Generational productivity: When are Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer workers most productive?

Illustration of people working on computers in the night time and in the day time.

Millennials have been stereo-typed as so many things — among them entitled, self-centered, super-sensitive job hoppers who spend their savings on lattes and avocado toast rather than a down payment for a home. Then on the flip side there’s the privileged, materialistic, resistant-to-change Baby Boomers, collecting their 9-to-5 checks until retirement, while not growing up with the latest technology that’s become routine. Or the Gen Xers, who may be referred to as cynical, skeptical, independent, and only quasi-tech-savvy slackers. And then finally there’s Gen Z — referenced as spoiled, lazy, always on their phones, posting 100 times a day, but unable to hold an actual in-person conversation.

We’ve become familiar with these trite tropes, however seemingly accurate or — perhaps even more likely, inaccurate — they might be. Negative generational stereotypes are nothing new, despite all the digital ink that seems suddenly to be spilling about them. With four to five distinct age groups currently working together, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, perceptions of generational differences in the workplace are undeniably prevalent. But are they important?

Life as we know it continues to undergo seismic changes, including a large aging workforce population, rapid technological advancements in an increasingly digital world, shifting perceptions about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a global pandemic that accelerated trends toward flexible work. More than ever, it’s critical for organizations to understand their employees — not as broad generational demographics with uncompromising differences, but rather as people with unique work styles, needs, and preferences, which influence job satisfaction, performance, and longevity.

The Future of Time,” a recent global study fielded by Adobe Document Cloud on the nature of modern work, shows how significant these preferences are and points to important organizational adaptations that employers can make to attract and keep top talent.

Generational productivity, time pressures, and the digital tools that enable flexible work

According to “The Future of Time,” younger generations feel pressured to be working during office hours, but that’s not always when they’re the most productive. More than 60 percent of Millennial and Gen Z employees feel they should be working traditional schedules even when they know they’re not as effective, compared to 52 percent of Gen X and just 42 percent of Boomers.

76% of Gen X employees say they're most productive during traditional office hours (9am-6pm)

When asked their most productive times, more than twice as many Gen Z (26 percent) and Millennial (18 percent) workers preferred late hours — from 6pm to 3am — than Gen Xers (13 percent) and Boomers (6 percent). Meanwhile, more Boomers preferred early hours — from 3am to 9am — than any other generation.

Overall, the majority of each age group reported being most productive from 9am to 6pm, but that still doesn’t mean everyone is the same. By understanding the generational differences — and, more importantly, treating employees as unique individuals — employers that set their workers up to succeed can reap the rewards of flexibility.

While managers and employees alike crave flexibility in their schedules, this is especially true for Millennial and Gen Z workers — and the cost of falling short is even higher for their employers. Approximately three-quarters of younger generation employees say they would switch jobs for better work-life balance, two-thirds would switch for the option to work remotely, and around 70 percent would take a different job to have more control over their work schedule. All of those figures are higher than for Gen X and Boomer workers, assuming other factors like salary and job description remain the same.

78% of Millenial employees would switch jobs for better work-life balance, compared to 50% of Boomers.

For employees, burnout and attrition from rigid work requirements are real. And for employers that respond inadequately to the needs of their workers, so are the consequences. It’s a potentially urgent problem. More than one-third of the workforce plans to find a new job within the year, and that number jumps to half among Gen Z.

More than half of Gen Z and Millennial workers plan to pursue a new job in the next year, compared to about one-quarter of Gen X and Boomer workers.

In “The Future of Time: Hybrid Workplace” study, employees that opted to stay with their current employers cited schedule and location flexibility as top reasons. These adaptations are straightforward but don’t come overnight — they require fresh perspectives, updated trust in employee competence and reliability, restructuring of outdated processes, and implementation of the right tools.

But modern workers don’t just want flexibility — they want to be more productive and efficient too. According to “The Future of Time” study, 9 in 10 employees are looking for tools that help them reduce or eliminate the tasks that get in the way of high-value work, such as managing files, forms, and contracts, or processing payments and invoices. In fact, 70 percent of Gen Z employees — a group that will make up more than a quarter of the workforce by 2025 — say they would switch jobs for access to better tools that help them work more efficiently and productively.

70% of Gen Z employees say they would switch jobs for access to better tools that help them work more productively, compared to 52% of Gen X and just 37% of Boomer employees.

Younger generations of employees are issuing an unspoken mandate or sorts to companies that workplace and schedule flexibility — and the digital tools and processes which facilitate that flexibility — are essential not only to attracting and retaining them, but also to ensuring they can work effectively.

Companies now have an opportunity to seamlessly reshape the modern office to become digital, flexible, and more successful – and avoid the potential perils of ‘The Great Resignation’.

If you build it (a flexible work environment), they will come

Many organizations today are departmentally siloed, increasingly remote, and busier than ever. Outdated tools and tech stacks aren’t fully supporting the shift to the new hybrid work environment or enabling the flexibility employees crave. Teams need document solutions that let them create and edit PDFs from anywhere, collaborate and securely share files with others, fill and sign agreements, and more to save time, accelerate business, and work better.

Putting flexible, high-performing tools and processes into a system that supports flexible, high-performing work is a no-brainer. Fortunately, resources to support hybrid teams are readily available and can produce remarkable results for organizations.

Building a flexible system of remote-ready tools and processes creates an efficient, productive document workflow for every team in an organization. Employees in every line of business — including HR, Sales, Finance, Legal, and IT — can see their productivity soar when implementing an integrated document management solution.

Understanding the needs of a modern workforce is imperative to creating an environment that both attracts talented employees and persuades them to stay. Digital document solutions like Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Sign can help employees and business leaders work smarter, simpler, faster, and more flexibly, wherever — and whenever — they choose.