When Generations Are Clashing

“Wendy knows how to get experienced and emerging museum professionals to work successfully and happily together.”

Zahava D. Doering
Senior Social Scientist
Smithsonian Institution
Editor Curator: The Museum Journal

For two generations, it has been and still is work/life balance. For three other generations, and especially with the impact of Covid, it is life/work balance. As the Generation Xers and Millennials takeover top management, workplace structures are likely to change.

Five generations in the workplace

It is a phenomenon of our times that many organizations find themselves with five generations in their workplace. Look around your own.

  • Some of your board members and senior advisers may be Traditionalist/Silent generation (1925 – 1946)
  • Many of the Boomer generation are close to retirement, if not already retired (1946 – 1964)
  • Frequently your mid-level managers and professional staff are the Xer generation (1964 – 1981)
  • Many of your junior professional staff and some of your entry-level staff are the Millennial generation and make up the largest portion of the workforce (1982 – 1995) and
  • The newest entrants into the workforce are generation Z (1995 –2015)

Five perspectives on work

Each generation's motivations, priorities, expectations, and goals differ from the others – and each generation questions the expectations, priorities, and motivations of the others! Individuals within a generation may act in ways and have skills that are not in sync with how the generation is perceived. For example, Boomers are not tech-savvy, and yet many Boomers are tech-savvy. Generational stereotypes abound. The one way to find out what an employee wants from his/her job and/or the company or his/her career goal is to ask.

Traditionalists and Boomers are usually viewed as being motivated by work/life balance, whereas Xers,  Millennials, and Generation Z are most often viewed as motivated by life/work balance. What does that mean for your workplace?

Traditionalists in the workplace are now predominantly focused on part-time work or volunteer work. They aspired to the corner office.
Boomers have sought stellar careers and are also moving toward part-time or volunteer work. They, too, aspired the corner office.
Xers have changed jobs more frequently than previous generations and built portable careers. They have embraced telecommuting.
Millennials are likely to have many careers.
Zers are likely to want independence. The hybrid work environment appeals to them. They are totally tech and app savvy.

The generations are seen to have different preferences in communication styles. Individuals within a generation may or may not fit the generalization.

Traditionalists prefer in-person communication as well as written letters and reports.
prefer to talk in person or on the phone; they tend to run frequent and long meetings.

Xers prefer email to meetings – especially short and to-the-point emails.
Millennials prefer to text, want people to listen to them, and have a seat at the table.
Zers will use technology to communicate for individual and team communications; they like more in-person communications than the millennials.

Building a productive work environment

  • Value the differences among your employees
  • Create cross-generational teams
  • Support and reinforce collaboration
  • Encourage employees to share their knowledge
  • Build management skills when a younger staff member manages older staff
  • Create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring including reverse mentoring
  • Hire for diversity of experience, skills, and perspectives
  • Align around your organization’s vision, mission, and values

Getting help

When you need help to build a productive work environment, call me. Through consultations, coaching, training, facilitations, and presentations, I help you get the five generations to work effectivelytogether and improve their contributions.

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"That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another."
– Adlai Stevenson
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