Al’s Column: Managing multiple generations in the workplace

Home Columns Al's Column Al's Column: Managing multiple generations in the workplace

June 26: Volume 32, Issue 1
By Matt Beaudreau

(Second of two parts)

Currently, five generations make up our society. Each of those five generations has an active role in the marketplace. Depending on the specific workplace, the workforce includes four to five generations.

Following are the birth years for each generation:

  • Gen Z: born after 1996
  • Millennials (Gen Y): born 1977 to 1995
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1976
  • Baby boomers: born 1946 to 1964
  • Traditionalists: born 1945 and before

Generation birth years vary by geography, and you’ll see varying characteristics in different parts of the world. The big events that affect a generation can be dramatically different across the globe or at least regionalized or national in scope, and trends can hit at different times. For example, the end of the millennial generation and the start of Gen Z in the U.S. are closely tied to Sept. 11, 2001. (That day marks the No. 1 generation-defining moment for millennials. Members of Gen Z cannot process the significance of 9/11. It’s always been a part of history for them.) Also, being a millennial in Athens, Greece, with its current unemployment situation, can lead to different expectations and behaviors than being a millennial in Austin, Texas.

Why are millennials getting so much attention? In the last two years, this group has become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Millennials are also the fastest-growing generation of customers in the marketplace, bringing the greatest lifetime value. Even more important, millennials exhibit different attitudes toward employment, sales and marketing, which are challenging many conventional strategies.

Coming up right behind the millennials are Gen Z. Currently aged 20 and under, this group is poised to change everything. Gen Zers tend to be very entrepreneurial and innovative, and they’re very hard working. They have also paid close attention to what the millennials went through.

But let’s not overlook Gen X. As a manager, you need to understand a couple of things about this group. They are a skeptical generation. They believe you, but they need to see the proof. They are an “action-speaks-louder-than-words” generation. They want to see the data, which is great because it makes them great leaders and managers.

The other thing about Gen Xers is they are the most loyal generation. However, they are loyal to individuals as opposed to organizations. You’re most likely to lose them as an individual to another organization if something they’re tied to in your organization goes somewhere else.

And don’t forget about the traditionalists. They tend to have a very strong military connection. Many of them grew up during the Great Depression, so they are the generation that’s most comfortable with delayed gratification.

Bottom line: Not everybody fits in a box. As a business owner, you need to understand how to put these generational strengths together—rather than looking at them as hindrance—and look at it as an opportunity here to create the best communication you’ve ever had in your entire career. It’s about your willingness to adapt that’s going to make you succeed. We’ve got this new generation of buyers that are coming for us, so it’s important to realize their buying and communication habits are different. Strategies and tactics that worked five years ago can completely fail with younger generations—groups that have an increasingly stronger impact and determinant role in your business or organization.


Matt Beaudreau is a certified keynote speaker at The Center for Generational Kinetics, headquartered in Austin, Texas. He is a millennial who has a reputation as a thought leader amongst his generation.





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