Understanding Different Generations in the Workplace

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As we are living longer and healthier lives, more often people are choosing to remain in their jobs longer, putting off retirement. This means that the diversity of experience in the workplace is also increasing. There are at least five generations in most larger organisations.

While on one hand, you have experienced workers who often understand the complexities of their job and have long-stored knowledge, you also have younger generations who are tech-savvy and eager to try new approaches. This is a generalisation of course, but there are some distinctions and patterns that can be seen within the generations.

These behaviours are shaped by the experiences each generation has had growing up and entering the workforce. You might not be aware of some of the tendencies of your own generation, or even recognise your attitudes towards other generations, but they are likely there, shading your approach to your work and your attitudes about your colleagues.

I’m ‘generation’ what?

Generational cohorts are not exact. Many things influence individuals’ perceptions and identities. What generational cohorts provide is a snapshot of the stage of life a group is in. It is asserted events during the ‘coming of age’ period for each generation shape their attitudes towards work, life, relationships and money.

For example, Gen Y (millennials) are reaching a life stage of marriage, children, and mortgages with many established in careers and financially comfortable. This generation is highly-adaptable as many transitioned from low-tech to high-tech lifestyles during their late teens. They are the first generation to experience media saturation throughout their childhoods and tend to be sceptical of brands and immune to marketing.

So, which generation do you belong to?

  • Traditionalists: 1928-1945
  • Baby Boomers: 1944-1964
  • Gen X: 1965-1980
  • Gen Y: 1981-1996 (Millennials)
    • Gen Y.1: 25-29 years old
    • Gen Y.2: 29-39 years old
  • Gen Z: 1995-2015


Traditionalists are those people born between 1928-1945, and they make up about 3% of the workforce. The ‘seen and not heard’ generation are hardworking and goal-oriented. People of this generation tend to focus on perfection in their work and have a strong sense of loyalty.

Most people of this generation respect job titles and are motivated by their earnings. Traditionalists can usually be relied upon to guide newer employees and are keen to share their knowledge and experience with interested colleagues.

Traditionalists tend to have a strong work ethic. Because of their loyalty to the company, they will devote themselves to their work, striving for perfection.

Most traditionalists have a formal approach to their work and enjoy a structured work environment. Remember, this generation was often schooled in strict classrooms that freely meted out corporal punishment, so an informal atmosphere can take time to adjust to.

Baby boomers

Baby boomers, born between 1946-1964, make up a large portion of the US population. The post World War II generation was raised in an atmosphere of contrasting fear and optimism. The Cold War loomed over daily life, while technology and the economy moved ahead.

Baby boomers are considered hardworking and ambitious. However, they cling to luxury status symbols and accumulate wealth as a prize, hoarding property and remaining in high-paying jobs long after their prime.

The typical baby boomer employee identifies themselves with their job title. While they tend to be loyal workers, they are often also insistent that the way it is done is the only way and the right way.

Although many Baby boomers came of age in a time of rebellion and change, this tendency towards fluidity and risk-taking has faded with the introduction of technology. The Baby bomber employee is often fragile and less competent than they would like people to see, as high university drop-out rates mean many boomers do not have the formal education for their role, and they feel threatened by those who do.

Generation X

Generation X, born between 1965-1980 is sometimes called the ‘lost’ generation. This generation of independent individuals have a strong entrepreneurial spirit but tend to back away from loyalty and connections.

Generation Xers are mostly laid back and independent. They value friendly, flexible workplaces and productivity over hours spent at work. These usually quiet workers tend to just get the work done with little need for praise and guidance.

Gen Xers appreciate a work-life balance, and for this reason, it may be apparent that they are more committed to their personal life than career advancement. However, gen Xers are confident and competent workers who introduced innovation and bucking the status quo to large organizations in a way that had not been seen before.

Generation Xers are the first of the workplace shifts in terms of gender roles, women’s career advancement and attempts at equal pay. Gen X women paved the way for women today to take leading positions and demand respect in the workplace.

Generation Y (millennials)

Born 1981-1996, millennials are the first generation to grow in the age of technological advances. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y, they are the most educated generation in the workforce thus far and represent the fastest-growing segment of the workforce.

Millennials tend to be technologically savvy and make use of any technology available to improve efficiency and productivity. Most millennials are keen to establish a career but do not prioritise company loyalty as a requirement for such advancement.

Millennials are more interested in high productivity than working long hours and seek ways to improve systems or procedures to work smarter, not harder. Because of the levels of education, most millennials require feedback to be assured that their work is meeting standards.

Generation X employees started the trend of relaxed work environments and millennials began to expect it as they entered the workforce. Millennials tend to ignore hierarchy and are more interested in innovation and collaboration than other generations before them.

Generation Z

Those born between 1997-2015 are the newest members of the workforce.

Generation Zers are the first digital natives of our time, and they often struggle to understand the importance of connection. However, this generation is young, and many are probably just maturing and starting to understand the importance of personal connection in the workplace.

Generation Zers are already making changes to expectations of work environments. They want flexible work environments, clear directions and transparency about their work. They seek much praise for their work but require much prompting and guidance. Without micromanagement, many Gen Zers will do their own thing, as task completion does not seem to be a priority of the education most received.

This group of young people are, however, still young. Gen Zers should not be measured by the same metric as those with more than 20 years in the workforce. It is difficult to predict at this time what innovations and shifts this generation will imagine in the workplace.


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