Workforce Generational Differences (Part 2)

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.

Previously we introduced the concept of generational differences in the workforce and how they might affect workplace dynamics. If you haven’t already, try out the quiz on Part 1 to see how familiar you are with the behaviors of the different generations currently in the workforce.

Now we take a look at these four generations and their defining characteristics:


Traditionalists (born 1922 – 1945)

Traditionalists made it through the Great Depression and World War II, which means they are tough. They are also patriotic, loyal, and willing to put their faith in institutions. Typical traditionalists stay with one employer their whole life and their employer takes care of them. They find the concept of job-hopping appalling and value logic and discipline. Veterans of all generations are often Traditionalists, even those born in a different era.

Traditionalists value:

  • Take charge leaders
  • Understanding how they contribute
  • Good manners, grammar, and enunciation
  • Personal touch

Traditionalists need:

  • Directive management style
  • Technology training
  • To avoid situations where they can “lose face”
  • No surprises

Traditionalists represent about 75 million people in the US population. While many have left the workforce, their presence in still keenly felt, especially in industries that are slow to change. And their legacy continues through veterans.


Baby Boomers (born 1943 – 1964)

Baby Boomers were born in the era of American prosperity after World War II. They are a massive group currently making up about 50 percent of the workforce. Growing up during tremendous changes in America, they believe in growth and expansion and are usually optimistic about the future. Things tend to revolve around them; being such a massive group they are often the “stars of the show.” With so much good within their grasp, they are eager to please their bosses and coworkers in the hope of getting ahead. This means they often work long hours and overtime, whether it is necessary or not. They can be overly sensitive and judgmental, yet fiercely loyal to their peers. Like Traditionalists, Baby Boomers tend to stay with one job for most of their careers.

Baby Boomers value:

  • Money, titles, and recognition
  • Personal gratification
  • Results
  • Teamwork

Baby Boomers need:

  • Personal challenges
  • Help budgeting time and money
  • No interpersonal conflict in the workplace
  • Some technology training

Baby Boomers represent about 80 million people in the US population. Although many are beginning to leave the workforce, a large segment is not prepared to retire due to poor budgeting. Their lingering presence is a source of frustration for the succeeding generation


Generation X (born 1965 – 1980) 

Gen Xers grew up in the shadow of the Baby Boomers. Their parents worked long hours and many Gen Xers grew up coming home to an empty house after school. The term “latchkey kids” came to describe Gen X children who let themselves into their home with a key under the mat and made their own dinner with instructions left on the refrigerator. As they grew up, they rejected their parents’ definition of success and pursued freedom and self-reliance. They are the MTV generation, the generation that invented the X-Games. Characterized as skeptical and attracted to the edge, they also seek a sense of family. The television show “Friends” highlighted this generation’s need to find a sense of family from their friends. They are technologically savvy, favor informality, and have a non-traditional orientation about time and space. They thrive on change and constructive feedback and respond well to training.

Gen Xers value:

  • Self-reliance and independence
  • An informal, casual approach to authority
  • Technological know-how
  • Edginess and creativity

Gen Xers need:

  • Work/life balance
  • Space to work without close supervision
  • Help with teamwork
  • Feedback and training

Gen Xers represent about 46 million people in the US population. Because many top positions are filled by Baby Boomers who have been slow to retire, Gen Xers frequently switch jobs to advance their careers. And while older generations have disdained frequently changing jobs, Gen Xers have made their career moves a source of pride and valued portability.


Millennials (Born 1980 – 2000)

Millennials were the first generation to grow up with the Internet. As successors to the Gen Xers, they could be described as technologically superior. But unlike the Gen Xers, they tended to have hyper-involved parents. As a result, they have a much more congenial approach towards authority. Millennials are confident, sociable, diverse, and empowered. They can also be entitled, impatient, and lack discretion in what they share publicly. For Millennials, work is a team sport. While Gen Xers left the cubicles to work outside the office, Millennials took the cubicles apart and favored open offices. Not simply content to make money and gain recognition, Millennials more than any other generation have sought to work in jobs that they find personally fulfilling. They want to know that their work matters and that their company values their contributions. If they do not feel these things, they will not hesitate to leave for another position.

Millennials value:

  • Opportunity for growth
  • Meaningful work
  • Good relationships with bosses and co-workers
  • The latest technology

Millennials need:

  • Supervision and structure
  • Challenging daily work
  • Constant social connection
  • Help with not over-sharing personal details

Millennials represent about 80 million people in the US population. Heralded by some as the “workers that everyone has been looking for,” Millennials have the potential to be more productive than any previous generation. Of course, that is if they find the right motivation and structure.


Don’t miss Part 3 for the answers to the quiz and conclusion to this series.



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