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Five Generations in the Workplace

April 28, 2014


Five Generations in the Workplace

During a recent management training session, it became very obvious that all but two of the managers were Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. Many of the management scenarios discussed involved conflict with Generation X and Y aged employees. For example, a manager was having trouble with a direct report arriving late and staying late. This same employee refused to work extra hours in order to complete a special project. When the manager was questioned about the employee’s behavior, she emphatically stated the employee was lazy and he didn’t want to be accountable. Others agreed. One of the Generation X managers asked the others to consider if maybe there was a value difference about work ethic.


It’s common to find four or five generations of employees in the workplace. While it’s dangerous to stereotype, research shows generalizations can be helpful. An understanding of the differences may lead to better recruiting, motivating, managing, retention, relationships, work environment, and results. During any generation, the media bombards children with compelling messages. Educational systems, parenting patterns, and other unique circumstances in life all shape and mold the children of a given era. Other diverse issues also effect the development of attitudes, values, and behaviors such as race, socio-economic status, ethnic background, family configuration, and regional differences. Some are impacted by more than one generational influence such as those on the cusp between generations. However, each generation has a mood or tone that pervades the developing perspectives of its age group.


Here is a quick summary of some of the value differences between the generations:


Traditionalists (1930-1945) • Outlook – practical • Work ethic – dedicated, loyal • View of authority – respectful • Leadership by – hierarchy/top down • Relationships – personal sacrifice • Perspective – patriotic

Baby Boomers (1946-1964) • Outlook – optimistic • Work ethic – driven/live to work/competitive • View of authority – love/hate • Leadership by – consensus • Relationships – personal gratification • Perspective – team

Generation X (1965-1976) • Outlook – skeptical • Work ethic – balanced/work to live, casual / technically literate • View of authority – unimpressed/not intimidated • Leadership by – competence • Relationships – reluctant to commit, independent • Perspective - self

Generation Y (1977-1990) – • Outlook – hopeful, confident, can do attitude • Work ethic – ambitious, meaningful work, want goals, need immediate feedback, technologically proficient, or learners • View of authority – relaxed, polite, want to please • Leadership by – achievers • Relationships – loyal • Perspective – civic /community awareness

Gen Z (1995-present) • Outlook – fearful about future • Work ethic – freelancer • View of authority – respectful • Leadership by – caring • Relationships – digital • Perspective – social justice and philanthropy


The following principles may help in mixing the generations more successfully:

  • Initiate conversations about the generational differences. Talk and listen to fellow employees at least once a month. Specifically, discuss the meaning of accountability and responsibility.
  • Learn to appreciate the strengths of employees of different value orientations.
  • Involve employee representatives of each generational group in strategic planning.
  • Help all employees understand the meaning of their role and their contributions to the overall goals of the organization.
  • Offer opportunities for self-development and professional development.
  • Be responsive to employee needs. Discover what motivates each individual.
  • Be flexible and offer options with work hours, rewards, and incentives.
  • Expect the best from everyone.
  • Seek a variety of perspectives on important issues.
  • Create a team value statement and use an Internet based real time feedback system to monitor behavioral results.


Leadership ability and effectiveness are enhanced tremendously by a leadership philosophy that calls for belief in the worth of people of all ages, belief in their abilities, and belief in their potential for growth. If we believe that outstanding leadership means achieving great results with and through people, then an extra effort to understand, appreciate, and be responsive to all age workers is essential.


By taking an honest look at the values that have influenced your workforce and management philosophy, you can find creative means for closing the generation gaps.


For more information, or to book a presentation for your company, please contact:

Susan Stacey
Manpower Maine




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