Four Generations at Work

Why don’t you all f-fade away (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
And don’t try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

[from ‘My Generation’, written by Pete Townshend of The Who]

These lyrics were written about a generation in 1965 that was trying to find their place in society. Forty-six years later, we find four generations trying to fit into one workplace.

It’s complicated.

Generational diversity brings an array of experiences and perspectives to the office; different backgrounds have an impact on the way generations respond to leadership and work with one another. To be successful in business today, it is essential to understand that.

There is A LOT to learn about each generation. First, let’s identify them.


In today’s office, you will find Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

Combining four different mindsets into one workplace can be difficult. (It certainly makes the “water cooler conversations” more interesting!) However, despite the gaping differences, there is a common element—they all want to learn, cooperate, and help others. What motivates them to accomplish these goals is what you need to know.


1.       Traditionalists are approximately 63-86 years old. They are strict rule followers and have a great respect for authority. They want to be respected for their historical knowledge of their chosen industry. They believe that if you “pay your dues” you will climb the corporate ladder. They prefer long-term tenure and commitment.

2.       Baby Boomers are approximately 42-62 years old. While their parents tend to follow rules, they are not afraid to challenge rules when necessary. They live to work. They will fight their way up the corporate ladder and straight into the big corner office. They are committed, hard-working, and career focused–which has caused them to be tagged as workaholics. They are willing to stay in the same job for a long time.

3.       Generation X is approximately 28-41 years old. They were forced to grow up quickly because they were often left home alone while both parents were working. Rather than follow the rules or challenge the rules, they like to change the rules entirely. They do not intend to be a “lifer” on the job. They are career focused but strive for a good work-life balance. They enjoy autonomy. A flexible workplace is a must and they value constructive feedback from their leaders. They are tech-savvy and open to change.

4.       Generation Y is approximately 27 years old and younger. They are like Gen X on speed! When it comes to rules, they want to create their own. Often more loyal to their peers than to the company, they work to “contribute”. They would rather communicate through email, Instant Messaging (IM), blogs, and text messages than on the phone or face-to-face.


The traditionalists have been at work the longest. The reign of the Baby Boomers is just now dwindling. Generation X has long since earned their reputation, and Generation Y is beginning to enter the scene. Before long, Generation Y will begin to dominate the workforce. By the year 2020, Gen Y is predicted to occupy almost half of the working population. Let’s talk about them a little bit more.

Dr. Jordan Kaplan, an Associate Managerial Science Professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York, was spot on when he said, “Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today’s workforce. They’ve grown up questioning their parents, and now they’re questioning their employers. They don’t know how to shut up, which is great, but that’s aggravating to the 50-year-old manager who says, ‘Do it and do it now.’ “


  • Gen Y is always connected. Consequently, the boundaries between work and private lives are a blur. They are very good at adding and blending connections. Privacy is not an issue for them.
  • They want to work for a company that offers a dynamic culture and allows them to blend their work, personal, and social life together. They need flexibility.
  • Having grown up with constant feedback from parents, teachers, and coaches, the “annual review” process does not appeal to them. They expect ongoing feedback, and they will certainly return the favor.
  • A career path that offers variety attracts them. Provide them with a diversity of experiences and they will stay. If not, they will leave.
  • Teamwork is important to them. They like to collaborate and they love being around people. They want to work, but they do not want work to be their life.
  • Working with friends is important. There is little separation between family, friends and work.

We’ve just covered a lot of information! To sum it all up, here are 4 easy points you can remember. Scribble them on your notepad, recite them into your hand recorder, copy and paste them into an email, or put them in your iPhone—whichever you prefer.J

1.       Traditionalists want respect

2.       Baby Boomers want success

3.       Generation X wants autonomy

4.       Generation Y wants validation


Examining the four generations of today’s work population, we find many differences. However, we will be wise to remember the lessons we learned yesterday and strive to understand the generation of today – Generation Y. Then, we will be ready to face a successful tomorrow!