Multi-Generations in the Workplace: Making Differences a Workplace Asset

August 25, 2014

For the first time in recorded history, the workplace encompasses four distinctive generations. The Traditionalists, sometimes referred to as War Babies, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (also known as the Millennial Generation). Each generation was raised under drastically different economic and political climates. Their attitudes toward their careers, interacting with colleagues and balancing their professional and personal lives reflect the unique attributes that each generation brings to the workplace. The generations are defined as:

Traditionalists- born before 1945.
Baby Boomers, categorized by the surge of babies born post-World War II between the years of 1946 and 1964
Generation X born between 1965 and 1980
Generation Y (Millenials) born in 1980 and later are technically adept, highly sophisticated
Traditionalists, (or War Babies), as they live up to their name, are notorious for their loyalty and dedication to their employers. Many entered into the workplace and committed to a career path with one organization to whom they loyally committed. This generation entered the workforce well before technological advances became a prominent aspect of business. Therefore, most Traditionalists did not begin using computer equipment in their daily responsibilities until mid-career or later. Traditionalists embrace hard work and loyalty as the foundation of one’s ability to grow professionally within an organization. They also tend to credit the cultivation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships as having a vital influence on their career development.

Baby Boomers, categorized by the surge of babies born post-World War II between the years of 1946 and 1964 began entering the workforce as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Women from the Baby Boomer generation joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers. That, combined with the sheer size of this generation, meant that it dominated the overall workforce for many years.

Unlike their immediate predecessors, Baby Boomers are more apt to leave employment for the proverbial “greener pastures” of a new professional opportunity. Renowned for materialism, and nicknamed the “me” generation, has a penchant for accelerating career growth in the quest to earn as large of an income as possible in the shortest amount of time. At times, this results in a personality clash with regard to the relationships and attitudes toward job loyalty between the Baby Boomers and the Traditionalists.

Generation X is notoriously smaller than its immediate predecessor is the first generation whose majority was raised in a two-income household. With the costs of personal computers becoming more affordable, personal computers became a staple in most households, and, Generation X children were provided an advantageous opportunity in acquiring familiarity with technological equipment from a young age and have experienced a shorter learning curve in working with computer technology.

Even more so than the Baby Boomers, Generation X, tends to have an increasingly relaxed attitude toward changing jobs and careers. The conflicts between this group and the Traditionalists, especially, arise from the differing values in communications styles. The younger generation typically chooses electronic communication versus the personal interaction favored by the Traditionalists. In addition, the employer loyalty espoused by the Traditionalist workers is practically nonexistent in the Generation X population.

Generation Y, or the Millenials, includes those born in 1980 and later and is both larger and more tech-savvy than Generation X. Computers and technology have been a component of their entire lives.

These workers are technically adept, highly sophisticated and expect immediate feedback and responses.

Their focus on work-life balance, rather than reaping financial rewards, as well as their desire to receive constant feedback, creates challenges between the Millennials and the three older generations who were not as reliant on continuous communication between managers and their subordinates. Generation X workers, for example, generally embrace a “no news is good news” mantra with regard to communication between supervisors and their direct reports. Generation Y workers generally seek continuous feedback and rewards.

Four generations in one work force creates a great challenge for management teams and HR professionals. By understanding the differences in the generational attitudes as well as establishing how they can collaborate and benefit from one another, an employer will be able to implement a strategy that focuses on each group’s strengths and achieve a competitive workplace advantage.