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November 13, 2017

Managing Generations in the Workplace

What is your plan to solve the unprecedented challenge of managing five generations in the world of work today?  Five generations exist in the workplace in significant numbers, but not just in the workplace, think of our volunteers, parents, and even suppliers.  With each generation comes different values, experiences, styles, and activities which in turn may create misunderstandings and frustrations.  

Everyone has different perspectives on the meaning of “employment,” how work should be done, and what workplaces should be like – all of which add to the potential for conflict.  Regardless of the differences, we are all trying to contribute to the same mission. But how?  

What are the Generations?

• Traditionalists/Silent Generation/Matures • 1945 and before

• Baby Boomers • 1946 – 1964

• Generation X/Baby Busters • 1965 – 1976

• Millennials/Generation Y • 1977 – 1995

• Gen Z / Nexters / Generation 2020 • 1996 – present

Several developing trends have created our multi-generation workforce. Here are some examples of the causes of our current challenge.  

• People are living longer, and they are enjoying a more active lifestyle so they can work longer.

• Many Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are not in a financial position to retire.

• A selection of Traditionalists and Baby Boomers want to work until an older age, because in a way, it has helped define them for decades.

• Baby Boomers are in the position where they have to financially support their “adult” Millennial children into their late 20s and even 30s.

• Generations are potentially becoming shorter in duration as the rate of change increases in areas such as communication, tech use, etc.

Regardless of the industry your organization is in, helping your managers and leaders understand how to communicate, motivate, train, and retain five different generations is a mission critical task!  

Within the next 10 years, our places of business will hit that tipping point where the Generation X, Millennial, and Gen Z or Nexter generations will make up well over 60% of the workforce. Understanding the need to adjust your business processes and technology will be vital to you as you seek to attract and retain the best of the best from these generations.

Characteristics of Each Generation


The Traditionalists sometimes called the Silent Generation values conformity and are extremely loyal to their organizations. As a generation, they believe that no one should stand out and everyone should work for the common good.  Dedication and sacrifice means that you work to the common good.  They tend to see age as seniority and this group is least likely to speak their minds, question instructions, abuse privileges, or make a scene in public.

Baby Boomers:

Baby Boomers are the first generation to actively assert a higher priority for work over personal life. They generally distrust authority and large systems. Boomers had a childhood of general prosperity and witnessed women entering the workforce in record numbers for the first time in history. Excelling in their career is extremely important to them and they desire challenge and opportunity.  

Baby Boomers rebelled against the conformity of the traditionalists making them more optimistic and open to change than their prior generation. Boomers tend to believe that success is only achieved through hard work (long hours) and playing nice, but being competitive.

Generation X:

The Generation X group naturally question authority figures and are responsible for creating the work/life balance concept. Born in a time of declining population growth and raised as “latch key kids”, this generation of workers possesses strong technical skills and is more independent than the prior generations.  

With their desire to have a work-life balance, they are not prone to working extensive overtime or weekends – but will do the work during work hours or during the time promised. X’ers tend to reject formality, rules and protocol because these things hamper their ability to get the job done quickly. They have the attitude of “Tell me what you need done and when you need it – Don’t tell me how or where to do it.”  Overall, freedom and flexibility are the best rewards for achievement for this generation.

Generation Y or Millennials:  

I am sure you have seen many other generations criticize millennials for acting entitled, demanding constant feedback and thinking they deserve a trophy just for showing up. Most of these stereotypes come from the fact that Gen Ys grew up in an era in which children received a lot more attention and coaching. Also known as digital natives, many of today’s young professionals grew up with the Internet, and that has a major impact on how they see the world and interact with others

For many Millennials, life is about abundance.  Their perspective on work and business has been shaped by media stories about successful entrepreneurs, workforce layoffs, and corporate scandals.

Some tips in working with these digital natives:

• Be tolerant when this generation does things differently than “the way we’ve always done it.”  

• They might accomplish things faster and more efficiently (all while playing loud music).  

• When possible ask what they can offer to your mission.  

• Instead of just giving them a “to do” list, ask them to help you achieve your desired outcomes.

You should keep in mind that Millennials have never had to fast-forward!  They just jump to whatever chapter they want on their DVD and the last chapter without a fast-forward.  They process information quickly and embrace change.  They do not sit around and wait for things to happen when they know they can make things happen. They do not want to wait for someone else to make a difference – they want to do it.  Give them that opportunity and they will begin to grow roots in your organization.

Nexters / Generation Z / Generation 2020:

We now need to make way for the next generation of digital natives that surpass their previous generation! They have never experienced life without a smartphone in their hand and have an extremely short attention span. Since college graduates in 2017 where born in 1995, Generation Z employees are now entering the workforce and they have a strong desire to be the next group of entrepreneurs rather than employees.  

What does that mean to you?  Successful companies will need to begin focusing on offering frequent rotational assignments and early leadership experiences to embrace this generation’s entrepreneurial tendencies. As children who came of age following the Great Recession, they will likely also share some of the cautious, frugal characteristics of their traditionalist forebears.

On the Job Strengths

As you can imagine, all generations have a unique set of strengths and opportunities that can be an asset to your organization.  Here is a fantastic table that shows some on the job strengths for reference as you devise how to approach issues in your day to day workforce.

Bridging the Generation Gaps

As a leader, manager, or human resource professional, your job is to help your team and your employees move beyond the labels and determine how to utilize the strengths of each generation to make your business a success.  

Different generation groups do not need special treatment to be productive, but you do need to determine how to communicate with each employee so that you can coach them to their highest potential.  

Here are some tips for all employees:

• Accept and appreciate another’s perspective  

• Take responsibility for making your relationships better

• Discuss expectations

• Inquire about immediate tasks

• Look for ways to cut bureaucracy and red tape

• Keep up with technology

YOU are the only one that you can change! How you think someone SHOULD think or act, doesn’t really matter.  Understanding the generations better, may help you work through challenges and improve your relationships in the workplace.

For Managers:

• Focus on goals to resolve problems without dampening enthusiasm.

• Make everyone feel included.  Keep an open mind.  Encourage each generation to mentor the other.

• Break the bonds of tradition.  If there is a better way to do something take the suggestion.

• Show employees the future.  Tell them where the organization is going, how they fit in, and how to prepare.

• Encourage balance.  Employees of all ages place a high value on balancing their work and personal lives.

Each of your organizations have distinct challenges regarding the future of your workforce.  I encourage to you to take the time to study your current employee base and determine what it will evolve to in the next 10-15 years.  

After that study is complete, you can start a game plan to determine what adjustments you need to make regarding technology, compensation, benefits, flexible work hours, and incentives. Some avenues to consider may be:

• Re-energize your compensation and benefits: Organizations must approach compensation, benefits, and incentives to satisfy the needs of your company’s unique perspectives, attitudes, and values about work.

• Expand your communication strategies: Most companies rely too heavily on one strategy for mass communication. By making the same message available in multiple formats (thus increasing the number of times you communicate a message), you will ensure that you reach all workers.

• Develop a mentoring program: As your more seasoned and experienced workers head toward retirement, develop strategies to ensure knowledge transfer and capture organizational memory. This is not only vital for the younger generations, it will also allow your most valued, tenured employees to give back to their mentees and your organization even further.

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