How to Work Effectively in a Multi-Generational Environment

For the first time in history, there are five generations working alongside one another in the workplace. This is huge. With five different generations, there are five distinct groups that have had different life experiences and have different values.

Let’s start by defining those characteristics:

Traditionalists (Born 1930-1945)

  • Were alive during the Great Depression
  • Very careful and conservative with finances
  • Great respect for authority
  • Very loyal to their employers and job security is very important to them

Overall this generation is conservative and quite loyal to their companies. Members of this generation may have only had one or two employers during their lifetimes, so they should know their companies and positions well.

This generation is a small one in the workforce and many may be retiring soon.

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964) 

  • Currently represent the largest group in the workforce
  • Often involved in both child care and elder care
  • Well educated in comparison to previous generations

This generation is the largest, but many are beginning to approach retirement. There is concern that there may not be enough staff to fill their places, but they also have knowledge that needs to be passed on to those who are younger and staying in the field after they retire.

Generation X (Born 1965-1976)

  • Witnessed many dramatic changes in both the economy and technology
  • High number of divorced parents (individualistic)
  • Skeptical, independent, and entrepreneurial
  • Desire a work-life balance

This generation saw a lot of social changes during their childhood. Combined with the high rate of divorce in their parents, they are quite independent and skeptical of lasting commitments.

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This generation desired a work-life balance, which may be different from baby boomers and is different from traditionalists.

Generation Y — AKA Millennials (Born 1981-2000)

  • Grew up with technology
  • More globally minded than other generations
  • Embrace diversity and differences
  • Want balance of work-life and seek community involvement

Unsurprisingly, this generation is the generation that has had the most research done on them. They appreciate a global society and workforce which is aided by the technology that they have always had access to.

They also are a generous group with both their time and their money. For them, work-life balance includes community involvement. This generation as a whole is also getting married later in life.

Generation Z (Born 2001- present) 

  • Youngest group in the workforce
  • Extremely tech-savvy
  • Like to engage in community service activities

This generation is the youngest group and are the smallest in the workplace (they also are not old enough to have a full-time job yet).

They are very tech savvy and also like to engage in community involvement. This generation may change a bit as they get older, but they seem to be an enhanced version of Generation Y as of now.

How To Work in a Multi-Generational Environment:

Because there are so many generations, it is crucial that members of different generations learn to work together in the same environment.

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This is particularly true for Millennials and today’s twenty-somethings. Right now, many of us are climbing the corporate ladder, but we have to have the ability to work with others effectively to do so. We are often described as entitled, and it is important that we begin to break down that stereotype if we are to create thriving careers in multi-generational environments.

1. Work to build relationships. 

First off, don’t make assumptions about other generations. There are frequently commonalities within generations, but everyone is still unique.

It is important to build relationships among staff members and leadership. Work to get to know people and their work style, regardless of what generation they were born into.

2. Appreciate and embrace differences.

There are major differences between the five generations in the workplace. Traditionalists, for example, are quite loyal to their employer, but millennials are known to job hop. Generation Z is quite tech savvy, while the traditionalists and baby boomers are not as adept to technology.

In order to effectively work together, it is necessary that we learn our differences and appreciate them. When we work to achieve inclusion between generations, everyone performs better and our outcomes are better.

Don’t get frustrated by the things that other generations do — appreciate them and work to understand them. Traditionalists may get frustrated that millennials and other younger generations are not as loyal to a company or supervisor, but our generation has different overall career goals that require movement.

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3. Create mentoring and learning opportunities.

In addition to embracing the differences between generations, it is also a great idea to create learning opportunities between generations.

More seasoned (and older) employees can educate newer employees on workplace culture and specific aspects of their role. Younger employees — particularly Generation Z — can educate older employees on various methods of technology.

We can all learn and grow from each other through formal systems or by spending time together.

Related: Will You Be My Mentor?

As a millennial, it is important and vital to our career success to embrace other generations. We must take it upon ourselves to learn more about others and build relationships with them. There is always learning to be done, and older generations have a lot to share.

Seek out older employees at your company and offer to take them to coffee to find out more about them and what they do. Find out if your company has a mentoring program. If it doesn’t, think about starting one, or at a minimum find an older mentor within your company. Get creative, but engage others in your career — it will help both of you find success!