Generational Workplace Differences

by Mary Bauer
Different generations can work well together and benefit from each other's strengths.

Different generations can work well together and benefit from each other's strengths.

Millenials are arrogant kids who feel entitled. Gen X’ers are whiners with no sense of loyalty. Boomers are workaholics. These are the stereotypes, but, at the heart of it, each generation strives to live according to its unique value system. Generational differences, a form of diversity, present an opportunity to bring different strengths and perspectives to bear in workplace problem-solving.


Born in 1981 or later, Millenials are the new kids in the workplace and; some have yet to find their first full-time job. They say they are not terribly interested in financial gains, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, but they do care about flexibility -- in hours and workplace dress code. They believe they should be paid for how much work they do, not how many hours they put in, and they want time to tend to things that interest them, whether a family commitment or a social event.

Gen X’ers

Gen X’ers – those born between 1965 and 1980 – are the latchkey generation. They are self-sufficient but suspicious, particularly of the motives of corporate seniors. Raised in the portable 401(k) era, this generation treats a job like a disposable razor -- when it no longer works for you, discard it and get another one. They learn well on their own, but, due to continual budget cuts, they lack the rigorous formative training that baby boomers received. Perhaps as a reaction to their latchkey upbringing, they highly value family life and often choose family over pay incentives or advancement. Telecommuting and flex hours are nirvana to them.

Baby Boomers

Raised by the World War II generation, boomers believe in self-sacrifice, especially if it leads to advancement. They grew up in the era when you had only one or two jobs over the course of a lifetime, so company loyalty is a given to them. They are less comfortable with technology than their younger counterparts, and they acknowledge this. Boomers tend to be the seniors in the corporate hierarchy, and you might think they’ll be moving along soon, but many lost a significant chunk of their retirement accounts during the 2008 economic downturn, so they’re likely to stay around a little while longer.

Working Together

Generational differences may cause discomfort and even conflict, but the generations’ differing strengths and weaknesses also balance each other. The flexible, techno-savvy newcomers can leapfrog a company forward if seniors are willing to listen. The younger generations can benefit immensely from the experience of their elders. For an intergenerational workforce to function smoothly, everybody has to give a little. The senior generation needs to get on board with new workplace trends, and the younger generations must develop the discipline to limit distractions like social media and put down the cell phone during meetings. After all, the sooner they get the job done, the sooner they can go play.

About the Author

A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.

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