Generational Workplace Differences

Today's workplace may contain people in a wide age range.
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Today’s workplace may include World War II veterans, baby boomers, GenXers -- born between 1965 and 1980 -- and the youngest group just entering the workplace, Millennials or Generation Y. Life experiences can affect how the generations view such issues as work-life balance, technology, time management and the organizational hierarchy. Even if no one actually says it, Millennials may think of the more senior folks as old fogies, and the old fogies may consider the Millennials green as grass. A little respect and understanding can help both work together.


When people talk about generational differences, they often use stereotypes. The folks born before 1946 are often called the “silent generation” and are supposed to value hard work. Baby boomers value loyalty, while work-life balance is more important to Gen-Xers. Millennials, on the other hand, embrace innovation and change. Although there may be some value to these generalizations, it’s important to remember that people are individuals, and some oldsters may jump on the innovation bandwagon while Millennials hang back in trepidation. Stereotypes can cause just as many problems as generational differences.

Keep it Flexible

If you’re trying to manage different generations in the workplace, one important tactic is flexibility, according to “The Wall Street Journal.” Offer work options such as flexible hours, telecommuting and working off site, as well as more typical workplace options. Flexible hours may be particularly appealing, but for different reasons. The Millennial wants more social time, the Gen-Xer has young children and the baby boomer is caring for an aging parent. When it comes to work assignments, pay attention to results, rather than the specifics of how the work is accomplished. Keep everyone engaged with educational opportunities, career training or special assignments.

Communication and Training

Communication styles may differ among the generations as well as individually. Use multiple methods of communication such as email, text messages, phone calls and face-to-face conversations. As you work with people over time, you will begin to develop a sense of the style they prefer. Training is another area where the generations may differ. Baby boomers may prefer PowerPoint presentations with handouts, while younger employees may want videos or Web-based seminars. Don't make assumptions, though, because that white-haired lady in the front office may be a techno-geek.

Values and Similarities

Although each group brings a unique perspective to work, there are still similarities between the generations, according to a November 2007 article on the American Management Association website. For example, although they may describe it differently, all employees want to be respected. Family is an important value for all ages, as is the need for leaders to be trustworthy. People of any age may resist change if they have something to lose, and people of all generations value feedback about their performance. So, Millennials, strike up a conversation with that "old geezer" in the next cubicle. It may be a life-changing experience for both of you.

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