Navigating the Generations at Work

A generation is a group of people who share birth years and similar experiences of major external events during their adolescent and early adult years. The generation gap has become an undeniable tension in the U.S. workplace and can result in cracks in engagement, productivity and even turnover if not addressed.

Let’s learn more about the generations in the workplace and how we can work towards leveraging these differences as a strategic advantage.

Generation Z (1996 to 2015)

Defining Events/Experiences Key Influences Values and Traits At Work
  • Barack Obama
  • Cyberbullying
  • Financial crisis
  • Reality TV 
  • Terrorism
  • Globalization
  • YouTube
  • Rise of technology
  • Gaming
  • Technology and social media
  • Recession, financial crises, war, terror threats, school shootings, pandemic and political polarization
  • Most racially diverse generation in history
  • Very tolerant 
  • Fluid (identities, gender preferences, etc.)
  • Mental health issues
  • Cautious and hardened by economic and social turbulence
  • Reinvention
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Independent
  • Connected 24/7
  • Welcome diversity 
  • Like remote work
  • Shorter attention spans
  • Limited interpersonal skills
  • Creative
  • Want career growth/frequent feedback/purpose 
  • Want a flexible lifestyle
  • Committed to social responsibility
  • Want coaches, not bosses

Millennials (1981 to 1995)

Defining Events/Experiences Key Influences Values and Traits At Work
  • New Millennium
  • Healthy economy
  • Oklahoma City
  • School shootings
  • Technology
  • Clinton/Lewinsky
  • Protective parents
  • 9/11
  • Grew up with technology
  • Busiest generation of children ever
  • Grew up seeing the world as global, connected and 24/7
  • Parents put children first
  • Lots of exposure to multiculturalism
  • Constantly coached and praised for participation
    • Confident
    • Respect for diversity
    • Change masters
    • Achievement oriented
    • High levels of social concern
    • Need a purpose
  • Technical
  • High expectations of job
  • Great multi-taskers and team players
  • Like electronic communication/social media
  • Used to meeting high expectations
  • Appreciate flexibility/freedom/career growth/feedback
  • Want immediate gratification
  • Will change jobs easily
  • Welcome diversity
  • Want meaningful work
  • Want coaches, not bosses

Generation X (1965 to 1980)

Defining Events/Experiences Key Influences Values and Traits At Work
  • Fall of Berlin Wall
  • Women’s Liberation
  • Watergate
  • AIDS
  • Persian Gulf War
  • Energy crisis
  • Massive layoffs
  • Invention of PC
  • MTV
  • National leaders lied to public
  • Uncertain economy
  • Grew up guarded
  • Many mothers worked outside the home
  • Many affected by divorce
  • Latchkey kids
  • Value diversity
  • Adaptable
  • Balance
  • Techno Literacy
  • Guarded in relationships
  • Self-reliance/autonomy
  • Cynical
  • Education is key 
  • Embrace change
  • Tend to change jobs frequently
  • Independent approach to work
  • Don’t offer “blind” loyalty to a company
  • Want work/life balance
  • Task-oriented
  • Enjoy achieving measurable results and streamlining processes

Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964)

Defining Events/Experiences Key Influences Values and Traits At Work
    • Civil rights movement
    • Space travel
    • Cold War
  • Vietnam War
    • Sexual revolution
    • Assassinations
    • TV
  • Rock ‘n’ roll
  • Hopeful mood after war
  • Raised under Dr. Spock’s views to let children express ideas
  • Information was more accessible
  • Grew up with TV
  • First generation to be graded on “works well with others”
  • Optimism
  • Personal gratification
  • Team orientation
  • High expectations
  • Competitive 
  • Question authority
  • Independent
  • Competitive and hardworking
  • Team players, love to have meetings
  • Focused on personal achievement
  • Focused on money/title/recognition
  • “Get it done at all costs” attitude
  • Strong work ethic 

Three Things You Can Do to Bridge the Gap

  1. Be Humble – Be open to input from others and listen to them. Recognize that you don’t know it all and that we are all human and flawed.
  2. Show Respect – Demonstrate that you esteem others and feel that they add value. 
  3. Be Curious – Enter conversations with an open mind and be curious about others’ perspectives. 

Five Things Organizations Can Do to Bridge the Gap

  1. Develop bosses to be coaches by giving positive and developmental feedback effectively, listening well and guiding others towards solutions.
  2. Help younger generations develop the soft skills to be most successful.
  3. Provide education on generational differences and have conversations about them in your organization.
  4. Develop mentoring programs to help members of each generation coach and support one another.
  5. See people as individuals and don’t categorize by stereotypes – leverage the strengths of each person!

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