For the first time in history, generational differences in the workplace have become more interesting, complicated, and challenging ( exciting too?) to manage.

And why is that, you may ask. Because now, five generations are working together, side by side. They are:

Generational Differences

  • The Silent Generation (born 1900-1945) currently makes up only about 2% of the global workforce.
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964) 25% of the global workforce.
  • Generation X (1965-1980) in 33% of the global workforce.
  • Millennials, aka Generation Y (1981-2000), are now the most prevalent generation in the workplace (35%).
  • “Nexters” or Generation Z (born after 2000) composed another 5% of the global workforce.

It is unavoidable to have some issues and challenges in the workforce.

What are the Generational Differences in the Workplace?

It may not always be fair to describe or stereotype the characteristics of different generations because individuals within that generation do not always fit the qualities that are ascribed to them.

However, it is undeniable that the historical and social events during a generation's formative years influenced their work attitudes, habits, and expectations.

In a nutshell, the work culture of each generation is where most issues spring from. For example:

  • Traditionalists wield authority, and they expect obedience and loyalty.
  • Baby Boomers advance a more egalitarian, humane, and democratic workplace. 
  • Gen-Xers prefer a fast-paced, more functional culture with looser leadership boundaries. 
  • Many Millennials prefer a work environment that is collaborative, creative, and positive. 
  • While Generation Z prefers diversity, creativity, and personalization in the workplace.

A Brief History of Each Generation's Significant Events

The influence of prevalent parenting styles and trends of the time and the major cultural influences that generations experienced make them share similar characteristics and adopt the same general outlook on life.As each generation grows up, they are also influenced by the technology and the economic and political wind.

The Silent Generation aka Traditionalists:

Also called the Builders, this generation witnessed the emergence of technologies that future generations take for granted, like automobiles and aircraft, indoor plumbing, and electricity. 

Members of the Silent generation also witnessed economic death. They came of age in stark surroundings growing up during the Great Depression and World War II, struggling quietly through hardships. They chose conservatism, conformity, and traditional values as adults. 

The Baby Boomers:

In the 1960s, this generation saw the rise of leaders from the previous generational group, the likes of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. Coming of age in the relative economic prosperity of the post-war era and moved by the tragedy of political events, they challenged and rejected the very institutions and values that provided them comfort and security while growing up.

Generation X:

As the name suggests, it is believed that Generation X lacked a sense of connection with the world around them as they came of age. Although they are the first generation to become comfortable with computers, they were also the first to experience disruption and divorce. 

Growing up amid national emergencies and global transitions, they witnessed the Watergate scandal, Iranian hostages crisis, energy crisis, and the Fall of Berlin, as well as Operation Desert Storm. 

Generation X developed a strong skepticism for existing institutions and became independent and self-reliant. 

Millennials aka Gen Y:

Millennials were children and young adults who entered the 21st century, as their group name echoes. They saw the rise of social media and online technologies. However, the most significant event for this group is 9/11. 

Their ability to remember the events of September 11 and their significance defines the Millennials who came into the age at the commencement of the war on terror. 

Nexters aka Generation Z:

Today’s teenagers and young adults come into the age when the present is a war on terror, same-sex marriage is legal, and struggling global economy. 

They are born into unique cultural, political, and economic changes they could not recall not ever happening. As a result, members of Generation Z need to be connected instantly and constantly to experience stability and make an impact on the world.

Motivating Different Generations in the Workplace

While some experts believe that categorizing each generation makes it easier to manage different age groups, this promotes stereotypes. Recognizing and accepting age and generational differences, on the other hand, can be enlightening. 

Employees of varying ages may have different communication styles, adaptability to change, and technical skills.

1. Traditionalists:  

Money motivates traditionalists, but they also want to be respected. They want to impact and continue to add value to society and the organization. This demographic prefers milestone recognition and places a premium on flexible schedules and promotions.

Preferred Recognition: Subtle, personalized recognition and feedback is preferred.

Preferred Benefits: Long-term care insurance and catch-up retirement funding are welcomed benefits.

2. Baby Boomers: 

Like traditionalists, they also prefer monetary rewards and value non-monetary rewards such as flexible retirement planning and peer recognition. They do not require constant feedback and have an "all is well unless you say something" mindset. 

This is an aspirational, goal-oriented generation driven by promotions, career development, a goal to be in a position of strength and authority, and having their expertise valued and recognized. However, they prefer to be recognized by their peers rather than their bosses.

Preferred Recognition: This group considers success to be the Recognition of their input and expertise, prestigious job titles, office size, expensive cars and parking spaces, and big houses.

Preferred Benefits: Vacations, travel, and sabbaticals, as well as retirement and 401(k) matching funds.

3. Generation X:

Members of Generation X value bonuses and stock as monetary rewards and flexibility as a non-monetary reward. Generation Xers prefer to work independently and believe that career advancement should be based on competence rather than rank, age, or job seniority. They prefer recognition from the boss, gift cards, experiential rewards, and flexible schedules.

Preferred Recognition: informal, fast, widely, and publicly communicated.

Preferred Benefits: Tuition reimbursement and telecommuting

4. Generation Y: 

Generation Y prefers stock options as a monetary incentive and values feedback as a non-monetary incentive. This generation is motivated by skills training, mentoring, feedback, and workplace culture. 

They respond to boss recognition, time off, and flexible schedules as a reward.

Preferred Recognition: regular, informal communication through company chat or social networks.

Preferred Benefits: Flexible schedules, learning opportunities, continuing education   

5. Generation Z:

This Generation is more interested in social rewards (mentorship and constant feedback) than money, but meaningful work and responsibility motivate this generation. 

They are eager to know how their work affects the organization and their role in the big picture. They want exciting projects that they can get excited about. Furthermore, Gen Z will force businesses to reconsider their operational model more than any other generation. 

This generation is also the most technologically savvy. If we thought Millennials were multitaskers, this group is multitasking at an adrenaline level, with members frequently plugged into five devices simultaneously.

Their preferred rewards are recognition from their bosses, experiential rewards, and badges earned in gaming. These workers expect flexibility and diversity in the workplace.

Preferred Recognition: regular in-person public praise.

Preferred Benefits: online training and certification programs.

Helpful Tips on How To Best Manage Generations

People live healthier, longer lives, and many are postponing retirement beyond the age of 65. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 25% of the workforce will be over 55 by 2024, up 12% in 1994. As a result, companies may have up to five generations working together.

It can be quite challenging to build a bridge between older employees and the younger ones due to generational differences. Trying to meet the needs of employees born during WWII and those who have never lived without the internet can be difficult for managers.

  1. Make sure you know your workforce personally, manage by results, be flexible on their schedule and assignments. 
  1. Employees should be provided with satisfying work and contributing opportunities, emphasizing stability.
  1. Provide employees with specific goals and deadlines. Provide them with managerial positions, mentor roles, and feedback coaching style.
  1. Provide the workforce with immediate feedback, flexible work arrangements, and opportunities for personal growth.
  1. Ensure a work-life balance, allow self-direction and independence, and provide opportunities to work on multiple projects at once. 
  1. Encourage teamwork and celebration. This is something that people of all ages appreciate.
  1. Consider investing in online platforms that allow employees to share their accomplishments.
  1. Managers should strive to understand individual work styles and how people prefer to be recognized for their achievements.
  1. Make the customer a shared priority. Employees across the organization must work together on this common goal.
  1. Build a mentorship program that can assist your organization in developing your employees' strengths.
  1. Launch a reverse mentoring program where each employee serves as both a mentor and a mentee and provides leadership development skills.
  1. Define culture so that everyone understands it, and poll employees at all levels of your organization to get a comprehensive picture of the culture. And most of all,
  1. Select managers with care, considering their experience, aptitude, capacity for growth, leadership style, and understanding of organizational and employee challenges and opportunities.

RELATED READ - Age, Leadership, and Greatness

The Final Notes

It is startling that generational differences have been relegated to the background as of now. Companies are focused on the pay gap, equality, equity, and diversity, so employees achieve a work-life balance to make them more productive.

But this shouldn’t be the case since talent stacks up by generation. Thus, it has to be individuals, not stereotypes. It can be challenging to inspire and motivate all employees when managing different generations. 

Instead of forcing employees to fit into the same work mold, get to know each individual. Asking your workforce what they want and require is the simplest way to find out!

Considerations must be given to each generation’s defining traits because they help understand their preferred ways of working and management style. Their familiar characters must be integrated into a company’s culture, and most of all, everyone, each individual, regardless of age and generation, must feel respected and valued.