For the first time in US history, five generations are working together full-time in companies. The age range is vast, with employees as young as 14 to over 76 years old.Each generation was formed by its environment. World events, economic health, and social movements forge attitudes, outlooks, behaviors, and expectations tied explicitly to the generation and the environment in which they came of age. Differences are inevitable, but the rapid change in technology, ideas, and practices makes those differences more pronounced and divisive in the workplace. The question is: how can leaders best manage this generational divide?

Keep reading to demystify some of the most significant differences between workforce age groups. We will explore the reasons behind these differences and how leaders can better understand and connect across generations.

Generations Active in the Current US Workforce

Age diversity offers many advantages, and organizations benefiting the most from these varied perspectives have strategies in place to avoid intergenerational conflicts. These transformational leaders recognize the unique characteristics each generation brings to the table and know how to influence and motivate a multigenerational workforce to bring out its strength.

Every individual is unique, but generational cohorts share views on how they perceive roles and employment. This can lead to conflicts between older and younger generations in the workplace. Awareness of these distinctions can help you prevent potential generational conflicts or find ways to quickly resolve them.

Here’s a breakdown of the most recent numbers for America’s multigenerational workforce.

Data source: Pennsylvania State University

Traditionalists, known as the Silent Generation, comprise the oldest working age group, while Generation Z is the newest workplace cohort. Together, these two opposite ends of the spectrum make up the smallest percentage of the American workforce. Broad differences exist between the old, the young, and the majority of workers who fall in between. 

Let’s examine the distinct generational attitudes and outlooks of America’s workforce from oldest to youngest. You will see the unique factors and worldviews that drive particular age groups, along with suggestions on how employers can best utilize the skills of different generations to benefit all involved parties. [1]

Traditionalists, Born 1928-1945 (1%)



What Shaped Traditionalists?

The Traditionalist generation was molded by the strenuous years between the Great Depression and the aftermath of World War II. This era’s prominent lack of security contributed to a conservative mindset and risk-averse approach to life.

Traditionalist Motivations

Traditionalists view jobs as financial security and are grateful for stable employment. Due to their early life experiences, they see work as a privilege, and many spent their entire careers with a single employer. This generation understands their worth and would take on new opportunities if offered. Past traditional retirement age, many have the means to retire but continue working for mental stimulation, human interaction, and extra spending money.

Traditionalist Contributions

Traditionalists have strong fundamental principles. For example, they value loyalty and rules and rarely question authority. But of all the working generations, they’re the least likely to embrace emerging technologies.

Preferred communication channels: Face-to-face interaction, physical memos and notes

Traditionalist Management Tactics 

When possible, give Traditionalist employees less technology-driven and offline work where their strengths can shine. This generation typically prefers duties with a high level of human interaction and is most productive when working alongside others. As a leader, try to emphasize stability and appreciation while offering satisfying tasks.

Baby Boomers, Born 1956-1964 (25%)



What Shaped the Baby Boomers?

Baby Boomers grew up during an age of great economic, social, and political change in the US’s post-World-War-II boom. Several notable historical events shaped their worldviews, including the Cuban missile crisis, the 1969 moon landing, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the Watergate scandal. Baby Boomers learned the value of making personal sacrifices but also living free from the shackles of compliance. 

Boomers reached financial security early in life as the post-war economy and middle class strengthened. They turned out to be the credit-savvy generation, spending and investing almost every dollar they earned. They represent a generation that changed dynamically from extreme liberalism of the 60’s and 70’s to neoconservatism in the 1980s.

Baby Boomer Motivations

While money is a solid motivator for any generation, Baby Boomers in particular value monetary incentives and rewards. Promotions with raises and prestigious job titles, flexible schedules, peer recognition, luxurious offices, and private parking are favorites among this generation. They also appreciate opportunities to give back to society, primarily through donations. [2]

Baby Boomer Contributions

Professional Boomers believe the core of success is personal effort. They are hard-working, disciplined individuals who pride themselves on their achievements. Many have sacrificed work-life balance throughout their lives to pursue professional achievements. Their admirable attention spans help them learn new skills quickly and keep up with changing trends. 

However, Baby Boomers still see the office as the environment where work is best accomplished and are less keen to embrace remote or hybrid work than younger generations.

Preferred communication channels: Prefer direct communication in person or by telephone

Baby Boomer Management Tactics

Managers can keep Baby Boomers engaged by capitalizing on their desire to advance and excel in the workplace. Periodic recognition, new opportunities, and tangible rewards go a long way with this cohort. They are also knowledgeable, so be sure to give them a voice. 

You will earn much respect from this generation if you maintain fair practices and treat all employees equally.

Workers Trust Transformational Leaders

EWF’s transformational leadership workshops help you become a trusted, motivational leader who bridges generational divides. You will learn how to foster healthy cultures, increase productivity, and improve cross-generational retention. We tailor our corporate leadership development workshops to fit your busy schedule.

Learn More About EWF Corporate Leadership Development Workshops

Generation X, Born 1965-1980 (33%)



What Shaped Generation X?

Many formidable events shaped Generation X personalities, from the AIDS epidemic to watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explode on live TV. But there were also hopeful circumstances, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the advent of home computing. They were able to grow up alongside this technology and leverage it in the workplace upon reaching adulthood. But they also remember a world before the rise of the digital revolution.

Compared to Baby Boomers, Gen X grew up amid times of economic uncertainty. Considerable unemployment and inflation triggered a period of stagnation, followed by the financial indulgences of the 1980s, and dot-com bubble burst of the late-90s. These fluctuating times gave them a more skeptical worldview compared to their parents’ generation.

Gen X Motivations

Generation X cares passionately about company culture, DEI, and opportunities for personal growth. In fact, employee training and personal development opportunities triumph over salaries for most Gen Xers. They appreciate and work hard when given work-life balance perks, such as flex-time and unlimited PTO. Their motivation comes more from personal-professional interests than company gains.

Gen X Contributions

Gen X is independent, highly adaptable, technologically adept, and responsive to change. Thus, these workers are valuable in fast-paced environments and during turbulent times. They also work well remotely and adapt easily to flexible schedules.

Preferred communication channels: Face-to-face, phone, and email communication

Gen X Management Tactics 

Gen X workers who feel undervalued and unappreciated won’t think twice about moving on. They view themselves as self-sufficient and resourceful employee who don’t like being micromanaged, but they do like opportunities to develop. 

This generation was the first with a majority of households where both parents work full-time jobs. As a result, they became known as latch-key kids, who came home from school and took care of themselves, hence their fierce independent streak. So employers should trust them and invest in their talent.

Generation Y (Millennials), Born 1981-1996 (35%)



What Shaped Generation Y?

The Great Recession of 2008 had a major impact on Millennials, sometimes called “Generation Y.” As the generation entered the workforce, jobs and career opportunities were scarce leading to consistent underemployment and increasing financial strain from college loans that could not be repaid. Specific circumstances creating to a generation that continues to march behind the financial stability curve afforded previous generations at similar life stages. Many find it difficult to save money or obtain home ownership. 

Other historical events that shaped this generation include 9/11, broadband internet, smartphones, and social media. 

Millennials grew up believing that every person has something to contribute. Thus, they consider an all-inclusive, interconnected world the best way to flourish and realize potential.

Gen Y Motivations

Millennials seek to feel needed, important, and respected at work. As digital natives, they are quick adopters of new technologies and look for ways to leverage to power of technology to increase the impact of their work. They seek out interesting, challenging, and meaningful work, and see rote and repetitive tasks as work that’s prime for automation. 

Flexible hours, healthy inclusive work culture, and good working relations motivate Gen Y workers. Around 87% put professional growth at the top of their priority list. This makes it harder for smaller, slow-growth organizations to retain Millennials, which has enabled their reputation for job hopping. [3]

Gen Y Contributions

Millennials are result-oriented and prefer to achieve goals without getting hyper-stressed. Therefore, they are most effective when working in relaxed environments. They’re not shy when it comes to breaking conventions, and are well considered for their ability to think creatively, and offer innovative solutions to tough challenges.

Preferred communication channels: Emails, texts, chat/IM

Gen Y Management Tactics

Offer regular constructive feedback when working with Millennials. This generation also appreciates mentorship and training programs, but only when there is follow-through and purpose. It can be difficult to attract and retain this cohort without offering a concrete roadmap for their future with the organization.

Become an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Emotions impact every area of your workforce, such as creativity, decision-making, communication, and stress management. Leaders with strong emotional intelligence skills are self-aware, motivated, and empathetic. They know how to bring out the potential of a multigenerational, diverse workforce. EWF’s emotionally intelligent leadership programs equip you with the critical EQ skills needed to excel in the new American workplace.

Learn How to Become a More Impactful Leader with EWF’s Development Training

Generation Z, Born 1997-2012 (5%)



What Shaped Generation Z?

Like all generations before them, major events have affected how Gen Z view, experience, and react to the world. The most influential are social networking, gender equality, and the election of America’s first non-white president. On the darker side are terrorism and wars, climate change, escalating gun violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gen Zers are America’s first cohort to grow up fully plugged into the digital era. These younger workers have much to offer but are the most demanding. They are also the most ethnically diverse population in US history. For these reasons, they have become outspoken advocates for the cultural issues of our time, such as poverty, misogyny, social injustice, homophobia, racism, and trans rights.

Gen Z Motivations

Satisfying accomplishments are more important to Generation Z in the workplace than salaries, careers, and other incentives. They’re most motivated when they feel their contributions make a real difference. These younger generations also have radically shifting expectations. For instance, an employer with environmentally and socially responsible company practices have real meaning and purpose to them. [4]   

Gen Z Contributions

The youngest of the five generations, Gen Z is sill entering the workforce. They have no experience in a pre-internet world, which can make older institutionalized office practices difficult for them to wrap their heads around. However, they’re incredibly tech-savvy. Moreover, they’re on track to be America’s most well-educated working-age group. Despite this, it’s too early to gauge Gen Z’s long-term contributions to the new American workplace.

Preferred communication channels: Social media, texts, IMs

Gen Z Management Tactics

Be mindful, as Gen Z is earning their new nickname: Generation Quit. Globally, 80% are seeking employment more aligned with their values, and as junior employees they’re not afraid to walk away from poorly matched roles. There are several ways to attract and retain this fledgling cohort: flexible working, shared social values, attractive pay, and promotional opportunities. The Gen Z worker also looks for employers who support mental health and overall employee well-being. [5] [6] [7] [8]

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

Employers blending multiple age groups should accept and celebrate generational differences. The aim is to develop an understanding of each other’s perspectives and learn from the different points of view. 

The four points below offer an excellent foundation to avoid or resolve differences:

  1. Acknowledge that generational differences exist
  2. Focus on what unites, not divides, generations in the workforce (avoid stereotyping)
  3. Find ways to accommodate different mindsets
  4. Learn to maximize generational strengths

Encourage open communication and embrace proactive listening. Leaders can build on this through knowledge-sharing and team-building exercises. Of course, the actual approach you take depends on many variables, but the aim is always to build trust and mutual respect through cross-generational collaboration.

Generational Difference: Age Is Nothing but a Number

Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are less productive when micromanaged. In contrast, Millennials and Gen Zers are more accepting of hovering authorities. As a result, they perform better when given detailed instructions and guidance while working in meaningful jobs for ethical employers. 

It’s important to remember that, despite glaring distinctions, every generation thrives on a few simple principles rooted in respect. Organizations that consider generational differences and similarities seeking commonality and understanding, fare better than those that don’t.

  3. professional- growth as-top-priority/