Talking ‘Bout My Generation! Multiple Generations in the Workplace

Amy Polefrone
14 November 17

Gen X?  Millennials?  What’s the current terminology?  And what age group does each include?  Face it, in any given workplace, you can expect to have 4-5 generations working together!  Let’s talk about how gaps between these came about, what the current business landscape looks like, and why you should challenge assumptions to ultimately bridge those generations.

Generations in the Workplace

As society has progressed, people are remaining active and healthy longer which has led to a wider age spread in today’s workforce.  Your company’s staff could easily be represented today by multiple generations.  And each of these has grown up with different experiences – whether with radio, TV, computers, iPhones.  World and local events impacted each generation differently as did the music they listened to and the TV shows they watched.  The CBS show, The Great Indoors, does a great job of adding humor to a workplace trying to rally its staff of all ages. And a comedy is most definitely needed to try to tackle this concept!

Challenge the Assumptions

The “younger” generations take a lot of heat for being described as lazy, self-centered, and a plethora of other adjectives.  Yet if we take a step back and think about how the generation just older than us views us – maybe this can offer perspective.  Common phrases that come to mind might include:


These young kids refuse to dress properly for work.
Our young employees don’t have any loyalty to this place.
The old guard can’t keep up with technology.

There’s an assumption in each of these statements and each generation has their own “yeah but” response.  Remember, they are a product of the time in which they grew up.  Let’s look at these groups and a few of the characteristics that uniquely describe each:

Silent Generation (1930 – 1945)

  • Focused on careers rather than activism
  • Make the best of bad situation
  • Children of Depression Era Parents
  • Served in the military (probably between WWII and Korean War)
  • VERY successful

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1965)

  • Strong work ethic
  • Baby boomers aren’t afraid to put in a hard day of work
  • Self-Assured
  • Goal-centric
  • Team oriented

Gen X (1966 – 1976)

  • Invisible generation
  • Individualistic
  • 1st latch key generation
  • Technologically adept (but still knows what a card catalog is)
  • Loyalty is to people, not organizations

Gen Y (1977 – 1985)

  • Tech savvy (1st digital native generation)
  • Family centric (not work centric)
  • Achievement oriented
  • Ambitious — immediately
  • Job hoppers

Millennials (1986 – 2000)

  • Multi-taskers
  • Tech Savvy – completely immersed in technology 24×7
  • Instant gratification & recognition (remember the Participation Ribbons!)
  • Transparency – must know WHY they are doing something
  • Task oriented (not time oriented) – just get the job done, can I go home?

Gen Z (2001 – present)

  • Parents are GEN-X Latch Key “helicopter parents” & “tiger Moms”
  • Life is public but they are private – Snapchat, dark internet
  • Hard-working, college pressures
  • Multi-Tasking
  • Everything is technology for them.  They have an app for EVERYTHING.

Where Are We Today – Where Will We Be?

In the past the workplace was defined as medium-to-large, hierarchical and you were “employed for life.”  Today’s workplace is small-to-medium, there’s career mobility and a three tier hierarchy.  In the future, it will be small, flat, and virtual.  Times are a-changing!  So how do you recognize and capitalize on the different values, goals and personalities?  By embracing the diversity and putting those differences to work.  This means:

  1. Employers must be more creative with employees – to recruit and retain staff of all generations.
  2. The generational traits apply not just to your employees but to your clients as well!

There is no disputing the effectiveness of an authentic team so you must go through all the stages of team building to create a strong, cohesive team.  With any team, there will always be conflict and everyone’s values will play a role in how they react to it.  Remember in general, individuals across generations have very similar values so conflicts arise not over WHAT — but over HOW.  You will find behaviors reflect how values differ among people and conflicts will reflect differences in individual approaches.

Does this make it seem that we have massive generational gaps?

No.  In reality, all generations are becoming more and more aware of issues surrounding activity, nutrition and lifestyle.  The generations simply accept different approaches to how to deal with things.  Bottom line, people want the same things at work, and they value the same things.  Everyone wants respect; trust is important.  No one really desires change but we can all be better prepared for it.  Knowing these similarities helps us recognize it is possible to manage people from multiple generations.  Awareness, recruiting and retention help to manage generational gap, whether a chasm or a little crack.

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