Practical Communication

Identifying Generations in Your Workplace (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

The first step in bridging the workplace generation gap is understanding that you have one and how extensive it is. By identifying your employees’ generations (no, don’t ask how old they are), you can take the first steps toward bringing your team together. Next week, we’ll identify specific steps for bridging the generation gap at work.

From Harvard Business Review to Ezine, articles abound in print and on the internet about “Generations in the Workplace.” Some say there are five and other say four. Date ranges and the names of each generation vary depending on which article you read.

The one thing that is constant though, is the fact that there are generational differences in the workplace and they can impact the productivity and morale of your employees. Managers, team leaders, and even informal leaders need to be aware of the differences in these generations in the same way they need to be sensitive to gender, cultural, racial, and ability differences, not only from a legal standpoint (I won’t be going there today), but to ensure the team functions optimally.


Traditionals (Also known as the GI Generation, Greatest Generation, and other names)-These are the folks who are still in the workplace whose formative years were in the early 1960s and earlier. Their generation is known for a strong work ethic, dedication to the organization, patriotism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. They remain in the workforce for many reasons- from financial to self fulfillment. They are also concerned with being replaced by younger workers.

Baby Boomers (Also known as Baby Boomers)- This huge generation was born during the post World War II troop return. Their formative years were approximately in the mid 60’s to mid 70’s. They faced large classroom populations and were the first to have to really “compete” for positions on teams and for employment. They are a hard working generation that works long hours. Working their way up the corporate ladder, achieving success, and being recognized for it is important to them. They helped create the workplace hierarchies that are still in place in many large organizations today and they like people to follow the “chain of command” and to respect their “rank.”

Generation X (Also known as Generation Me)- Generation X spent it’s formative years in the 80’s. Generation Xers were often left to raise themselves as their Boomer parents worked long hours. This generation was a “latch key” generation, not having mom waiting for them with milk and cookies when they came home from school. Gen Xers saw their parents’ dedication to organizations rewarded with layoffs and lost pensions, so they’re generally distrustful of “institutions.” Gen X was also the first generation to experience widespread divorce. Their new home life and self-direction created a generation that is self-sufficient and self-focused. Their motto could be, “Look out for yourself, because no one else will!” Gen X is also the most entrepreneurial generation of all the generations and their need for autonomy and independence has seen them create a more efficient, “flat,” creative, and open work environment.

Generation Y (Also known as Generation Y2K, Generation Next, Generation Tech, and The Millennials)- This generation spent it’s formative years in in the early 90’s to early 2000. They are the first generation to truly grow up with much of today’s technology. Most had access to computers before they set foot in school and are not only comfortable, but are lost without technology in all parts of their lives. They’ve never gotten up to change the channel on a television or “dialed” a telephone. Their younger Boomer and Gen X parents took a 180 in childrearing by giving them a voice and focusing on their self esteem, to make up for the lack of attention they received from their own parents. As a result, the people of Gen Y feel free to give their opinions, expect to be treated like equals, and expect to be rewarded for their actions. Everyone gets a blue ribbon after all. They are confident and expect to be challenged at work. If they don’t get what they need, they’ll have no qualms about going elsewhere to find it, not matter how long (or short) their tenure with your organization.

Generation 9/11 (Also known as Generation Y.2)- Had the September 11th attacks not occurred, this generation would be solidly part of Generation Y. However, the massive impact of the events on that day split this generation. Generation 9/11 has grown up in a world with tight airport security, the threat of terrorist attack and a lot of uncertainty due to the economic situation in the world. Although the full story of this generation is not yet known, since only a few of them are in the workforce, this generation is already showing signs of being less optimistic than other generations. They are much more likely to seek “security” in life rather than take risks. Many of them are even forgoing advanced education and instead are entering the workforce directly after high school.


These are the five generations you’re working with today- whether on the job, or in community organizations. Based on what you’ve read so far, how do you think the generational differences outlined above impact your working relationships?

Next week: Tips for Working in a Multigenerational Team or Organization!






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