Leading With Generational Differences in Mind


There are four generations currently working simultaneously within workplaces throughout the United States: traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. Each generation has its own habits, customs, values and work ethics. The existence of more than one generation in the workforce brings unique challenges and opportunities for leaders.

Traditionalists include anyone born between the years of 1928 and 1945. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X members were born between 1965 and 1980, and millennials were born between 1981 and 1997. Generation Z includes anyone born between 1998 and 2010, and this generation is just beginning to enter the workforce.

Cuspers, or those born between two generations, exhibit the values and ethics of two generations simultaneously and may serve to bridge the gap between them.

leading with generational differences infographic image

Text: Leading with Generational Differences in Mind

The Different Generations in the Workforce

Traditionalists made up 8 percent of the workforce in 2006, 5 percent of the workforce in 2011 and 4 percent of the workforce in 2015.

Baby boomers made up 44 percent of the workforce in 2006, 38 percent of the workforce in 2011 and 31 percent of the workforce in 2015. They represented the largest percentage of the population in the workforce in both 2006 and 2011.

Generation X made up 33 percent of the workforce in 2006, 32 percent of the workforce in 2011 and 21 percent of the workforce in 2015.

Millennials made up 15 percent of the workforce in 2006, 25 percent of the workforce in 2011 and 45 percent of the workforce in 2015. They represented the largest percentage of the population working in 2015.

Generations vary greatly, with many differentiating factors. These factors can include differences in views and ideas about the world, teaching and learning styles, communication types and preferences, experiences in childhood, experiences later in life and expectation levels.

Other Characteristics of Each Generation

Traditionalists grew up during the financial hardships of the Great Depression, making them risk averse and frugal spenders. They rely on cash rather than credit cards and are more focused on their financial legacy. Traditionalists are loyal to their employers.

Baby boomers are more credit-savvy and invest in real estate and the stock market. They are also less likely to retire at 60 or 65. They prefer to continue working either to restore their retirement nest eggs or simply as a lifestyle choice. Baby boomers tend to be workaholics.

Generation X grew up to become highly independent and cynical. This generation’s grasp of money is split between cash handling and checkbook balancing. Generation X members are both balanced and skeptical.

Millennials are recognized as the most educated generation, but they are also heavily debt-strapped. They take advantage of living with their parents on their road to gaining financial independence. Millennials are ambitious, entrepreneurial and capable of multitasking.

Challenges Facing the Generations

Varying Levels of Technology Usage

Older generations do not use technology to the same extent as younger generations. Only 6 percent of traditionalists and 30 percent of baby boomers use technology at work. However, 50 percent of Generation X and 75 percent of millennials use technology while they’re working.

A Contrast in Employment Preferences

Millennials are showing an affinity for taking on risk and pursuing entrepreneurship. Approximately 27 percent of millennials are self-employed and 29 percent are entrepreneurs.

According to a survey conducted by Virtuali and, 83 percent of millennials would prefer to work for a company with less hierarchy and fewer levels of management. However, baby boomers are proud of their organizational memory, optimism and willingness to work long hours, which is a stark contrast to the work preferences of millennials.

Generation X employees are less loyal to employers than their parents were. They saw their parents lose their job because of technological advancements and have learned to keep their eyes open for new opportunities.

Millennials Are on Track to Become the Most Educated Generation to Date

Millennials are incredibly well-educated compared to previous generations. Approximately 21 percent of millennial men between the ages of 18 and 33 have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. And 27 percent of millennial women have achieved the same level of educational attainment.

Effectively Leading a Multigenerational Team

The presence of multiple generations in a workforce can cause disagreements, but leaders can employ the following techniques to bridge the gap between generations and utilize each generation’s assets to improve team functionality.

Focus on Areas of Similarities

Even though employees may have contrasting preferences or reasons for working, leaders can strengthen relationships among employees across multiple generations by focusing on areas of similarity to inspire and motivate their teams to drive performance.

Instill a Culture of Teamwork

Understanding and appreciating the perspectives of multiple generations while drawing on individuals’ strengths is the key to developing teamwork. Individuals will more actively contribute within a team environment if they feel valued.

Approximately 75 percent of employers consider teamwork to be the most important aspect of work life. And 86 percent of employees believe that lack of collaboration can be a cause for failure at work.

Encourage Cross-Generational Mentoring

Leaders can empower both senior and junior employees through cross-generational marketing, which encourages employees to mentor and learn from one another by developing the skills, knowledge and tools they need to fulfill their job requirements successfully.

The majority of employees aged 30 and younger understand the importance of receiving feedback for their performance, with 72 percent seeking weekly feedback, 69 percent giving feedback preference over remittance in recognition of their work, and 92 percent agreeing that constructive feedback helps improve their performance.

Read through this infographic to learn more about why recognizing differences and leveraging similarities is essential when leading a multigenerational workforce.

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