Leveraging generational divide in the workplace1

1. Introduction

A generation is defined as a large group of persons who were born around the same time period and also share common significant life events and trends (CIPM Study Pack 2018).2

There are two prominent views on the concept of a generation. The first view postulated by Zemke et al (2000) states that although individuals in the same generation might be diverse they, however, share the same thoughts, values and behaviors because they have experienced similar events.3 The second theory is that although there might be disparities throughout a workers' life cycle, ultimately, employees may be generic in what they want from their jobs, and trying to divide the employees by generations may be misguided (Jorgensen et al 2003).4

Generational diversity in the workplace is growing as we have baby boomers with many years of experience relative to the centennials that are connected in the workforce. The current business environment might be the first time five different generations are working side by side toward achieving shared economic and commercial goals. Every generation has distinct characteristics, expectations and communication styles. A manager challenge will have to adopt a management strategy that allow employers harness the strength of the age diverse workforce to compete effectively in the marketplace.

Employers should create a cohesive workforce, where workers are encouraged to view generation differences as capable of adding value to the organization. Efforts should be made in understanding the needs and expectations of their age diverse workforce. Learning what motivates the various generation divides and their tremendous potential is key to being able to leverage their potentials. Presently, the five generations in the workforce are Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z, (i.e. Veterans: People born between 1922 and 1944, Baby Boomers: People born between 1945 and 1963, Generation X: People born between 1964 and 1979, Generation Y: People born between 1980 and 2000, Generation Z: People born from 2001).5  An understanding of the differences among the generations unique talents can help organizations better explore the needs and expectations of their age-diverse workforce. If Human Resource Managers can learn the motivations, potentials and the generation's footprints for each divide they will be able to leverage these talents. This article will look into the various characteristics of the different generation divide and how they can be utilized to generate competitive advantages for organisations.

2. Characteristics of the various generational divide and how they can be engaged

The following are the characteristics expected from the different generations (CIPM Study Pack 2018):6

A. Veterans

Also known as the traditionalist. The people in this generation were born from the year 1922 and 1944. The major life event that occurred during this period was the Second World War. The developmental words they grew up with are 'sacrifice', 'duty', 'hard work', 'consider the common good' etc. They are fiercely loyal and committed to a cause or organization. They are generally not open to a free environment as they prefer structure and where there is a clear chain of command. If they happen to be the leader, they expect total loyalty, the type of loyalty they gave when they were subordinates. They are not open to taking risks and are very conservative in their approach.

The following approaches suggest how best to engage this generation:

  • Be patient but firm with them
  • Set clearly defined goals on their jobs
  • They will require training in building interpersonal relationship skills as they are very conservative
  • Given that they are sticklers for process, change can be difficult for them, and thus support should be given to them to enable them be more open to change
  • Acknowledging and exploiting their experience by making them mentors to younger employees
  • Giving them information in a timely manner

B. Baby Boomers

This generation were born in droves after the Second World War. They were born between 1945 and 1963. They are also known as the boomers. This generation was born into a growing economy and wanted to get ahead in life. Women were beginning to get into the workforce in larger numbers compared to their traditional parents. They are considered to be workaholics and value collaboration. The technology of their era was the television. They valued relationships and believed they could accomplish anything.

They can be engaged by doing the following:

  • Their work ethics should be encouraged by implementing a sustainable recognition scheme
  • There work roles should not be monotonous. Provide them with challenging work duties that align with the goals of the organization
  • They are big on relationships and collaboration so make your work environment open and encourage working with teams
  • Encourage them to participate in the decision making process. It rewards their sense of loyalty
  • Clearly defined career paths in the organization should be communicated

C. Generation X

The generation also known as 'baby busters', were born from the year 1964-1979. Computers are the major technology of this era. This generation does not believe that work should define their lives, their work perception is work to live. This generation is very self-reliant and not impressed with authority because they grew up taking care of themselves. They, however, want feedback for work done and need to be empowered to get job done. They are brutally honest when they communicate, and they do not necessarily build relationships easily. They have a sense of loyalty to their families and friends over their employers and take work-life balance seriously.

Generation X talents can be leveraged through the following ways:

  • Develop work-family friendly policies that allows them pursue other interests
  • Give them constructive feedback
  • The work environment should promote and reward creativity
  • Create a work environment where communication is open and effective
  • Learning and development opportunities should be created and supportive of their professional growth

D. Generation Y

This generation was born between the 1980 and 2000. They are also known as the 'millennials. The technology of this era is the internet. They are more dedicated to their careers than the companies they work for. They believe that work should be measured by output and not by the number of hours spent on the job. They value flexibility, autonomy and creativity in the workplace. They are more accommodating to a diverse workforce than the previous generations. They are also goal oriented and are hungry for information.

The following ways can be used to manage Millennials:

  • Try involving and empowering them to make contributions to the workplace
  • Build an environment that encourages teamwork
  • Offer them compensation and benefit packages that meet their individual needs
  • Expose them to developmental trainings
  • Design and communicate a career path that will guide them
  • A flexible work schedule should be encouraged

E. Generation Z

The 'centennials' as they are also called, were born from the year 2001. They are still very young and still trying to figure out the workspace. They are showing indications to be very self- aware, independent, goal-oriented and innovative.

They are a largely educated generation, a good number of them will graduate from school much earlier than their predecessors including the millennials. The technology of their time is the social media. They are eager to learn beyond the classrooms and are engaged in learning from other online sources. They are even more accepting of diversity than the millennials and are also eco-conscious. They are the smart-phones generation, so managers may have to look for ways to keep them from getting distracted.

The following are ways the centennials can be engaged in the workplace:

  • A work friendly environment where their opinions are heard is encouraged
  • Recognize and reward them appropriately
  • Career guidance will be very helpful to them
  • Opportunities to learn extensively should be encouraged.

Today's workforce belong to different generational divide with various characteristics, needs and motivation, all of which should be considered differently in order to get the best performances from them.


1. Temitope Fadare, Personal Assistant to the Managing Partner, SPA Ajibade & Co., Lagos, NIGERIA.

2. CIPM (2018). "Managing Generation Divide" in Advance Human Resource Management I. 3rd ed. Lagos, pp 122-128.

3. Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (1999). "Generations at work: Managing the clash of veterans, boomers, Xers, and nexters in your workplace" New York,1999. AMACOM.

4. Jorgenson, B. (2003). "Baby boomers, generation X and generation Y: Policy implications for defence forces in the modern era". Foresight, 5, pp 41 - 49.

5. "Managing Generation Divide" in Advance Human Resource Management, (2018), 3rd Ed. Lagos, pp. 122-128.

6. Ibid., pp.124-126.  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.