Generational Differences in the Workplace

A generation is a group of individuals within a particular age range who may have similar ideas, attitudes, values, etc. Having varied generations represented in a working environment is another form of diversity. Understanding the characteristics of your own generation, as well as those of your co-workers, can further develop this diversity, balance policies and encourage interaction that benefits everyone supporting inclusion. Below are characteristics of four generational groups. The facts are meant to be informative, not foster stereotypical assumptions.

  Traditionalists (1924-1945) Baby Boomers(1946-1964) Generation X(1965-1980) Millennials (Gen Y)(Born after 1980)
Work is ... An obligation An exciting adventure A contract A means to an end
Communication preferences Formal memo In person Immediate and direct Email and phone
Interactive style Individual Meetings and teamwork Independent Collaborative
Leadership style Directive Respectful Challenging others Leading with purpose
Work and family life Separate Work over family Balance Balance
Messages that motivate "Your experience is respected" "You are valued and needed" "Do it your way" "You are creative and bright"
Feedback and rewards Satisfaction from great work Public recognition and visible perks Freedom is the best reward Instantaneous and constant
Career development Loyal to one company for life Work hard to save for retirement Multiple career paths Goal oriented
Workplace pet peeves Laziness Lack of feedback and recognition Lack of professionalism Leaders who micromanage
Preferred training style Expert lectures and presentations Casual and interactive Role playing and feedback Rn-demand and mobile

Sources: American Management Association, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Fast Company Leadership, The Muse.

Did you know… Generational stereotyping causes one in three people to waste about 5 hours a week on inter generational conflicts.

Strategies for working with colleagues from all generations

Expand your communication strategies

Make messages available in multiple formats. Use verbal communication for Traditionalists and Boomers while using email for Gen X and Millennials.

Clarify expectations

Always clarify expectations for the completion of a project or task. Traditionalist and Boomer bosses may expect a discussed task to be acted on immediately while Gen X and Millennials may be satisfied if it is on the to-do list.

Show respect

Recognize that a different method or time line for problem-solving and completing tasks could be a generational difference so have patience and show respect at all times. If you don’t understand their process (and if it is necessary for you to understand) – ask! 

Speak with facts

Even if you think your problem has to do with someone’s age or your assumption that they are slow or lazy, stick to the facts. Tell them what your expectation was and what you observed. Allow an open dialogue; perhaps you didn’t have the same expectation or your observation was inaccurate. Speak with facts, not with judgments.