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Tips For Managing Five Different Generations At Work

For the first time in history, five generations are working side by side. 

This trend is both a challenge and an opportunity

Expeerts divide these worker groups into: the Traditional Generation (born pre-1945), baby boomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (born 1965-80), Generation Y (1981-95) and the Linkster Generation (born after 1995). Since conflicts often arise in a multigenerational environment, it's helpful to have some understanding of the differences between employees of distinct generations.

Each generation has been influenced by the major historical events, social trends and cultural phenomena of its time, shaping ideas about everything from expectations and perceptions about what the working environment will provide and how to behave as employees to company loyalty and work ethic.

Larry and Meagan Johnson, a father-daughter team ( have explored and discussed the generations, their beliefs and the effects on the workplace.

For HR leaders and managers they offer guidelines for resolving intergenerational conflict:

  1. Look at the generational factor: Is this conflict generational, or is something else going on? For example, Traditionals and baby boomers don't like to be micromanaged, while Gen Y-ers and Linksters crave specific, detailed instructions about how to do things and are used to hovering authorities. Conflict almost always has a generational component; recognizing this offers new ways to resolve it.
  2. Consider the generational values at stake: Each generation is protecting a distinct set of values, and conflict may threaten these values. For example, baby boomers value teamwork, cooperation and buy-in, while Gen X-ers prefer to make a unilateral decision and move on - preferably solo. 
  3. Air different generations' perceptions: When employees of two or more generations are involved in a workplace conflict, they can learn much by sharing their perceptions. For instance, a Traditional may find a Gen Y-er's lack of formality and manners offensive, while a Gen Y-er may feel dissed when this older employee fails to respect her opinions and input. Have each party use "I" statements to avoid potentially negative confrontations.
  4. Find a generationally appropriate fix: Employers can't change people's life experience. But they can work with the set of workplace attitudes and expectations that come from it. So, for instance, if a knowledgeable boomer is frustrated by a Gen Y-er's lack of experience coupled with his sense of entitlement, turn the boomer into a mentor. Or if the company has a Gen X-er who is slacking off and phoning it in, instead of punishing him give him a challenging assignment, the fulfillment of which is linked to a tangible reward.
  5. Find commonality and complements: When people study generations, some common and complementary characteristics emerge - and these can be exploited when dealing with conflict between them. For instance, Traditionals and Generation Y employees both tend to value security and stability. Traditionals and boomers tend to resist change - but both crave training and development. Gen X and Gen Y employees place a high value on workplace flexibility and work-life balance. Boomers and Linksters are most comfortable with diversity and alternative lifestyles. Gen Y and Linksters are technologically adept and committed to socially responsible policies.
  6. Learn from each other: Each generation has valuable lessons to teach the next. For example, Traditionals and boomers have a wealth of knowledge and tricks of the trade that younger workers need. Generation X employees are widely known for their fairness and mediation abilities. Generation Y workers are technology wizards. And Linksters hold clues to future workplace, marketing and business trends.

Their new book is Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters - Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work (Amacom, 2010),


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