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Understanding Your Co-worker From A Different Generation

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Understanding Your Co-worker From A Different Generation

How diverse is your workplace? Do you find it difficult to relate to a person from an older or younger generation? As people retire later in life, it’s not uncommon for businesses to employ multiple generations of workers. The key to understanding co-workers from a different generation is simple. You must first identify that each generation has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on life experiences. To get along harmoniously, companies will need to create a corporate culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion for its multigenerational work force.

To aid in understanding of what makes each generation tick, it’s helpful to look at this study published by EY (formerly Ernst & Young), It polled more than 1200 professionals across all generations and industries about their perceived strengths and weaknesses of workers from different generations.

Baby Boomers (Ages 51-70)

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Baby Boomers grew up in a time where educational opportunities were available to them that their parents never dreamed of. Boomers are a competitive bunch. With the surge of children born in this era, they had to work hard to fight for jobs. They worked hard to get where they are today. Baby Boomers typically feel that younger, less-experienced workers should have to “pay their dues” to get a good job with a corner office.

Baby Boomer Main Characteristics:

  • Most productive at the office, verses being at home.
  • Work best with access to natural light.
  • Prefer ergonomic office furniture to standard seating.
  • Less motivated by money, more motivation comes with a work title and sense of purpose.
  • Strive to accomplish work successes, very hard working.
  • Can be critical of other generation’s commitment to the workplace.
  • Look for businesses with good retirement or health care coverage.

According to the study and Business Insider, Baby Boomers:


Baby Boomers ranked the highest when it comes to being a productive part of their organizations (69% of respondents agree), “hardworking” (73% of respondents agree), a “team player” (56% of respondents agree), and mentoring others (55%).


On the other hand, Boomers ranked the lowest when it comes to being adaptable (10%) and collaborative.

Gen Xers (Ages 34-50)

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Generation X kids were born into families with two working parents or perhaps divorced parents. This generation is very independent. Generation X kids had easy access to education opportunities making them the most well educated generation so far. Gen X-ers prefer to work independently and abhor micro-management. This group strives to find a work/life balance, unlike their overly competitive parents from the Baby Boomer generation. Those from this generation are typically entrepreneurial and have adapted well to technology as it has changed and evolved.

Generation X Main Characteristics:

  • Most productive at the office, verses being at home.
  • Wellness is a priority at work.
  • Motivated by money.
  • Struggle with work-life balance.
  • Work well independently.
  • Low face time managers, does not give unwarranted praise.
  • Skeptics, questions everything.
  • Appreciate businesses that allow for a flexible schedule.

According to the study and Business Insider, Generation X:


Most of the respondents in the study (70%) believed that Gen X are the most effective managers compared to managers from the Boomer (25%) or Gen Y (5%) generation. Members of Gen X scored the highest when it comes to being a “revenue generator” (58% of respondents agree), possessing traits of “adaptability” (49% of respondents agree), “problem-solving” (57% of respondents agree) and “collaboration” (53% of respondents agree).


Gen X-ers scored the lowest compared to other generations when it comes to displaying executive presence (28%) and being cost effective (34%).

Millennials (Ages 18-33)

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The newest generation to join the workforce is Generation Y. This group comes from an era of technology. They are completely comfortable with technology because it’s been woven into their lives from birth. This group is also known for their tolerance of others, stemming from their comfort level with merged families and diversity. Generation Y is a highly sociable group that uses social media, cell phones, and the Internet to keep in touch with their friends, families and colleagues. They enjoy collaboration and wants to feel like a valued member of the organization they work for.

Millennials Main Characteristics:

  • Do well working from home but also prefer social interaction.
  • Wellness is a priority at work.
  • Motivated by money.
  • Can easily experience burnout.
  • Not afraid to voice their opinions.
  • Looking for constant reassurance.
  • Need to feel supported and valued by leadership.

According to the study and Business Insider, Millennials:


Millenials are believed to be the most tech-savvy (78% of respondents agree) who know how to use social media to leverage opportunities (70% of respondents agree). These younger workers are also regarded as being the most “enthusiastic” (68% of respondents agree) about their jobs.


Millenials scored the lowest on being “hardworking” (39%) and “a productive part of my organization” (58%).

Once you begin to understand the values represented by your co-worker from a different generation, you’ll better accept them as an individual and part of your team. Friction may be inevitable, but you can help ease the tension by considering how your coworkers’ generation may be impacting their perspective and approach.

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