workforce- meaning millennials and generation X employees have hit what industry leaders refer to as “the gray ceiling.”

What is a gray ceiling? Traditionally as one generation aged, they retired making room for the younger generations. This shift allowed the middle generation to move up the organizational chart. Currently we have older workers working longer, leaving the younger workers stuck in their current positions and not being able to get promoted. The inability for the younger generation to move up the organizational chart is referred to as “the gray ceiling.”

For the first time in history we have four generations working side-by-side. This isn’t just a temporary situation. For as long as Baby Boomers and their predecessors decide to keep working, the multi-generational workforce is here to stay. 

This generational crowding is causing some major conflict and miscommunication in the workplace. Why? It comes down to the fact that each generation has its own set of values, shaped by their unique social conditions, political events, economic conditions, major crises and childhood experiences. Each generation also reacts to the generation before them, and this reaction becomes part of its own identity and defining characteristics. Each of these groups also have a different set of needs and wants, from vacation schedules, worksite flexibility, career opportunities and training and development. 

So how do HR departments and executive teams keep a happy workforce? By ensuring that planning for a multi-generational workforce is a top priority. Start by asking questions: How prepared is my organization to recruit and retain a multi-generational workforce? What will need to be created or shifted?

Stay tuned for our next blog including tips on how to manage employees from each of the three significant generations.