Workforce Generational Differences (Part 1)

“Why does Steve always take his work to Starbucks? Did Jim really just commit us to a new project? Is April texting again? What are they thinking?”

Do your coworkers’ habits seem strange? While you may feel confused or frustrated by their actions, they may be doing exactly what they need to do in order to succeed. What may seem like a workplace faux pas, something irritating, something that you would never do in a million years, may actually be the perfect way to achieve the goals of their generation. When you understand the values of the times they come from, their actions make more sense.

As each generation enters a workforce, it brings innovation and a new set of rules for success. In fact, it redefines the very meaning of success and sets out to achieve previously undiscovered goals. Its contributions are in direct response to the needs set forth in distinct times and places.

Steve may be a Gen-Xer who needs two hours of working alone at Starbucks to recharge and get focused on a particularly troublesome task. Jim might be a Baby Boomer eager to work late because it will show how committed he is to a customer or a boss. April may be a Millennial texting people in her web of connections who have expert knowledge in key business areas she is unfamiliar with.

If everyone in your workplace understood and acknowledged these generational differences, you would potentially have a unified and generationally diverse workforce that thrives in its place and time.

By examining generational differences, you might save hours of grief in conflict between coworkers. You might discover how to motivate someone dragging his or her feet. Your hiring decisions or the structure of your teams might look quite different.

But unless you take the time to examine generational differences, they will also threaten to undercut your company’s success.


Let’s talk about the generations by starting with the dates they encompass:

  • Traditionalists (born 1922-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1943-1964)
  • Generation X (born 1965-1980)
  • Millennials (born 1980-2000)

Now take a quick quiz and see how you perceive each generation’s differences:

  1. This generation is considered polite toward authority.
  1. Messages that speak to family, home and patriotism are important to this generation.
  1. Making a difference in the world is important to this generation.
  1. Pitching office politics as a way to get around the rules appeals to this generation.
  1. This generation has a non-traditional orientation about time and space.
  1. This generation is eager to please and consists of good team players.
  1. This generation considers work their reward.
  1. This generation is labeled as “job-hoppers.”
  1. This generation often needs development in strategic, planning, budgeting and coaching skills.
  1. This generation thinks of work as a team sport.
  1. This generation likes consistency and uniformity.
  1. This generation needs help with privacy issues.
  1. A little freedom goes a long way to keep this generation satisfied.
  1. This generation invented the one page resume.
  1. This generation redefined communication and relationships.

Think you have a handle on it? You may be surprised by the correct answers. Be sure to check back for Part 2 and Part 3 for the explanations.



The information in this article was primarily gathered at a Fall 2015 TempNet conference in Memphis, TN, from a presentation by Sandra Spangler, Director of Corporate Communication & Training at Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company. Her presentation cited the following source materials:

“When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How To Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

“Generations At Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace” by Rom Zemke, Claire Raines, and
Bob Filipczak

“Y In the Workplace: Managing the Me First Decade” By Nicole Lipkin and April Perrymore