As regular readers of this blog know, one of my passions is trying to understand the generation gap, and help people to make sense of relationships and interactions between people younger and older than themselves. This topic has been something of interest for me over nearly two decades, and I have seen interest rise and fall repeatedly in that time.

I think it has to do with times of turbulence – when people are nervous or uncertain about the future, they look for patterns, frameworks and systems that try and make sense of the chaos they perceive around them. Models such as personality profiles and generational systems help people to make sense of the world, and it seems that their popularity rises in times like now. Whatever the reason, I am constantly seeing references to Boomers, Gen Y, generations. Some of these are pop psychology at their worst, but some do a good job of presenting the framework in a usable way.

I was recently sent two such pieces, and have tracked down their original websites. They look at a general overview of the major generational categories, and then look at an interesting angle about how different generations create meaning at work.

Managing the Generation Gap

In the Workplace, Age is More than a Number (Read the original here)

The topic of generations in the workplace has generated a lot of discussion in recent years. With Baby Boomers entering the retirement stage and the first throngs of Millennials entering the workplace and bringing with them different demands, ideas and values regarding work and life, it’s no wonder the topic of generations is covered so widely.

And in the workplace, it’s quickly becoming apparent that it’s not just a matter of age that makes generational differences so vast. Each of the generations has a different world view, diverse values, different skill levels, expectations, and even work ethics. They are also all at different stages in their lives. This is important to understand because it offers insights into vastly differing personal needs, which impact the benefits needs of each generation, ranging from educational assistance to childcare to healthcare to retirement.

That’s why it’s critical for managers to understand the makeup of each generation so they can better understand how they view work, what they value and the best ways to manage them. Check out this overview of each generation: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials.

Generations in the Workplace


Most traditionalists are past retirement age, but some have chosen to remain in or return to the workforce at least part time. Their lives were influenced by economic hardship and world war, experiences which united them and caused many to rise to positions of great responsibility, such as military service, at a young age.

They are patriotic, value command and control, seek security, trust hierarchy, and are very loyal. Many worked for one company throughout their career and have developed well-honed skills and strengths. They offer a wide range of knowledge and experience. They are courteous, self-sacrificing, and characterized by a strong work ethic.

Baby Boomers

This group currently makes up the largest portion of the workforce, but they are quickly approaching retirement age. At one point, they were leaving the workforce faster than young workers were entering it, causing predictions of a massive worker shortage.

However, experts now note that their serious work ethic and workaholic tendencies may lead a vast number of Baby Boomers to remain in the workforce for an extended period of time. This created tension between Boomers and the younger generations who at one point expected to quickly be called to fill the shoes of this experienced, hard-working generation. Boomers are competitive, known as the “Me” generation, and place a strong value on self-sufficiency. They are also optimistic, and they hope to redefine the idea of retirement, with over a third of them planning to work at least part time – mainly to support hobbies and interests outside their original career paths.

Generation X

This generation has been described as rebellious and skeptical of authority, having grown up amidst great social change. As the first latchkey kids, they were instilled with a great sense of independence and confidence. Their parents’ work-to-live mentality caused this generation to value work/life balance. Their entrance into the workforce inspired many to interject new ways of thinking into the business world. Now, unafraid of taking risks, many have become entrepreneurs. They are technologically savvy and crave challenging, exciting projects.

Smaller than the generations before and after them, Gen Xers can feel lost in the midst of the great workplace shift taking place as Boomers exit and Millennials enter the workforce. But, many see it as an exciting time to be a part of important organizational change and welcome the opportunity to have a role in transitioning the workplace to a new way of operating.


Millennials are the youngest generation in the workforce. They are predominately well-educated, hopeful to create change in the workplace, determined to succeed, and highly ambitious. But, their youth and optimism causes many to label them as narcissistic, and many have high expectations for what the workplace should offer them in terms of benefits, projects, and satisfaction. They value work/life balance, flexible work schedules, and challenging work.

Also labeled the “Internet” generation, they are the most tech-savvy generation to date, and they value cutting-edge technology. They are also very close to their family and value teamwork and collaboration. Many of this generation move back home after college to save money or in order to explore the workplace to find their ideal job. They tend to job hop more than any preceding generation, seeking to find meaningful work that will take advantage of their education and fulfill their expectations. They also value community service and volunteerism, truly believing they can affect change.

Understanding each of the generations is an important foundation for understanding how to manage different generations in the workplace. This series will explore how to handle different management issues keeping each of the generations in mind.

Managing the Generation Gap

What’s the Meaning of Work? (Read original post here)

While research shows that co-workers in different generations work well together overall, one of the most common causes of tension among the generations has to do with the meaning of work itself.

Whether it’s about acceptable work hours, pulling weight, or pulling rank, the views of what work is – and should be – vary widely across the pool of generations. In order to better manage the tension that can arise in your workplace, it’s important to understand how each generation feels about the meaning of work.

What work looks like. According to a recent report by the Conference Board, top executives worldwide recently said their top concern is the ability of employees to excel in execution. But, there’s a lot of finger-pointing regarding work ethic among the generations. A recent Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) report on generational differences showed that Traditionalists think Gen Xers and Millennials don’t know what an honest day’s work is. Characterized as workaholics, both Traditionalists and Boomers place great value and self-worth in climbing the traditional corporate ladder. At the same time, the report said employees in these groups, often those with seniority, tend to think their company owes them something and thus have poorer productivity than employees who report to them, a fact that’s duly noted and disdained by younger generations. Millennials and Gen Xers often think that knowledge as well as the amount and quality of work a person contributes should outrank tenure and job title. Promoting mentoring among the generations makes everyone accountable for their performance, decreasing conflict about work ethic among different age groups.

How workplaces should be structured. Traditionalists and Boomers, comfortable with structure and command and control style, place value on strict organizational hierarchies, experience, job titles, and knowing how to navigate office politics. Gen Xers and Millennials, who value innovation and collaboration, at times appear to resist authority or bypass the chain of command. Highly-educated but with fewer years in the workforce, they often complain when employees are promoted because of tenure rather than qualifications and knowledge. But, the workplace is quickly moving away from a strictly traditional organizational structure. In fact, SHRM reports that according to HR professionals, 90% of organizations have instances of older workers reporting to younger supervisors. Offering leadership training can help relieve the tension over workplace structure and place an emphasis on mutual respect.

How work is done. As the more technologically savvy and team-oriented generations Gen Xers and Millennials tend to place a high value on innovation, advanced technology, and collaboration. This often means they favor scrapping the tried-and-true ways that Traditionalists and Baby Boomers see as proven, effective processes. To help mitigate conflict on work processes, teach Gen Xers and Millennials how to effectively research and pitch new ideas in terms they value Traditionalists and Boomers, like the bottom line, productivity, and return on investment. Communicating openly and promoting training for new technologies can help Traditionalists and Boomers accept change.

Where work takes place. Most Traditionalist and Boomer employees prefer in-person meetings, structured office settings, and professional attire. Gen Xers and Millennials are more comfortable with relaxed environments, telecommuting, teleconferencing and other innovations that allow traditional “work” to take place in a setting outside the office. As the meaning of place in work changes, however, an increasing number of Traditionalists and Boomers are finding the value of a multi-place approach to work. Taking a flexible approach to work settings will appeal across the generations. Research shows that recruiting and retention are enhanced by taking this stance, and productivity doesn’t usually take a hit; in fact, it often increases.

When work happens. According to SHRM research, 24% of HR professionals report observing frequent conflict about acceptable work hours among the generations, making it the biggest source of inter-generational tension. Many Gen Xers and Millennials feel more productive when not tied to the traditional office hours Traditionalists and Baby Boomers value. To appeal to differing views of work schedules and help promote appreciation and respect among the generations, consider offering a flexible work schedule policy that allows both traditional office hours and flexible options.

By understanding the different generational views of work, you can help prevent inter-generational conflict and handle it when it arises. Check out next month’s article to learn how to manage the generation gap concerning pay and benefits.

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