5 Things You Need to Know About Working With 5 Generations



As millennials overtake baby-boomers as the largest generation in today’s workforce, many organizations are considering generational differences in the workplace and the impact those differences may have on the work environment and productivity of their employees. Today, in Southwest Virginia and nationwide, one can find a plethora of resources on dealing with generation gaps in the office. From nationally known author Lindsey Pollack of LindseyPollack.Com to local speakers Jessica Stollings of ReGenerations and Lil Dupree of People Incorporated, generation bridging is a topic that people are talking about. Since we don’t all have time to read books about generations or attend a seminar on the topic, SVAM’s Profession Concession is serving up some of the high points on Generations in the Workplace. Here’s what you really need to know-

  1. Today there are 5 generations in the workplace! This is the first time in history that this phenomenon has occurred. Modern medicine is allowing us to live longer and healthier lives, which is awesome, but one consequence may be some awkward misunderstandings between employees and management. Before we can get down to business on how to deal with generations in the workplace, let’s talk about who makes up the 5 generations currently in the workforce:
    • Traditionalists aka the “The Greatest Generation” or “The Silent Generation”-These ladies and gents were born before 1946 and are mostly retired; however, it isn’t too uncommon to come across these folks in the workplace. After all, they’ve worked hard their whole lives, why stop now?  They enjoy face to face communication and a direct management style wherein each worker’s role is clear. 
    • Baby Boomers-We all know the Baby Boomers. They were born between 1946 and 1964. They’ve shaped our world from business to politics; these are our current leaders and management for the most part. They were also the largest working generation, that is until now……They’re loyal, famous for their work ethic and ability to build professional relationships, and believe “putting in your time” is the key to career success. 
    • Generation X-Often viewed as an in-between generation born between 1965 and 1976, they’re a smaller but mighty part of the current workforce. Known for being independent and occasionally rebellious, they believe in getting the job done quickly and correctly and value ability above seniority. 
    • Millennials-What happens when you have a large post-war baby boom? Eventually, those babies have babies themselves (from around 1977-1997), who grow up, befuddle and challenge the whole system. This mammoth of a generation values meaningful and enjoyable work that utilizes technology. They want to know the “big picture” of their company rather than only the tasks associated with their own jobs. 
    • Gen 2020-With the oldest only being born around 1997, these guys and gals are just getting started. The generation with smart phones in their hands from birth, they’ve never known life without internet. Who knows what awaits the working world as they continue to enter the workforce…
  1. We’re different. We better get used to it because we’re all in this together. They key is to try and understand and empathize with other generations. This isn’t to say that individuals always behave in an appropriate professional manner, but on the whole, we’re all only reacting to the world in which we were born, which brings us to our next point…
  1. The world has changed, and so have our values-Just as the generation growing up in the depression and during World War II faced a different set of environmental circumstances than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, the same is true for Millennials and Gen 2020. Many came of age in a struggling economy, witnessing their parents lose a lot of what they had worked for, or pay the price of less than responsible financial behavior. As a result, this generation of employees value different benefits than their parents did. They may not care as much about a raise, but they’d love an extra week off during the year or at least some decent sick-leave. They might not plan to stay at one company for their entire career, but they will be loyal to individuals who offer a clear pathway of advancement and let them in on the bigger-picture goals of the company.
  1. Communication is key-Often, a tense situation boils down to a breakdown in communication. This is definitely the case when it comes to generational misunderstandings. All parties involved need to ensure that they effectively communicate their needs, values and expectations in a manner that others can understand. This might mean that you have to go outside of your own comfort zone in order to communicate with your boss, co-workers or employees. What’s the best way to know how to communicate with a person? Ask. Do they prefer to receive an e-mail? Chat face to face? Text? Of course at times there are specific protocols we must adhere to in the workplace, but a lot of times, how we communicate is a choice. If you choose to communicate in a method effective for others, you can avoid misunderstandings and promote cross-generational understanding.
  1. Use your resources! The beauty of having 5 generations working together is that we all bring a unique set of experiences and talents to the workplace. Have a tech-savvy millennial in your office? Recruit them to update your potentially archaic website. Know of a baby boomer manager with tons of leadership experience? Ask for an informational interview to get career tips. It might feel weird to have someone the age of your children as a boss, or be exhausting to try to get that recent high school grad to stop checking his cell phone every ten minutes on the job; but the reality is, the range of ages in the workplace means that we have access to an unlimited vault of valuable insight, and that is definitely worth a few head-scratching moments

Posted by:

Marika Miller

Dig Deeper:

“The 2020 Workplace”. Jeanne C. Meister; Karie Willyerd.

“Keeping the Millennials”. Joanne Sujansky.


“Dude-Where’s the Meeting?” presentation by Lil Dupree CCAP, NCRT of People Incorporated.