As of 2016, there are five generations in the workplace. The silent generation, born between 1930 and 1945, is working longer before retiring; millennials, born between 1981 and 1994, are graduating and entering the workplace; baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, and generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, are somewhere in between; and digital natives, born after 1994, are getting ready to enter the workforce. Each generation contributes different characteristics, traits, and experiences to the workplace; effectively managing employees in these generations can mean the difference between a high performing team and an organization in disarray.

CHARACTERISTICS AND TRAITS OF THE GENERATIONS

Silent
1930 – 1945
Baby Boomers
1946 – 1964
Generation X
1965 – 1980
Millennials
1981 – 1994
Digital Natives
After 1994
  • Loyal to the organization
  • Detail-oriented
  • Prefer formal communication
  • Life adapted to org. needs
  • Respect authority
  • Strong work ethic
  • Possess institutional knowledge
  • Social orientation
  • Work in teams
  • Value relationships
  • Want loyalty from co. and coworkers
  • Expect rewards for hard work
  • Value work/life balance
  • Engage in traditional learning
  • Question authority
  • Desire flexibility
  • Prefer open communication
  • Want to learn
  • Independent
  • Desire feedback
  • Value work/life balance
  • Engage in traditional and e-learning
  • Large population entering the workforce
  • Ambitious
  • Informal
  • Want instant gratification
  • Want positive reinforcement
  • Informal style
  • Want to learn
  • Tech Savvy
  • Want instant gratification
  • Creative
  • Not always team players
  • Technologically connected
  • Work includes flexibility and technology
  • Informal style

BRIDGING THE GAP

From WW II and the great depression (the silent generation), to terrorism and technology (the digital natives), environmental influences have shaped the characteristics and traits of each generation. With multiple generations in the workforce, it is up to organizational leaders to engage staff appropriately, minimize conflict, and cultivate positive relationships.  Coworkers also take ownership in developing positive relationships; each brings something to the workplace that others can learn from and use to grow. The challenge in building relationships lies in discovering a best method that works for everyone involved.

For example, communication is the primary method of getting information to employees, yet, it can be difficult based on the different preferences of each generation. The silent generation, and, to an extent, baby boomers, prefer phone calls and memos; while digital natives prefer electronic communications. Somewhere in between are generation Xers and millennials, who lean more toward electronic than other forms of communication.  Leaders must incorporate all of these preferences into their communication style, something that can require some ingenuity. One option is to develop memo templates within an e-mail system.  Electronic templates can meet the needs of all generations by producing a memo format that is delivered electronically.

Meetings can also utilize multiple forms of communication to address the different preferences of each generation attending. PowerPoint presentations, guest speakers (subject matter experts), round table discussions, and video conferencing are among several options to address generational preferences and increase attendee engagement and productivity.  It is important, too, that the organizer conduct a proper meeting that adheres to the agenda. Too often meetings get off track, go on longer than scheduled, and accomplish little, leaving employees frustrated. Encouraging attendees to contribute to the agenda by sharing about their areas of responsibility or demonstrating a task or process can be an effective way to transfer knowledge, train, and build peer relationships.

Mentoring and cross training are two effective methods for bridging the generation gap. Performed in small groups, structured mentoring and training can improve productivity and transfer knowledge and skills.  As well, it can build relationships that can have a lasting impact on the organization. Mentoring provides employees with the opportunity to better understand their colleagues, which can alleviate stereotypes in the workplace.

Ultimately, each employee has something to offer and something to learn from their peers. It is up to organizational leaders to implement a framework for all generations to work effectively together as a team.  Employees want to feel needed and productive; thus, when generational preferences are addressed and balanced, all employees feel respected and contribute to the success of the organization.