The generation series, part 1: the multigenerational workplace

published on March 21, 2017
Industry News and Leaders Working Smarter

It’s a familiar sight: a group of employees congregate around the water cooler. The oldest clutch newspapers under their arms while the others’ fingers flick at their telephone touchscreens. The youngest of the group post selfies, hashtag #mondaymorning #watercooler, their phone immediately buzzing with likes and comments. And somehow, they all share information, be it gathered from front-page long-reads or 140-character tweets. Developing a truly multigenerational workplace culture is a challenge familiar to all organizations, but it can be met with a little knowledge and reflection. In this new Generation Series of posts, we’ll unpack the multigenerational workplace, generation by generation.

Where to make the generational breaks isn’t an exact science, but the ranges suggested by The Pew Research Center – a noted think-tank focused on worldwide trends – make for a good base:


The Baby Boom Generation

  • Born: 1946 to 1964
  • Age in 2017: 52 to 71
  • Seeking work advancement, promotion, and financial rewards
  • For the most part, live private lives off-line
  • Starts sentences with, “when I was your age …”


Generation X

  • Born: 1965 to 1980
  • Age in 2017: 37 to 52
  • Focused on finding career flexibility
  • The children of the ‘90s – the first internet generation
  • Technologically connected and fluent


The Millennial Generation (or Generation Y)

  • Born: 1981 to 1997
  • Age in 2017: 20 to 36
  • Search out a work-life balance when considering employment
  • Incredibly connected to social networks, yet even more so than Generation X
  • The Selfie Generation


iGen, Gen Z or Centennials

  • Born: 1998 and after
  • Age in 2017: 19 and younger
  • For all intents and purposes, let’s call this generation Team Intern, who are even more connected than their Millennial forebears


And while their presence is decreasing due to retirement, there are still traces of The Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) present in 2017’s workforce, bringing the potential of five generations working side-by-side in the same environment. A single office could potentially host staff members who tut-tutted the original hippie movement, others who went to the original Woodstock, members of the Lollapalooza generation who flocked to Woodstock ’99, and the newbloods who have no idea what any of them are talking about.


The moment-by-moment social media documented lives of Millennials exist in direct opposition to those of privacy-savvy Baby Boomers. Transmitting information to members of staff through the latest platforms would keep the Gen-X and Millennial pool happy, but risks leaving others behind. Office announcements via WhatsApp or Snapchat might be missed by those used to lunch room bulletin board postings.

But that doesn’t mean steady flows between these generations are impossible. Despite these much-cited differences, all employees, regardless of when they were born, want some of the same things from their employer: a fair salary, good working conditions, professional development opportunities and prospects for career advancement. Most of all, everyone wants to feel like a valued and integral part of the team. Keep this in mind when communicating internally.


No-one wants to feel excluded because they are made to feel too young and inexperienced or, conversely, past their expiration date. Here are a few easy steps to creating a truly inclusive culture and finding that common ground where all employees benefit.

  • Mentoring programs should go both ways: the handing down of experience from older to younger; and updates on trends and tech tips from younger to older.
  • Structure group projects to create intergenerational collaboration.
  • Be clear about what communications methods employees are expected to use: not everyone uses Facebook Messenger or wants to receive long voice mails on their landline.
  • Establish clear cell-phone use etiquette policies, especially during meetings and in open-concept office environments.
  • Consider broadening the definition of the “office” with remote work or educational opportunities.
  • Plan company events (holiday parties, employee days) that have components that appeal to all age groups.