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Overcoming Age: The Multi-generational Workforce, Part 3

An Arab proverb says, “People resemble their times more than they resemble their parents.”

There is some truth to this.

This final look at multigenerational workplaces will point out the priorities, approach, workstyle, and communication of each generation, as well as give tips to those managers who are faced with the multigenerational challenge.

Remember the Traditionalists? This generation prioritizes homeownership, their learning style is the traditional classroom, and they are often techno-challenged. Their preferred communication style is a formal letter, and they are practical in nature. On the other hand, Baby-boomers prioritize job security, prefer group learning, appreciate teamwork and collaboration, and prefer face-to-face communication or a conversation on the phone, and their nature is optimistic.

Money is the priority of Generation X. They prefer real-world assignments, are tech-savvy, communicate through email and texts, and are more skeptical. And finally, Millennials: This generation wants to make a difference, prefers web-based learning, is always connected, and communicates through IM and texts. Millennials are hopeful in nature.

It is important for managers and leaders to learn the traits of the distinct generations in order to be able to treat each one sensitively. The result: you'll bring out the best and maximize productivity and job satifaction (and retention).

So what specifically can you do?


When dealing with Traditionalists, managers should be respectful, appreciate the wisdom that Traditionalists bring to the workplace and value their opinions. When communicating with Traditionalists, be more formal and professional in nature, use good grammar and clear diction, avoid slang and vulgarity, and focus on the company history and long-term goals. As with younger workers, Traditionalists will appreciate flexibility in the work place. They are likely to take advantage of programs that advise about health and wellness, long term care insurance, and matching savings programs.


Baby-boomers may be skeptical about technological changes in the workplace. Don’t dismiss their fears and concerns of new technology by saying, “This is so easy.” Be aware that many Baby-boomers have been in the workforce long before the age of anti-harassment policies and may sometimes engage in mild but routine sexism that is too small to take to HR. Conversations with baby-boomers should be more relational, maybe over a cup of coffee or lunch. Ask about their personal lives, how their kids are doing, etc. Make the conversation participative by getting the other person’s input, and link the focus to the goals and values of the individual or the team. They typically make themselves available at all times. Motivate them with promotions, meaningful titles, and professional development. They usually prefer recognition from their peers over their supervisors.


Managers should know that Generation X has proven to be more independent than other generations. Don’t be offended if they choose to work alone, and don’t expect most of them to micro-manage. They will be less likely to offer praise unless trained to do otherwise. Expect them to give pros and cons to even the best of ideas. They value work-life balance and appreciate freedom and flexibility in the workplace. Motivate them through value bonuses and stock options. Favored rewards include recognition from the boss, gift cards, experiential rewards, and flexible work schedules. Communicate with them in more informal ways by sending texts or emails, and don’t waste their time. Don’t expect them to be available after work. Be direct, straightforward. Be clear in what you want, the deadline, and the benefits for them.


When dealing with Millennials, avoid cynicism and sarcasm. Don’t be condescending. Millennials prefer a positive approach. They strongly believe in work-life balance and will likely be ready to leave promptly at the end of the day. They desire meaningful work and would rather be unemployed than work in a job that isn’t for them. A Millennial won’t be afraid to ask for what he/she is worth. Don’t waste their time in the interview process. Be up front with important job information. They view work relationships as partnerships. They enjoy working with other bright people. They want stock options as monetary rewards and regular feedback as a non-monetary reward.

They are motivated by skills training, workplace culture, and mentoring. They will likely respond well to not only receiving mentoring, but being a mentor. Put them in a position to teach the elder generations technologically advanced protocols and devices. They will respond well to recognition from their boss and time off. They enjoy a participative environment. When communicating with them, send a text message or visit with them face-to-face. Tie the message to the Millennial’s personal goals or the decided goals that the whole team is working toward. Be prepared for the Millennial to offer his/her solicited or unsolicited honest opinion. Build their loyalty by appreciating their inclusive positive nature.

Finally, don’t get too focused on the differences and miss the similarities between the generations:

  1. We all want to succeed.

  2. We all want respect.

  3. We all will be or have been in the other generations’ shoes.

  4. We all want to work for good employers.

  5. We all want career fulfillment.

  6. We all want our organizations to succeed.

  7. And finally, each generation has people that don’t match their typical generational description.Be sensitive, ask questions, and learn your people.

While understanding generational influence is part of understanding the employee, there are of course many other factors that will determine a person's best fit in the workplace -- their unique set of values, motivations, natural skills, personality, competencies and more are at play. Assessments like the "DISC" and "12 Driving Forces" can reveal the most accurate insights into your employees.

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