Bridging the generation gap in the workplace: 5 age groups and how they work

by | Dec 18, 2020

Once you’re in the workforce, expect to join teams of people from multiple generations. Having various age groups on your team is definitely a win for diversity, but any generation gap in the workplace can make it harder to make decisions and fully unite. People born in different generations have different experiences and motivations, which can deeply impact how they work.

When you’re leading a team, the responsibility for bridging this gap falls into your hands. We’ll give you some key tips to help you build age diversity in the workplace and reap the benefits of varied perspectives — with none of the fallbacks.


How the five generations work


To eliminate the generation gap, you first need to know what makes each age group’s work habits differ in the first place. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where do their perspectives come from?

After all, Baby Boomers don’t spend all their time calling out Millennials for their avocado consumption and Gen Zers aren’t just OK-Boomering their lives away. When you understand the motivations behind each generation’s actions, ideas and beliefs, you will have the background you need to build empathy and harmony in your team.

We’ll give you a rundown of how the five working age groups function with some tips on how you can best collaborate with them.


1. Traditionalists (1928-1945)

Traditionalists — also known as the Silent Generation — are largely retired, but those who are still in the workforce continue to make a big impact on their organizations.

Having grown up at the tail end of World War II — in the early stages of economic recovery and without today’s digital conveniences — this generation values and provides hard work, financial stability and commitment.

Traditionalists tend to stay longer in their roles, preferring to advance within their workplace. They appreciate pay that reflects their many years of experience. Give them C-level titles and more zeros on their check and you may get a decade of loyalty.

When working with others, Traditionalists value a system of seniority and prefer face-to-face communication over advanced technology. Remote work is rarely a good fit.


2. Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Like Traditionalists, Baby Boomers are known for bringing great work ethic to their organizations — often to the point of being workaholics. However, they’re more strongly motivated by their team.

Their Vietnam Era and civil rights movement experiences have also instilled a desire to contribute. They love to pitch in ideas at meetings and seek opportunities to mentor. Want to keep them for many years? Give them a chance to lead!

Boomers enjoy communicating in-person, though they’re also accustomed to phone calls in the workplace.

Many Baby Boomers are working toward retirement — and 80% already have the security of house ownership — so they value health and retirement benefits over many other work perks.


3. Generation X (1965-1980)

Generation X began the shift toward more casual work environments. Did you know they’re the ones who introduced open floor designs like the ones you see at coworking spaces today?

This shift away from formality was influenced by this generation’s widespread individualism. Their independence means they’re motivated when they have greater sense of choice, perhaps over their schedules and what they wear.

Unlike their workaholic predecessors, they value greater work-life balance and friendships over work relationships. They’re big team players who put their faith in people first, not necessarily the company.

Members of Generation X are always willing to learn new skills. Many may still prefer emails and phone calls.


4. Millennials (1981-1996)

Millennials were the first generation to be fully immersed in the internet, which means they love to communicate via text, email and sometimes even social media. But beyond their tech use, what makes this generation stand out is the fact that they’re seeking fulfilling work.

A whopping 86% of Millennials (compared to less than 10% of Boomers) would take a pay cut for a company that holds the same values. Millennials also take Generation X’s focus on relationships to a whole other level, seeking to deeply enjoy their work and the people they work with. They want mutual respect and candor at work.

Millennials aren’t actually the serial job hoppers you might think they are. They will stay in a role as long as Gen X — if you create the right work environment, that is.

This doesn’t mean salaries don’t matter. To put it lightly, Millennials are drowning in debt and face big wage gap issues, so competitive pay can attract the most skilled workers.


5. Generation Z (1997-present)

Like Traditionalists, Gen Z currently makes up a small percentage of the workforce. However, their numbers are multiplying every year.

Generation Z is expected to bring a greater shift toward remote work, being the true digital natives. At the same time, they’re highly collaborative — 90% want their team interactions to feel human — so they thrive when they can personally connect with their coworkers.

This generation is also unique because it values creative, entrepreneurial mindsets. While this means they love to problem solve, it also means they may prefer to direct themselves before coming back to the team. They like to learn from managers, not necessarily get assignments from them, and develop their professional skills.

Gen Z is motivated by instant gratification. However, they seek workplaces that offer competitive salaries and help with tuition, due to the impact of the Great Recession (and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic).


Fighting age discrimination in the workplace


Now that you have the knowledge you need to fight your inner bias, you can start implementing inclusion-boosting strategies across your team. This is a key step in truly getting rid of the generation gap.

While you and your team members may personally believe that age doesn’t impact skill, a culture that doesn’t explicitly fight age discrimination can cause the team as a whole to act with implicit bias. It’s why Silicon Valley remains notoriously young, while younger workers often receive lower wage or salary offers.

Here are a few steps you can take to truly eliminate the generation gap in the workplace:

  1. Provide diversity and inclusion training, with a unit on age discrimination.
  2. Define age discrimination in your company policies.
  3. Model age-inclusive language for your team by avoiding stereotypes.
  4. Offer mentorship opportunities that fulfill each generation’s desire for leadership or professional development.
  5. Create opportunities for collaboration or general interaction across age groups.
  6. Offer employees some choice in their preferred work style (ex: remote vs. in-office, desktop vs. laptop).


Unite your team

As you get to know each member of your team, pay attention to how their generations do or do not influence them. Doing so will help you create the work processes and choose the communication styles that work for everyone.

Needing to fill that physical workspace needs for your remote team? Whether it’s for team and/or client meetings or a space for your team to boost their focus and productivity whenever they decide they need it, CO+HOOTS’ new Flexible Team  may be the right fit.