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Generational Differences in the Workplace

  1. CanYouTrust Anyone Under 30? Camille Colvin , Lacey Holtzen, Michelle Karns, Cris Meria Image retrieved from
  2. A generation is comprised of people born during the same time period who share social and historical perspectives.
  3. Preview of Points  Outline of Case Study  Workplace Challenges  Baby Boomers  Generation X  GenerationY  Theoretical Basis  An Economist’s Perspective  Takeaways  Points to Ponder  References
  4. CanYouTrust Anyone Under 30? According to Conrad & Poole (2012), generational differences are an emerging workplace conflict.  Three generations dominate the workplace  Baby Boomers  Generation X (Gen X)  Millennials (also called GenY)  Divergent backgrounds exist (family, economics, technology)  Attitudes toward employment differ (expectations, styles of communication, loyalties)
  5. Workplace Challenges To learn how generational differences may impact the workplace, watch Associated Bank NA’s (2013) educational film for businesses, Overcoming the Generational Divide. The film notes perceived differences in the following areas:  Communication (written and verbal)  Conflict management  Satisfaction and morale  Performance and productivity  Professional etiquette and grooming  Hiring and retention
  6. Baby Boomers Born 1946-1964 79,000,000 Americans Image retrieved from
  7. Baby Boomers’ Perspective According to Hahn (2011), Baby Boomers share the following background and characteristics:  Raised during a time of economic prosperity and optimism  Grew up with a clear division of gender roles and low divorce rate  Experienced theVietnam War, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the Civil Rights Movement  Prefer “face-time” at the office  Are comfortable working in hierarchical organizations  Demonstrate a strong sense of self, leadership, and entrepreneurship
  8. Baby Boomers’Values Hahn (2011) notes that Baby Boomers share the following values:  High social involvement  Strong work ethic  Willing to work long hours  Exhibit loyalty and leadership in the workplace  Desire job security  Want to make a difference
  9. Baby Boomers’ Expectations Hahn (2011) indicates that Baby Boomers:  Expect hierarchical organization, pay dues and work way up the ladder  Benefits including paid time off, sabbaticals, family leave, investment planning  Hard work and sacrifice is directly related to success  Health and well-being  Loyalty to and from company
  10. Baby Boomers’ Communication  Need for face-to-face meetings  Value of hierarchy, structure, tradition  Expect life to revolve around work  Like to work in a collaborative team environment  Prefer group decision-making  May feel insulted by constant feedback
  11. Generation X Born 1965-1976 49,000,000 Americans Image retrieved from
  12. Generation X’s Perspective According to Hahn (2011), Gen X members share the following background and characteristics:  Raised during a time of economic downsizing and uncertainty  Grew up as latch key kids with increasing divorce rates and dynamic gender roles  Experienced downsizing economy, the ColdWar, theThree Mile Island disaster, and President Nixon’s resignation  Accustomed to change and make good change agents since they readily adapt to their environments
  13. Generation X’sValues Hahn (2011) indicates that Gen X members share values which include:  Work life balance, including flexible work schedules  Technical acumen supported by continuous learning and skill development  Independence and freedom, including the ability to rebel  Precedence given to accomplishments over an 8 hour work day  Caution and risk aversion  Loyalty to employer not perceived as a value
  14. Generation X’s Expectations Hahn (2011) reports that members of Gen X have workplace expectations that include the following:  Each job will be just a step up the ladder, not an identity  Businesses and people will do what is best for themselves  Freedom will be given to self-direct  Feedback and recognition will be provided  Untrustworthy employers and peers will create an environment that lacks job security
  15. Generation X’s Communication According to Hahn (2011), Gen X members have the following communication preferences and perceptions:  Like to receive feedback  Need to question authority  Think that everything is negotiable  Display a low desire for social involvement
  16. Millennials (GenerationY) Born 1977-1997 73,500,000 Americans Image courtesy of
  17. Millennial Perspective According to Hahn (2011), Millennials share the following background and characteristics:  Raised in a self-centric environment with disposable income and security  Experienced the Oklahoma Bombing, 9/11, and the proliferation of technology  Had older parents with a high divorce rate  Known as multi-taskers with a strong focus on technology & education
  18. MillennialValues According to Hahn (2011), Millennials share values that include:  Strong social involvement with an emphasis on social networking  Personal growth  Devotion to the greater good  Work life balance  Informal organizational structures and dress codes  Loyalty to themselves and to community
  19. According to Hahn (2011) Millennials have the following expectations:  Career should be purposeful, fulfilling, and balanced with personal life  Jobs and careers will change many times  The ability to make changes in organizations and immediately work on top projects with top officials should be an entitlement  Wellness benefits, including a flexible work schedule, telecommuting, and work-share options should be standard Millennial Expectations
  20. Hahn (2011) indicates that Millennials:  Prefer collaboration over hierarchy  Seek positive reinforcement  Integrate technology into workplace communication and rely on it for social connectivity  Expect to share their ideas, be given important projects, and have high visibility Millennial Communication
  21. Theoretical Basis Communication as Relationality Celeste M. Condit Image courtesy of communication-skill.jpg
  22. Communication as Relationality According to Condit (2006):  People communicate to maintain relationships  Communication changes those relating to each other  Communication is understood through the lens of personal perspectives with a purpose related to a specific  Time  Place  Social or cultural context
  23. Communication as Relationality Condit (2006) notes:  Society isolates, aggregates, and labels groups like generations for convenience  People identify more intensely with groups they are closer to physically or socially  Similarity and difference both impact relationships  Communication apprehension may occur between groups due to perceived differences in experience, power, or credibility
  24. An Economist’s Perspective Millennials and the World of Work: An Economist’s Perspective Image retrieved from boilerplate/public/economy.jpg
  25. An Economist’s Perspective Levenson (2010) makes the following assertions regarding generational differences in the workplace:  Perception of differences does not prove actual differences exist  “Each generation goes through a natural life cycle evolution in their attitudes toward and decisions about work,” so stage of life should be considered (p. 258)  No data exists to compare decisions of previous generations to those of Millinnials during similar stages of the life cycle
  26. An Economist’s Perspective According to Levenson (2010), the following factors should be considered:  Social norms change slowly, and are likely unrelated to the emergence of a new generation  “Quite different stereotypes about the same generation at different points in time were put forth as part of the conventional wisdom,” so perceptions of Millennials are likely to change (p. 260)  Economic and environmental factors contribute to Millennials’ attitudes and behavior and may impact how they are perceived
  27. Takeaways Key findings supported by research Image retrieved from:
  28. Key Findings  Differences between generations are perceived in the workplace  Baby Boomers live to work, but Gen X and Millennials work to live  Baby Boomers believe people should do what they are told, but Gen X and Millennials expect to be listened to and valued  Perceived differences may cause divisions  Baby Boomers feel respect must be earned  Both Gen X and Millennials feel they are entitled to respect and the ability to question authority
  29. Key Findings  Features believed to differ between generations include:  Influences  Environment  Motivations  Expectations  Communication styles  Backgrounds  Work habits  Use of technology Note: For a humorous take on perceived generational differences in the workplace, watch The O’Shea Report.
  30. Key Findings  Employers can improve communication and work environments by focusing on:  Ethics  Wellness benefits  Communication  Collaboration  Flexible structure  Succession planning  Perceived differences may not be actual differences
  31. Points to Ponder Please consider and respond to the following questions. Image of Rodin’s Thinking Man courtesy of
  32. Points to Ponder  Based on the dates cited, which generation (Baby Boomer, Gen X, or GenY) do you belong to?  Which values associated with your generation do you identify with most closely? Which values do you identify with least?  What are two misconceptions you had or have about another generation?  After learning more about this concept and watching the videos, how can you change those misconceptions?
  33. References Conrad, C. & Poole, M.S. (2012). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy, 7th ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Condit, C. (2006). Communication as relationality. In G. Shepherd, J. St. John, & T. Striphas (Eds.), Communication as perspectives on theory (pp. 3-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Gibson, J., Greenwood, R., & Murphy, E. (2009). Generational differences in the workplace: Personal values, behaviors, and popular beliefs. Journal of Diversity Management, 4(3). Hahn, J. A. (2011). Managing multiple generations: Scenarios from the workplace. Nursing Forum 46(3), 119- 127. Associated Bank, NA. (2013). Overcoming the generational divide. Retrieved from Generational-Divide Levenson, A. R. (2010). Millennials and the world of work: An economist’s perspective. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 257-264. doi: 10.1007/s10869-010-9170-9 The O’Shea Report (2011). The O’Shea Report: Generations at work. Retrieved from