How to Handle 5 Generations in the Workplace

How to Handle 5 Generations in the Workplace

I’ve been working on – and writing about – inter-generational issues in the workplace since I published my book, Digital Influence for Baby Boomers: Why You Should Care and Yes, You Can Do this! in 2016.

The topic has gotten so big that there was an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled The Young and The Restless, about “generational consultants” helping organizations recruit Millennial and Gen Z employees. Someone at LinkedIn read the article and wrote about it in a post, which was trending on LinkedIn the week before the NYTimes article was printed!

Why the sudden interest in generations in the workforce?

Not only are there five generations in the workplace now – Millennials comprise the largest generation in the labor force since 2016, when they surpassed the number of Gen X’ers and now comprise 56% of the workforce – as of 2018, that was 15% more of the labor force than Baby Boomers.

Definitions of the Generations

I’ll take a step back to ensure we’re all on the same page when it comes to who falls into each generation. These dates – again, from the Pew Research Center – delineates the various generations, based on birth dates. I’ve provided their ages, so it’s easier to think about who they are:

  • Silent or Greatest Generation: born 1945 or earlier (75+ years old)
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946 – 1964 (56 to 74 years old)
  • Gen X’ers: born 1965 – 1980 (40 to 55 years old)
  • Millennials: born 1981 – 1996 (24 to 39 years old)
  • Gen Z: born after 1996 (up to 23 years old)

This shows how it’s possible for there to be all five generations in the current workforce – all of whom grew up in very different eras in the U.S., from economic stability or growth to technological sophistication.

Issues for the Younger Generations

There are a host of issues facing younger workers today which are often not mentioned when talking about employees and their attitudes and work habits. Jazmine Hughes, who wrote the NYTimes article, astutely points out the economic issues facing many younger workers. “The average American millennial has a net worth of less than $8,000, and 17% of Gen Z’ers live below the poverty line. In 2018, people between the ages of 19 and 29 had more than $1 trillion in debt, most of it from student loans.”

While “hot cities” such as Seattle and San Francisco recruit younger workers with tech talents, for example, issues of homelessness and affordable housing lurk just outside the door. In 2017, a survey in San Francisco uncovered the sad fact that 13% of respondents were employed part-time or full-time.

What’s the best way to handle 5 generations at work?

The typical Human Resources approach to handling these multiple generations at work has been piecemeal, ranging from management seminars to team meetings about it to bonding events, such as employee retreats and team-building exercises. While these may be fun to do and help to create closer relationships among teams, they don’t address the underlying issue that everyone has, working together.

The best way to handle all these generations at work is to acknowledge that everyone is human, and the science of how people think, feel, and react to one another is one key way to start. I talk about this in my webinar, Closing the Generational and Digital Divide. It takes about 30 min. to listen to it – I’d love to hear what you think about the science behind behaviors and decision-making at work!

If you’re having these issues in your workplace, let’s talk. Give me a call or email me!


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