Running head: GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 1
Generational Differences in the Workplace
Edward J Draper
Siena Heights University
Reading and Writing II
ENG 102 - DO
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 2
Generational Differences in the Workplace
When a new employee shows up for work, in what context do you find your initial
reaction, excitement or animosity? What do you think causes us to feel this way? We
commonly make assumptions about a person before we ever meet them. From where does this
stereotypical reaction initiate? It comes from our previous experiences. Previous experiences
mold our reaction to the new ones we encounter and our interpersonal interactions are no
different; nonetheless, to understand the reason for this statement we must look at the topic more
When we meet someone, we pass judgment based on our first impression; how is this
person dressed, how does this person carry him- or herself, how old is this person? We answer
these questions, and many more, subconsciously in mere seconds; this response is the result of
conditioning. We use this judgment to determine how we will respond to them. There is no
question as to the differences in personality between individuals; however, the real questions are;
are the individual’s traits affected by the way and time in which they were raised, and what
challenges do these generational differences bring to the workplace?
We all have preconceived notions when it comes to certain topics. Whether it be as
simple as the proper color of a fire truck or more complex, such as the personality traits of
individuals, based on something over which they have no control. You might say that the latter
of the two is stereotyping and it probably is; however, not all stereotyping is bad. If used with an
open-mind, it is safe to use and will most often offer a great deal of insight.
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Do these preconceived notions hold merit when it comes to looking at the generations?
Commonly, we view that individuals who belong to earlier generations, the Traditionalists and
the Baby Boomers, are utilitarian or collectivistic when it comes to societal ideology (Gibson,
Greenwood, & Murphy, 2009), while those whom fell into generation X, Y, and Z have trended
to be increasingly self-centered and individualistic in a linear fashion (Twenge & Campbell,
2008). We see these earlier generations as hard workers and the later to focus less-and-less on
work and more on their free time in order of succession.
How do we validate these assumptions? In order to do this, we need to look at the facts
related to each of the generations. These facts provide evidence to support the differences
between each of the generations and subsequently, how these differences affect the workplace.
For the purposes of this paper, we will look at the generations most commonly found in the
workplace today: the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y, as there are progressively
fewer Traditionalists in the workforce and not enough of the Generation Z to have enough data to
study (Hernaus & Poloski Vookic, 2014).
A Look at the Generations
Baby Boomer Generation
Individuals belonging to the Baby Boomer Generation were born between 1946 and 1964
(Haynes, 2011). In an article discussing generational differences, Haynes (2011) suggests that
they are notorious for their strong work ethic and prefer to work in groups. They desire to aid in
the decision-making process and prefer the personal touch, which means that communication
needs to happen face-to-face. The Baby Boomers are less likely to take offense to criticism than
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 4
the later generations as they tend to be less narcissistic (Twenge & Campbell, 2008). They also
prefer work which is more identifiable with a visible outcome (Hernaus & Poloski Vokic, 2014).
These traits have their benefits. Working in groups will tend to foster accountability.
When an individual has others watching over their effort and participation, they are more apt to
construct their best production; furthermore, when they aid in the decision of how an assignment
will be completed, they hold a stake in the process nestled in ownership. This ownership will
cause employee buy-in, ultimately setting the sails for a strong company culture. The Baby
Boomers often would offer a company loyalty in a moral trade for security of a job.
Individuals belonging to Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980 (Haynes,
2011). Haynes (2011) further suggests that these individuals are much more technologically
perceptive, that they see work from a contractual point-of-view, and are much more self-reliant.
They are abstract when it comes to authority; they prefer to do things their own way and question
this authority if they see a different way to do the task. This is likely caused by the shift in
principle of home- versus work-life of their parents. During this generation, the transition from
one-income households to both parents commonly generating income has pushed the children to
take on more responsibility at a younger age. Generation X’ers also require immediate feedback
from the leadership (Haynes, 2011). They need praise when something is completed
satisfactorily to help them see that their progress is in the right direction.
The benefit of this is that it can open the lines of communication not only with the
management, but also with their peers, as often, if the Generation X’er does not receive the
feedback they need, they will seek it out. The fact that they are also proficient with technology is
beneficial to the workplace, as more-and-more companies are trending toward the use of
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 5
computers and going paperless. This group watched the transition to personal computers and
formation of the internet. This gives them the ability to empathize with the parties in both other
cohorts. The shift of value toward free/family time over a work focus is good for the employee’s
mental health, but if not balanced appropriately, not necessarily favorable for the company’s
productivity. As Gibson, Greenwood, & Murphy (2009) point out, generation X’ers hold loyalty
and ambition further down the list of instrumental values than the Baby Boomers.
Individuals belonging to Generation Y were born between 1981 and 2000 (Haynes,
2011). In the section of the article that discusses Generation Y, Haynes (2011) suggests that
these individuals see work as a means to an end; therefore, they effectively balance work and
life. They have high expectations of work. They are goal orientated and have a high aptitude for
multi-tasking. Commonly they are good with technology and are happiest when they are able to
be connected 24/7 with social media. This group has always had the internet available to them
and is much more socially and culturally aware on a global level (Gibson, Greenwood, &
The balance of work and home life is truly good for individuals whom work in high-
stress careers. A study performed in the Amol Industrial Park in Mazadaran Province (Matin,
Razavi, & Emamgholizadeh, 2014), proved that productivity was directly associated with the
management of stress. Being task oriented, the Generation Y cohort will be goal-setters, who
pay closer attention to administrative details. The cultural awareness, if used properly, has quite
a bit of benefit as well. If the Generation Y employee has the base knowledge of cultural norms,
it will be one less thing she or he has learn when entering the organization; they are less likely to
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 6
misunderstand reactions from coworkers in a culturally diverse atmosphere and be better at
communicating with them in the first place.
Locus of Control
When evaluating the differences between the generations, one common point of
contention is the generation’s view of Locus of Control (Twenge & Campbell, 2008), which is
their perception on whom it is that controls their fate and destiny. This ideology will set the
expectation they hold for their leadership, their coworkers, as well as their role within the
workplace. It will directly affect the worker’s attitude and how he or she sees the distribution of-
and method used for the workload.
Just as the trend for work- versus home-life has progressively shifted to be more liberal,
so has the Locus of Control. The younger generations believe it is more external. Meaning that
they do not have control over their fate, that the work should be shared equally between each
other, and that the leader is solely responsible for the policies, procedures, and vision of the
organization. Though a Baby Boomer still prefers group-work, they perceive the distribution of
the effort, responsibility for failures, and even their relationship with their coworkers quite
differently than the members of Generation Y cohort. The Baby Boomers may take more
personal responsibility than that of Generation Y, the individuals belonging to Generation X are
more self-reliant with the workload, however still believe they are equals amongst the rest of the
groups when it comes to responsibility (Twenge & Campbell, 2008).
Communication is frequently to blame for many of our problems. Whether we said
something that we should not have, there was noise that skewed our perception, or if we plain
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 7
misunderstood the message sent, we often blame it on a simple misunderstanding; however, have
we considered that communication is affected by generational differences? We need to consider
that there are commonalities that each generation has when it comes to communication, such as
specific jargon or idioms only understood by a specific group and that age may play a role in
how an individual chooses to communicate.
One study showed that younger generations find older generations to be non-
accommodating (McCann, Dailey, Giles, & Ota, 2005); they complain and do not listen; and
furthermore, actually revealed that the younger generation were more apt to communicate with
the older generations if they had a good experience previously with someone from that
generation. This same study showed that, during conversation, the age of their conversational
partner changed how they communicated and beyond that a younger generation’s perception of
the older generation’s vitality and benevolence affect how they communicated with them
(McCann, et. al., 2005).
The significant stereotype that causes the most strife between the generations is the idea
that Generation Y has a sense of entitlement. A study on the entitlement mentality of Generation
Y was performed and it confirmed that, though they have strong attributes, they also feel entitled
(Alexander & Sysko, 2012). The same study suggests that this mentality is a result of “parental
hovering”, “trophies for all”, and “just showing up to class I get a B” phenomenon (Alexander &
Sysko, 2012). Furthermore, when these individuals were brought into the workplace, they were
given organizational accommodations while their managers, whom are Baby Boomers and
Generation X’ers, we simply dropped in and told to sink or swim.
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 8
It simply shows the power of perception. The individuals of Generation Y do not know
anything different. It was cultivated into them by the cultural norms of the time when they were
most impressionable. Parents these days do hover over their children. Think about it, when
most of us were little, we left the house to play outside in the morning; we returned when the
streetlights came on. In today’s society, this is no longer acceptable; life is just not as simple as
it was 10 or 15 years ago. Unfortunately, the big city concerns have moved their way to the
The “trophies for all” and the “show up for a B” mentality I believe to be one of the
biggest contributors to the problem (Alexander & Sysko, 2012). Our children are taught from a
young age, that you get the prize, by simply showing up. That no effort needs to be put in,
because everyone is treated equally. The problem with this is that it sets our young up to believe
that there is no benefit to putting in your best effort. It is the root of why Generation Y feels they
deserve the promotions and pay raises without putting in effort and this is why the other
generations see them as listless and apathetic.
The frustration with organizational accommodations, so long as they are not following
the “trophies for all” ideology, I do not see as a problem. We as a society tend to guard our own
self-esteem and inadequacies by putting down our peers. In the medical field, we follow a “see
one, do one, teach one” method, in an attempt to foster growth in our profession. It can be tough
when egos get in the way; however, we need to cast them aside and make growth in our
organization easier for the next person we train.
Unemployment by Generation
Baby Boomers have a different perspective on loyalty compared to that of the later
generations. It was not unheard of for a person from an earlier generation to stay their full a 40-
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 9
year career with one organization (Calo, 2007). This fact seems to continue to hold true, as the
Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the typical unemployment rate for a member of this
generation over the last year was 3.9 percent (Unemployment rates by age, sex, and marital
status, seasonally adjusted, 2015). In comparison, Generation X has a an even higher
unemployment rate at 4.51, which is higher than that found in the Baby Boomer group
(Unemployment rates by age, sex, and marital status, seasonally adjusted, 2015). Furthermore,
the Generation Y group is significantly worse with an unemployment rate of 7.74 percent
(Unemployment rates by age, sex, and marital status, seasonally adjusted, 2015).
These statistics show a trend which mirrors that associated with the workplace loyalty
and value the generations put in being part of the workforce. These values, might explain why,
in the same time period, the generations each hold different unemployment percentages. I see
this as another example of the lack of effort by the youngest generation. These individuals do
not value employment as much as the older generations; therefore, they do not put as much effort
in to securing or maintaining consistent employment. The idea that these individuals have a
higher sense of self-worth, which leads to a sense of entitlement, might make these individuals
form Generation Y believe they are above certain jobs, where they would rather not work at all
than to “stoop” to the level of social status that should perform this work.
What considerations do the leadership have from their perspective? Are there
modifications they can make to work with the challenges and preferences associated with
generational differences? Each generation prefers to be led in a specific way. Though
Generation X’ers commonly prefer the top-down approach to leadership, Baby Boomers and
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 10
Generation Y flourish in an environment that allows empowerment and innovation and these
individuals will soon make up more than 85% of the workforce in the near future (Andert, 2011)
Could a leader or manager use the traits that are associated with each generation to focus
in on future employees to build an elite workgroup? Andert (2011) suggests in her article that
will do well if they consider the cultural differences to expand positive relationships between
workers. When these workers have a positive relationship, it will promote collaboration. With a
strong base of open communication and collaboration, the leader could create work groups
consisting of individuals of different personalities, as well as generations, who could work off of
their broad experiences and areas where they excel to explore opportunities for the company.
Another concern for the leadership is keeping the employees involved and engaged. Just
as an Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs relates an individual’s working conditions to their need for
safety (Wilson & Madsen, 2008), which is a lower level of need, the employees also need to be
given the chance to be creative and allowed to solve problems, which fall under the highest level
of needs, self-actualization. Failure to fulfill this need will cause an employee to “rust-out”
(Twenge & Campbell, 2008); contrary to burning-out, where an individual is over-stressed and
over-worked, rust-out comes from an individual being unchallenged and forced to refrain from
creativity. As said in Philippians 4:8, “An Idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground”.
The management could also use these generational commonalities to hone his or her
effectiveness with communication as each of these groups expect and respond better to their
needs. A leader should take these preferences into consideration when he or she is
communicating or disseminating information. Whether it be the leader’s delivery method during
a discussion, or the method in which he or she chooses to ensure that all of the employees
receive a memo, the mix of the workgroup will determine which is most appropriate. The earlier
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 11
generations prefer face-to-face communication while the later generation prefers the use of
technology to receive this information (McCann, et. al.). The leader may find that it is best to
use both methods when communicating.
Leaders should also consider these preferences when attempting to build an environment,
which will attract employees. One example is the idea that younger generations prefer to live
near work (Haynes, 2011). Depending on the size and ability of the company, it could offer
housing options near the company. They could both build them and provide them, or they could
purchase the property around the company and build houses that they are only making available
to employees of the organization. They could also work with public transit or provide access to
transportation that could take the employees to or near their homes.
With this essay, we have explored the differences between the generations and how these
differences relate to the workplace. It appears that they have differences which are rooted within
their personal beliefs as well as in the way in which they were brought up.
It begins with their Locus of Control. The earlier generations believe in more of an
internal control where the later generations believe in more of an external control; meaning that
the earlier generations believe that they have the ability to change the course of their lives, while
the later generations believe that their fate is left up to someone other than themselves. This will
affect the workplace as each group will see the responsibility for change and control from a
different perspective and believe that it should come from different people.
There are differences in the way each group communicates, both as each group
individually, as well as the way the communicate between generations. The preferred method of
delivery of this communication will greatly depend on the group. Earlier generations prefer
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 12
face-to-face communication while younger generations are more accepting of electronic
communication. This will affect the workplace as the leadership will have to manage their
communication methods depending on the mix of their workforce.
Finally, the general ideologies of each group will significantly affect the workplace as
their personalities all differ. The earlier generations have a strong work ethic and are loyal to
their employer, while the younger generations are progressively more egocentric and value
building of themselves, rather than building of an organization. They feel that it is the
leaderships responsibility to do this, not the individual. Generation Y has grown up where
“trophies for all” is a cultural norm, which has significantly altered their perception of how
advancement and success is achieved.
Ultimately, each organization has a culture and this culture is derived from the mix of
individuals that it contains. Their expectations determine how they perceive the success of the
organization and their position within this order, their responsibilities, and their success. The
better the leadership understands these differences the more appropriately he or she will be able
to determine the challenges the differences bring to the workplace, and how to most effectively
work with them.
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE 13
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