How to Overcome Generation Gaps at Work!

This article is written by Rebecca Cushway of Careers Excelled, part of the Career Money Life Supplier Community. This article is originally published by GWP Magazine 2007.

Imagine spending eight to ten hours every day working side by side with your parents, grandparents or children. Would it be all plain sailing? Perhaps not! We are not strangers to the tensions between generations, so how do we get it right at work?

Answer: The key is to understand the values and needs of each group.

Baby Boomers – Who are they and what do they want!

Baby Boomers (“BBs”) are loosely defined as the group born post World War II to the early sixties. This group are aged 42 – 60.

BBs were initially influenced by their very hard working parents (who typically grew up in the depression era). BBs were taught to be grateful for what ever they got. Times were tough growing up and money and opportunities were scarce. I like to call this group the “just eat your peas brigade” – you don’t question, you do what you are told and you respect your elders! Sound familiar? Here is what is important to BBs:

  • Security and stability
  • Loyalty and long term service
  • Saving for a rainy day
  • Respect for authority, position and experience
  • More focus on effort than results.

Generation X – (The ME Generation)

Growing up in Australia in the early seventies to mid eighties produced an interesting environment for our Gen X group (aged 30 – 42 ish)! The end of the Vietnam War marked a relatively peaceful period in Australia. Prosperity increasing, higher disposable incomes and increased consumer spending helped to set the scene for a “fast food – disposable culture”.

Gen X saw their late BB role models (hippies) “sell out” on their values in order to get ahead. Gen X learned very quickly what is important to survive – WIIFM (“what’s in it for me)! Growing up in a disposable society meant that Gen X were the first group to experience in larger numbers the heartache of parents separating and the scourges of high financial debt. So how do you spot a Gen Xer?

  • Less respect for authority and position
  • “WIIFM”
  • Loyal to people who look after their individual needs
  • Struggle with work – life balance
  • Ambitious, driven and focused on results
  • “I want it now”.

Generation Y – (WHY)

Born in the eighties, Gen Ys are no strangers to technology. Change and innovation have been a constant for this group. More often than not, Gen Ys’ parents were both working. Over time this group learned to develop strong networks through friends and later work colleagues.

Gen Ys were educated differently to their Gen X role models. The environment, the impacts of war and the future, were themes broadly discussed. The title “Y” (Why) is no accident. This group have been taught to question the way we think. Working as a team rather than individually on projects and given scope to solve problems for themselves produced a generation that is future focused, questioning and demanding new solutions. Gen Ys typically have:

  • A strong moral, ethical and environmental concern
  • A focus on team and socialising
  • A respect for people who stretch them (rather than experience or expertise in an area)
  • Need to understand WHY
  • Technology focused
  • Want it now
  • Highly mobile and independent
  • Know their value.

You can probably see the three generations making up our workforce are at times likely to clash. So how do we get the best out of each group and promote productivity and harmony?

As a general rule, it’s very difficult to change the values of adults. It takes time, effort and a great deal of re-conditioning. Rather than attempting to change people, we are often more successful when we use their strengths and minimise the impacts of the things that challenge them.

Working with Baby Boomers

BBs contribute valuable practical and life experience, depth of knowledge and have a respect for past lessons learned. Sadly this knowledge can at times be undervalued by younger generations and often overlooked as these valuable lessons are poorly packaged as “in my day stories”. When BBs are under threat, they tend to withdraw rather than vocalise their concerns (partly due to their upbringing and also fear of speaking their mind).


  • Encourage them and reward them for sharing their knowledge so they feel important and valued
  • Give them a clear and precise structure for Why, What and How things are to be done (step through this with them) and ask them about the impacts of this on a broad level)
  • Encourage them to mentor others by focusing on impacts and not “in my day stories”
  • When setting tasks, do not just state what you want done but also clearly outline the result and the standards to be met.


  • Challenge them in front of others (it threatens their position)
  • Put them on the spot in a brainstorming session
  • Give them a problem with unclear parameters (BBs can solve problems however are used to asking for permission before they take steps)

Working with Generation X

Generation X provides momentum and immediacy to business. They are action focused and very good at challenging the status quo. Generation X is likely to rise to a challenge if they can see a clear personal reward. Often Gen Xers run like a “bull at a gate” not assessing the broader landscape and hurting others or themselves on the way. Burnout is a common outcome for this group. When working with Generation X:


  • Spend time on selling Why they might do something and give them a personal reason for it to get done (WIIFM)
  • Use brainstorming to encourage them to work more collaboratively with others
  • Help them to understand their strengths, limitations and impacts on others and themselves
  • Focus and develop healthy time and stress management practices
  • Debrief and uncover lessons learned from their encounters and projects – do this regularly (Gen X prefer to learn from their own experience rather than others)
  • Focus on how important they are in the environment (status is often a motivator)
  • Focus them on solutions rather than problems (they tend to be quite critical)


  • Negate your promises
  • Hide (be totally transparent with this group)
  • Leave them for too long without contact (they require regular follow up to build connections)

Working with Generation Y

Generation Y bring creative problem solving, a social conscience and technological competence to the workforce. They are often challenged by rigid structure, hierarchy and projects or outcomes that are too far in the future with no short term change in sight. When working with Gen Y:


  • Spend time selling the WHY – and focus on the social justice, environmental and technological impacts
  • Engage them in team work
  • Motivate and stimulate them with new problems
  • Given the scope to make decisions
  • Provide a vision for the future
  • Provide regular feedback and be willing to receive feedback from them
  • Be accessible
  • Be seen to be fair to all


  • Micro manage and spell out HOW things are to be done (outline outcomes instead)
  • Be formal at every meeting
  • Be out of contact

Each individual is unique, and a reflection of the mood of their generation. At the end of the day we are working with people who have unique motivators, needs and values. Spending the time to understand these may just help future generations live and work harmoniously.

Career Money Life makes it easy for you to manage all of your employees’ career needs across every stage of their journey with you. Book a demo now or contact us to learn more about our offerings.

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