Understanding Generations At Work

Knowing people working with you is a key point to successfully manage your employees and collaborators. And one of the main issues related to it is the fact that each employee belongs to a different generation.

Understanding generations at work gives you a high-value tool to better know how to treat each person; the truth is, each employee is a different world, but depending on the generation they belong to it is probable that they will react in a concrete way to very specific features. By understanding what each generation is and their opinions related to work, it will be easier to know how to deal with them in the best way for both employees and employers.

However, understanding there are different generations is not the only necessary step for employers and HR Managers. The problem is not the fact that there are many generations; the problem is that each generation requires completely different things at work. And treating each of them accordingly to what they expect may allow the employer/ HR manager / and people responsible of WBL to motivate the worker into giving its best at work.

For the first time ever, we have five generations in the workplace at the same time. What would happen if we got intentional about how we all work together? In the following video, Mr. Conley shows how age diversity makes companies stronger and calls for different generations to mentor each other at work, with wisdom flowing from old to young and young to old alike.

Video: What baby boomers can learn from millennial at work and vice versa

Generational differences

Generational differences are one of the main issues that employers, HR Managers and people responsible of WBL within the company have to face in present times. Right now, it is considered that nowadays there are 4 different generations working at the same time (5th is coming), which is a cause of benefits but also of disadvantages. The differences right now can be seen looking at each of the generations:

Activity: Generations

Take a look at the generations that you are encountering in your company working at the same time. Which characteristics can you spot of each of them?

For the exercises above you can use this little help if you are not sure of which one is each generation: Robinson, Michael T. Career Planner

Table 1 – Generation features

YEARS OF BIRTH 1946 – 1964 1965 – 1979 1980 – 2000 2001 – 2010
MAIN FEATURES Childhood in prosperity and no wars Highest level of education known until then Internet knowledge Majority still not on the working force
First ones to live political changes such as the fall of Berlin Wall Work revolution (timetables, hours, places, movement…) Used to Internet
Global warming is acknowledged


Want some help with the discovering of the specific features at work of each generation? These are the main characteristics to bear in mind while managing generational differences among employees: Lesonsky, Rieva. How To Manage Employees From Every Generation (2011)



Table 2 – Generation work features

YEARS OF BIRTH 1946 – 1964 1965 – 1979 1980 – 2000 2001 – 2010
MAIN FEATURES Extremely job-focused Work-life balance and independence Value even more work-life balance and independence Majority still not on the working force
Value security and stability Adaptable and resourceful Look for freedom; want to be treated equally since the first day
Clearly stated goals and tasks Most know of technological features No fear to authority, looks for challenges
Prefer to communicate in person or with phone calls Can communicate with technological tools High technological knowledge

Benefits of a Multi-Generational Workforce

Although having to think about so many differences in each employee may seem like a headache for the employer, HR manager, workers responsible of WBL having a multi-generational workforce also comes with many benefits for the company.

Having a diverse environment of any kind in a company is always going to be an enriching experience as it allows to compare and learn from each other. More concretely, in the case of a multi-generational environment, we find that the different life experiences, education, historical environments… create a pool of learning and improvement for the company’s workers.

The main benefits of a multi-generational workforce for a company are:

  • Different skills: each generation has different skills and talents to bring in, depending on the age demographics; younger workers are used to technology and are really good with computers and new tech, while older workers are usually experts in interpersonal skills and know how to treat people face-to-face. Having people from all ages allows to create an environment in which customers who feel more comfortable with an online notification will be pleased, but the ones who want a personal phone call will be able to receive it as well.
  • Mentoring: employees’ training is a key issue for employers, HR Managers, workers responsible of WBL. When there is a multi-generational environment, it becomes possible to generate a mentoring flow between workers, allowing them to share their experiences and knowledge between them without having to pay for an external training. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to have a healthy environment that discourages ways of thinking such as “mentoring another is going to give them advantage over me”, but when achieved, it allows to create a better prepared, healthier environment in which all workers not only acquire new skills but also create a better work relationship between them.
  • Continuity: having a workforce with many different generations is an effective way of avoiding obsolescence. On the one hand, only having older workers keeps the company from including “new blood” that can learn from the experienced workers on their knowledge about the company while sharing their skills and talent, and when they retire, there are only a few people able to continue doing the job. On the other hand, having only young workers makes it impossible to pass that experience on, since no one has it to start with.

McQuerrey, Lisa. The Advantages of Diverse Ages in the Workplace

What can you benefit from each generation? It is a good idea to know what skills are usually best in each generation, although of course, you need to remember that each worker is a world and being part of a concrete generation does not necessarily mean having the concrete skills associated to it instead of the ones from another.

Of course, there are even more benefits from having a multi-generational workforce; it is going to depend a lot on the type of organisation as well.

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