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  • Sherri Elliott-Yeary

The Five Generations in the Workplace


It’s the first time in history that our workforce includes workers from five different generations. While this can be celebrated for its welcome diversity, this can also pose challenges for both engaging employees as well as collaborating with other colleagues.

To better engage and collaborate with the different generations at work, here are general descriptions and expectations from each generation.

Traditionalists (1922 to 1944)

The oldest (and wisest) generation of today’s workforce, Traditionalists are wells of knowledge. For their namesake, they believe in the traditional work practices and the hierarchy style of management. For them, respect and status is earned through years of experience and they feel their experience warrants them respect and status. Much of this generation is hard-working and very loyal to their company. Traditionalists work to achieve a “job well done.” Many of these workers are waiting a little longer for retirement because of their past experiences with economic instability. Because of their concern for retirement, they appreciate incentives that include 401k-matching and flexible work schedules. Traditionalists are the perfect mentors for new employees, due to their experiences and wealth of knowledge.

Baby Boomers (1945 – 1964)

Just like the Traditionalists, this generation is hard-working and very loyal. However, “workaholic” was first coined for this generation. Boomers are very competitive, often sacrificing home life for their career goals. They associate work and status with self-worth. Just like Traditionalists, respect comes from tenure and status. With strong work ethic, face-to-face communication skills, and work experience, professionals of this generation can be excellent role models for younger generations.

Generation X (1965 – 1979)

The first to challenge the status quo, this generation split from the general attributes seen from previous generations. While they have a steady work ethic, they are not loyal to any company. In their eyes, company loyalty is earned, not expected. Gen X is much more technology literate than previous generations as they were a part of its development. They have a great rapport with management, but don’t agree with the office hierarchy tactic. Respect is earned through performance, not experience or status. Gen Xers expect their company to be charitable, eco-friendly, and offer volunteer work during office hours. They appreciate training opportunities and enjoy monetary rewards, based on their individual performance. Gen Xers are very independent, but work well with others and even encourage others to think independently.

Millennials or Generation Y (1980 – 1996)

Millennials have just recently surpassed Generation X as the largest generation in the workplace. Similar to Gen X, this generation is not impressed by job status or titles and believe respect should be earned through performance. They are also not loyal. If better opportunities present themselves, they will seek out another job. Millennials are more likely to accept a job that fits their lifestyle over one that pays more. Their LIFE/WORK balance is centered on the idea that employment is “a means to an end.” Millennials experienced the development of modern technology at a young age and are very techy and adaptable individuals. These individuals are focused on self-improvement and determined to grow in their particular fields. They need constant communication with their peers and managers. Millennials expect feedback about their work as well as opportunities for training. They prefer working for organizations that are active in the community and offer volunteering during office hours. Millennials are very optimistic and highly energetic, which is great to energize other generations.

Generation Z (1997 and after)

The up and coming generation of workers, Generation Z is slowly stepping in as the fifth generation in today’s workforce. While it is still too soon to make generalizations about the work ethic and expectations of this generation, Generation Z may be more different than Millennials than we realize. They both come from a time where technology and social media was in the picture. However, Gen Z took hold of technology at a much younger age. For this reason, Gen Z may be more technology literate than any other generation. While both Millennials and Gen Zers share personal information online, Gen Z has placed social media at the center of their communication channels, rather than face-to-face communication. Gen Zers will appreciate more virtual work collaborations than Millennials. While Millennials have displayed a love for ambiguity and choice in work style and workplace, Gen Zers will require more structure and predictability in the workplace.

Additional Tips

While the above descriptions are generalizations, everyone will think independently from each other.

  • In order to create an environment conducive to productivity, the best way to engage everyone from each generation is to host meetings to discuss the needs and lifestyles of each employee. Having open communication and utilizing each generation’s strengths will produce the ideal workplace for all current employees and attract other talent.

  • Feel free to experiment with mixed age groups. Pairing up people from different generations strengthen the positive attributes from each.

  • Coordinate surveys among your employees to get a feel for your employees’ needs.

  • Develop an incentive plan that pertains to different interests, based on where your employees are in their lives.

For more tips for attracting new talent and retaining your current employees, check out my recent blog: How to {Retain} your Best Employees.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, the Generational Guru and best selling author of Ties to Tattoos, Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage, is a speaker, coach and trainer in the area of Human Resources and Talent Management. Sherri specializes in helping employers maximize their human capital by collaborating across the generational gap. Her expertise in human capital management and organization includes: workforce planning, company culture, training, assessments, HRIS implementation, regulatory compliance, strategic alignment, payroll, compensation and benefit programs. Learn more at generationalguru.com.

#GenerationZ #GenerationX #Millennials #Traditionalists #BabyBoomers #HumanResources #leadership

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