Generational Differences in the Workplace

With five generations working together in today’s organizations, it’s more important than ever for companies to understand the generational differences that set them apart.

Workers from different generations bring different expectations and life experiences to the workplace. This can be particularly challenging for managers attempting to lead teams comprised of workers from different generations. It’s not just about how to get the most out of your employees—it’s about making sure everyone has a satisfying experience at work.

In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of each generation, tips for working with each one, and how to manage them.

Three professional women of varying ages smiling and discussing over a clipboard in an office.

The Five Generations: An Overview

Each generation has its own unique set of traits, characteristics, and values that they bring to the workplace. This is important to recognize because those differences impact the way people communicate and how they want to be managed.

There are five generations in today’s workforce:

  • Generation Z: born between 1997 and 2012
  • Millennials: born between 1981 and 1996
  • Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980
  • Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964
  • Silent Generation: born between 1925 and 1945

Common Generational Issues in the Workplace

In the past few years, it’s been harder than ever to avoid generational conflict. It’s become a popular topic on social media as well as in print and digital media.

While every individual is different, there are some common differences in how people born at different times perceive their work and their workplace. Understanding these differences can help you identify what’s causing the conflict, and find ways to resolve it.


In a workplace where people of different generations work together, there’s a chance for conflict due to the attitudes, values, and beliefs of the different age groups. As a result, stereotypes are common. For example, older workers may label younger workers as lazy or lacking in respect for authority. Younger workers may label older workers as out-of-date and unwilling to try new ideas.

Different generations can have vastly different work styles. This could stem from a variety of reasons, such as technology and education. As the workforce becomes more diverse, it’s important to acknowledge and understand these differences, especially when managing employees across generations.

Working Styles

The gap in access to technology is one of the key differences between generations. Millennials are digital natives, while baby boomers may not be quite as tech-savvy. Younger generations are also more likely to accept new technologies than their older counterparts, which can cause friction between generations.

Another issue is how different generations define success at work. Baby boomers tend to believe that working long hours is what defines success and value face-to-face interactions with co-workers. In contrast, millennials believe that innovation and flexibility are key ingredients for success at work.

Finally, each generation has its own educational background, which leads to a different approach to problem-solving and decision-making in the workplace. Most baby boomers were educated before computers became part of everyday life, while millennials grew up with computers and received a very different education than their predecessors did.

Communication Problems

Each generation has its own distinct characteristics and ways they like to communicate.

When you have up to five different generations in the workforce, there can be some communication issues between employees. For example, if one employee likes to send emails to make sure everything is documented, but the person they’re communicating with prefers a phone call, there could be some miscommunication.

Older generations tend to prefer face-to-face communication and are frustrated when attempts at communication are ignored or misconstrued because of technology overuse. Younger generations rely on technology for communication, which can be difficult for older generations to understand.

Tips for Managing and Motivating Each Generation

Managers are faced with the task of keeping their employees motivated and engaged. This is no easy feat, especially when you consider that up to five generations may be working side by side in one workplace.

Here are some strategies you can use to get the best out of each generation in your workforce:

Include Older Generations’ Knowledge in Training

This will give them an opportunity to pass on their expertise while also helping younger employees learn valuable skills they otherwise might not have access to. You can also encourage knowledge sharing by setting up mentorship programs or simply asking senior staff to take their juniors under their wings and teach them what they know.

Benefits Should Reflect Each Generation’s Needs

Generations come with different needs and expectations. If you don’t tailor your benefits to the needs of each generation, you run the risk of alienating or losing them.

If you have a younger employee, you might want to offer them a flexible work schedule, part-time hours, or lower pay for a few days per week so they can balance their job and other responsibilities.

If older employees are particularly sensitive about their age, make sure to consider your company’s pension plans and retirement benefits as part of their overall compensation package. 

It’s important to remember that boomers will retire soon, and Gen Xers will be retiring in the next decade or so. It’s critical that employers adequately plan for these retirements so they can attract quality replacements with whom they can do business for many years to come.

Management Styles Should Accommodate Each Generation

The most effective leaders and managers understand that different generations bring unique strengths to the workplace. That’s why it’s important for supervisors to adapt their management styles and learn how to motivate each generation.

The first thing millennials look for in a job is how well they’ll get along with a manager. If they don’t like their boss, they’re less likely to stay in their current position. This can result in high turnover rates for companies that haven’t learned how to manage different generations effectively.

More Resources

There are five generations present in the modern workplace, each with unique expectations and perspectives. As the nature of work continues to evolve, it’s important to understand how generational differences can affect your team and company culture.

Our Generational Differences in Today’s Workplace module will help you explore generational communication styles, values and expectations, and ways you can foster a positive work environment built on understanding. 

Sign up for a free demo of our learning solutions today to learn more about the perspectives and values of each of these generations and to refine your skills.

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