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Young and Old Working Together

Each day in workplaces across America, a very unique situation is occurring; young people in their teens and twenties who have just entered the workforce are working alongside others who may be 15, 30, even 50 years older than them. At no time in American history have so many different generations with such diversity in world views and work philosophies been asked to team up and work together.

Employers with this workplace reality need to be aware of the differences between the generations and view those differences as strengths. By understanding the events that shaped each generation’s work attitudes and approaches, employers can better understand how each individuals of each group interacts with the other.

The four generations in today’s workforce have been identified as:

  • Traditionalists, born between 1922-1945, are now 69-92 years old.
  • Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964, are now 50-68 years old.
  • GenXers, born between 1965-1980, are 34-49 years old.
  • Generation Y or Millenials, born between 1981 and 2000, are 14-33 years old.

Each of these groups were impacted by the events of their childhood, and their core values, strengths and weaknesses are all the results of those experiences.

Traditionalists were raised in the Depression and fought in WWII and the Korean War. They are hard working, have respect for people in a position of authority and follow the rules. With heros like Frankin Delano Roosevelt, General Patton and Winston Churchill, this generation is loyal, sable, and detail oriented. They are uncomfortable with conflict, reluctant to buck the system, and tend to be reserved when they disagree with you.

Baby Boomers were raised during a time of a remarkable increase in the standard of living in America, but also very turbulent times with the assassination of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. This group of 80 million optomists is focused on personal gratification and growth, health and wellness, and youth. They are team players, willing to go the extra mile, and want to please. While they have drive, often times they are sensitive to critique, judgemental, and not naturally “budget minded.”

The GenXer’s were the first latch-key kids with dual income families. However institutions failed them: children of divorce, declining education system and government scandals such as Watergate. The fall of the Berlin Wall, Persian Gulf War and the AIDS epidemic made them globally aware, not politically savvy and a bit cynical. They can be impatient, lack people skills, and have no desire to learn how to schmoose. However, they are technically literate, independent, creative and adaptable.

With over 76 million Millenials, this group challenges the size and impact made by the baby boomers. Raised by child-focused parents, these children lead extremely busy, stressful lives full of sports, lessons and other activities, which has created a generation of confident and sociable multi-taskers. They are technically savvy, highly tolerant, and optimistic. Their youth was filled with violent events such as the Columbine shooting, World Trade Center bombing, Hurricane Katrina, and Tsumanis. Those events fostered a strong sense of civic duty and ethical responsibility. This generation needs supervision and structure, and more attention and praise than previous generations.

For organizations with this blend of generational workers, success will come when the culture encourages those from all generations to contribute to their fullest potential. Generationally balanced work groups respect and learn from yesterday's experiences, understand today's pressures, dilemmas and needs, and believe that tomorrow will be different still.

Adapted from:

4 Generations in the Workplace,
presented by Cathy Huybers,
UW Oshkosh College of Business
June 2014