Understanding and Relating to Different Generations in the Workplace
Alice Meredith
Understanding and Relating to Different Generations in the Workplace

Defining a Generation

Demography is the science of populations. Demographers believe that what people experience between the ages of 14 and their mid 20’s will stick with them, making them who they are for the rest of their lives. Yes, people do change as they get older, but many of their values have already been set. These are shared values that create a bond between an age group. 

A generation is defined by what it thinks, feels, and experiences together, not just by dates of birth.

It’s important to remember that there will be a great deal of diversity in any generation. There are vast differences between those who grew up poor and those who grew up affluent, differences between rural and urban upbringings, and cultural and religious beliefs. Even the makeup of the family that individuals grow up in can skew the generalizations that tend to show up when defining select groups of people. 

We must remember that generational modeling is just a framework, not a specific description of every individual born within the years of a certain timeframe. Therefore, it’s essential to refrain from using this data to try and predict an individual’s behavior or to label one another, such as “here comes a Gen Xer,” or “those Millennials,” and assume all within these groups automatically have the same attributes. 

Remember, generational demographics deal in generalizations only, just interesting learnings that can help us better understand ourselves and others.

A typical generation covers about two decades. The years dividing each generation could be clearer; even amongst demographers, there are multiple breakdowns of time grouping meant to identify which generation individuals belong. A typical generation breakdown looks like this:

Traditionalists or Matures (born before 1943)

Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1963)

Gen Xers (born between 1963 and 1980)

Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000)

Gen Z (born after 2000)

Cuspers (born on the cusp of two different generations)

If you fall into the Cusper category, one way to determine which generation you relate to the most is to consider the major economic events that have most affected your life. For example, if you remember the events of 9/11 and how they impacted you personally, you are likely a Millennial. If you only learned about 9/11 in history class, you are more likely to be part of Gen Z.

Another major factor that influences and defines a generation is advancing technology. As technology advances, it creates faster divisions between ages. There are five generations, but as technology continues to evolve rapidly, future generations will likely emerge even more quickly.

Workplace Demographics

Demographic research has shown that early work experiences can shape our attitudes about corporate and small business culture. As a result, we see a wide range of opinions on what a workplace environment should be like. In the past, different generations were often separated by organizational structures. Senior employees, who were often white males, occupied top office or executive positions, while younger employees held entry-level positions. However, today’s workplace is no longer characterized by age as the collision of talent and capabilities have evolved our workplace cultures to value skill and abilities above tenure.

With so many generations making up the workforce, it’s more important than ever for leaders and team members to value, respect, and recognize the benefits of our age-diverse work environments. 

When teams fail to seek to understand the generational perspectives of their peers and leaders, it creates discord and anxiety, both of which work against our efforts to build more inclusive work environments.

How Leaders Can Minimize Discord and Anxiety Between Generations in the Workplace

As a leader, it is important to recognize and address any potential conflicts that arise between team members. Here are a few strategies that can help minimize discord and anxiety in the workplace:

  1. Encourage open communication: Encourage team members to share their ideas, perspectives, and concerns with each other. This can help build understanding and respect between team members of different generations.
  2. Foster a culture of inclusion: Make sure that all team members feel valued and included in decision-making processes. This can help prevent any feelings of exclusion or marginalization.
  3. Encourage mentorship opportunities: As we allow more experienced team members, regardless of their age grouping, to mentor or coach newer team members, it will help bridge differences and allow opportunities to connect and strengthen relationships between those from differing age groupings. 
  4. Provide opportunities for learning and growth: Offer continual hard-skill and soft-skill development opportunities to all team members, not just those in leadership. Learnability elevates open-mindedness and enables shifting mindsets, encouraging others to become more inclusive and accepting of differences.

Why Understanding Generational Differences Is Important for People Leaders

As our world and organizations continue to change rapidly, it’s important for people leaders to understand generational perspectives in order to build more diverse and accepting work cultures. Each generation has unique motivators, values, and characteristics which can be leveraged to create a greater sense of belonging within an organization. When leaders take the time to learn about the five generations in the workplace, they will be better equipped to foster an environment where everyone feels valued, motivated, and included. 

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