Understanding and Managing the Different Generations in the Workplace
Alice Meredith

Traditionalists: Common Workplace Personalities and Traits

Managing multiple generations in the workplace can be challenging for business owners and managers. However, understanding why and how different employees think, act, and work can help people leaders better lead and manage their teams. In this article, we’ll review each of the five generations currently in the workplace and explore their unique personalities. After we review each generation, we’ll provide some key pointers to help managers effectively manage and engage each group.

First, let’s start with the oldest generation in the workplace: Traditionalists. While they are the smallest generational grouping in the workplace, they have much to offer and stories to share. This population is characterized by their strong work ethic and loyalty to their job. Traditionalists grew up during times of hardship and struggle and, as a result, strongly believe in business and government. They value hard work and have typically held one to four jobs over their lifetime. In addition, many traditionalists have military experience, which has shaped their work ethic and values.

In the workplace, traditionalists tend to be non-assertive and may struggle to see the value in change. They often see a clear line between boss and employee and may not feel the need to socialize with their manager. Personal connections in the workplace may be foreign to them, as they are used to work conversations being strictly about work. 

To effectively manage and engage traditionalists, it’s important to recognize and value their experience and work ethic. Business owners and leaders should take the time to ask questions and learn from their experiences. Consider assigning traditionalists as mentors for newer employees, utilizing their expertise as consultants or sounding boards for problem-solving and ideation. Recognize the value traditionalists bring to the team, even if it differs from the perspectives of other generations. It’s also important to be mindful of the traditionalists’ preference for a more formal, professional work environment. 

Related: Motivating and Encouraging Employees of Different Generations
Cultivating Change-ready Cultures

Baby Boomers: Common Workplace Personalities and Traits

Next, let’s examine the personality traits of baby boomers in the workplace. Baby boomers are known for their high standards of personal excellence and their desire to achieve great accomplishments. They tend to be highly ambitious and have strong work ethics. In the workplace, baby boomers often value stability and may resist change if they perceive it as threatening their status or security.

Baby boomers tend to be more hierarchical in their leadership style and may struggle to adapt to more collaborative or democratic approaches to decision-making. 

To effectively manage and engage baby boomers, it’s important to recognize their ambition and work ethic. Consider providing opportunities for career advancement and growth within the company. Be clear and concise in communication, and make sure to provide regular feedback and support. Be patient with their resistance to change and help them understand the benefits of new technologies and approaches. Utilize their expertise and experience as mentors for newer employees or as consultants for problem-solving and decision-making.

Generation X: Common Workplace Personalities and Traits

Generation X, also known as the “middle child” generation, is characterized by self-reliance and independence. They grew up during a time of economic instability and rapid technological change, which has shaped their approach to work and their views on authority. In the workplace, Gen Xers tend to be highly skilled and adaptable but may also show to be resistant to change.

Gen Xers brought a new attitude to the workplace, valuing work-life balance and prioritizing their personal and social lives. This shift in work dedication, often misinterpreted as laziness or a lack of commitment, reflects Gen Xers’ belief that productivity and results should be the main measures of success rather than the number of hours worked.

Gen Xers are known for their independence and self-reliance, which often translates to skepticism towards authority and a desire to understand the motivations behind decisions and directions. This can make them more loyal to individual leaders than to an organization as a whole. Gen Xers are also quick to adapt to new technology, which has helped them move up the corporate ladder and compete for leadership positions.

To earn the trust of Gen Xers, it is important to be authentic and transparent and to manage them based on goals, metrics, and objectives. Gen Xers value their work-life balance and may see social events or company holiday parties as intrusions on their time. They also appreciate leaders who are hands-off and trusting and prefer working independently within a team setting. It is also important to keep communication direct and to the point, and to limit the number of meetings.

Millennials: Common Workplace Personalities and Traits

As the largest generation in the workforce, understanding how millennials show up in the workplace is crucial for businesses and organizations.

Power in Numbers

One of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation is their desire to work in teams and collaborate. This can be attributed to their upbringing, as they were often encouraged to work in groups and participate in extracurricular activities. In the workplace, millennials are likely to prefer working on projects with others and may be more comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions in a group setting.

Work-Life Integration

Millennials are known for valuing work-life integration over the traditional “work hard, play hard” mentality of previous generations. This means they may be more open to flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible schedules. They also place a high value on their personal lives and may prioritize finding a work environment that aligns with their values and interests.

Casual and Adaptable

Unlike previous generations, millennials prefer a more casual and less structured work environment. This can manifest in how they dress and interact with colleagues and their desire for more open and transparent communication. They are also known for being adaptable and open to change, which can be a valuable asset in today’s fast-paced business environment.

Goal-Oriented and Relationship-Focused

Millennials are driven by achievement and often have high expectations for their own careers. They may look for opportunities to learn and grow and may appreciate ongoing feedback and support from their managers. They also place a strong emphasis on relationships, both with their colleagues and with their leaders. They enjoy having open lines of communication with their managers and may value connecting with company leaders.

Related: What the Generations Want from Work: New Data Offers Surprises


Because they grew up with technology as an integral part of their lives, millennials are often highly skilled in using technology for work and communication. They quickly adapt to new technologies and use them to improve efficiency and productivity.

Millennials bring unique strengths and preferences to the workplace. Understanding these characteristics can help businesses and organizations create a work environment that resonates with this generation and allows them to thrive.

Generation Z: Common Workplace Personalities and Traits

Generation Z, also known as Gen Z, is the fifth generation in the workplace. While millennials have received much attention in recent years due to their large size, Gen Z is beginning to make its presence known in the workforce as well. 

One key difference between Gen Z and prior generations is their attitude toward higher education. Many Gen Zers believe three years or less is the ideal time to spend in any one job, which will significantly impact companies as they strive to retain top talent and reduce turnover.

Research on the common personalities and characteristics of Gen Z in the workplace is ongoing, but there are some key points that employers should be aware of. First, the opinions of parents, friends, and teachers all play a role in Gen Zers’ educational and professional decision-making, similar to millennials. Curiosity is also a strong motivator for Gen Z when it comes to choosing a career or field of study.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z shows greater interest in entering the workforce without obtaining a higher education degree. This may be due, in part, to the high levels of student loan debt that many millennials are carrying. Gen Zers also prefer hands-on and interactive learning experiences.

In addition to their entrepreneurial spirit, which may be influenced by both millennials and the abundance of technology resources available to them, Gen Z values work-life balance and desires flexibility in terms of where and when they work. Gen Z is known for its desire for information, yet it lacks trust in the information shared with them, which may require employers to be more transparent and provide multiple sources of information.

The unique traits and characteristics of Gen Z will have important implications for both companies and educators. Understanding and catering to the needs and preferences of this generation will be crucial for success in the future.

With five different generations in the workforce today—Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z—each with their own set of workplace values and characteristics, it’s essential for leaders to seek to understand the perspective of each of their team members.

If you’re interested in learning more about each generation’s workplace personalities, check out my course, ‘Generational Leadership: Adapting to the Changing Workplace.”
As leaders come to better understand and appreciate the differences among team members, they foster a more incredible culture of belonging within their organization.

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