Understanding and Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

Workplaces are experiencing a historical first – five generations now make up the workforce. There are many benefits to such a diverse workforce and the unique knowledge, expertise, work experience, life experience, and world views that come with it. But managing those differences optimally can be a conundrum for employers and managers. To make sense of the big picture, it’s important to understand the pieces of the puzzle.

Research by Purdue University defines the five generations and reveals what makes them interestingly distinctive.


  • Born 1925–1945 and make up 2% of the workforce.
  • Common Characteristics: Dependable, straightforward, tactful, loyal
  • Shaped by: The Great Depression, World War II, radio, and movies
  • Mindset: Obedience over individualism; age equals seniority; advance through the hierarchy
  • Communication style: Personal touch, handwritten notes instead of email
  • Motivated by: Respect, recognition, providing long-term value to the company
  • Work-related values: Opportunities to contribute, satisfying work, stability.

 Baby Boomers

  • Born 1946–1964 and make up 25% of the workforce.
  • Common Characteristics: Optimistic, competitive, workaholic, team-oriented
  • Shaped by: The Vietnam War, civil rights movement, Watergate
  • Mindset: Achievement comes after paying one’s dues; sacrifice for success
  • Communication style: Whatever is most efficient, including phone calls and face to face
  • Motivated by: Company loyalty, teamwork, duty
  • Statistics: 65% of baby boomers plan to work past age 65; 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age every day
  • Work-related values: Specific goals and deadlines, mentor roles, coaching-style feedback.

Generation X

  • Born 1965–1980 and make up 33% of the workforce.
  • Common Characteristics: Flexible, informal, skeptical, independent
  • Shaped by: The AIDs epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dot-com boom
  • Mindset: Favoring diversity; quick to move on if their employer fails to meet their needs; resistant to change at work if it affects their personal lives.
  • Communication style: Whatever is most efficient, including phone calls and face to face
  • Motivated by: Diversity, work-life balance, their personal-professional interests rather than the company’s interests
  • Statistics: Gen Xers make up the highest percentage of startup founders at 55%
  • Work-related values: Immediate feedback, flexible work arrangements, work-life balance, opportunities for personal development.


  • Born 1981–2000 and make up 35% of the workforce.
  • Common Characteristics: Competitive, civic-minded, open-minded on diversity, achievement-oriented
  • Shaped by: Columbine, 9/11, the internet
  • Mindset: Seeking challenge, growth, and development; a fun work life and work-life balance; likely to leave an organization if they don’t like change
  • Communication style: IMs, texts, and email
  • Motivated by: Responsibility, the quality of their manager, unique work experiences
  • Statistics: By 2025, millennials are predicted to comprise 75% of the global workforce; about 15% of millennials age 25–35 live at home with their parents.
  • Work-related values: Personal interaction with management and co-workers, results-based management, flexible schedule and work assignments, immediate feedback.

Generation Z

  • Born 2001–2020 and make up 5% of the workforce.
  • Common Characteristics: Global, entrepreneurial, progressive, less focused
  • Shaped by: Life after 9/11, the Great Recession, access to technology from a young age
  • Mindset: Self-identifying as digital device addicts; value independence and individuality; prefer to work with millennial managers, innovative coworkers, and new technologies.
  • Communication style: IMs, texts, social media
  • Motivated by: Diversity, personalization, individuality, creativity
  • Statistics: 40% of Gen Z wants to interact with their boss daily or several times each day; 84% of Gen Z expects their employer to provide formal training
  • Work-related values: Opportunities to work on multiple projects at the same time, work-life balance, working environment that allows self-direction and independence.

Common to all generations is the importance of competitive pay and benefits, hybrid and remote work options, career-advancement opportunities, and flexible working styles. 90% of workers report that company culture is a factor in their decisions about whether to stay with or leave the company, which sends the message that workers are looking for employment situations that recognize and align with their values, wants, and needs.

Melding Generational Diversity to Work for Everyone

Workplace leadership has undergone significant evolution in recent years. A multi-generational workforce demands further adaptation, both by bosses and workers.

It’s obviously not practical to have five different management styles. Instead, cultivating effective communication is more important than ever. Employers can’t make assumptions when juggling five generations. They need to ask employees what’s important to them, what their expectations are, and what they need to succeed. Leadership will then need to find a balance of these expectations among generations. Open, honest conversations will help leaders learn how employees think, process information, and understand their skills, communication methods, and work style.

For both leaders and workers, it’s important to really tune-in to preconceived prejudices, and unconscious biases related to age or generation. Viewing each individual from an unassuming perspective and simply getting to know them can bring new awareness, harmony, and fresh energy to the workplace. Getting to know employees in different life stages can bring new perspective, genuine understanding, and a more accepting culture.

Realizing that stereotypes don’t necessarily apply – that baby boomers actually are pretty proficient when it comes to technology and that Gen Z workers are concerned about more than their multiple devices – can build a stronger, more appreciative workforce that pulls together as its members grow personally and professionally.

Image by Freepik

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