It is a unique time in the workplace. Co-workers could be from four very distinct generations – Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Millenials. Each group grew up under very different circumstances and as a result each has very different values, needs, and concerns. From a manger’s perspective, getting the best performance out every employee requires a flexible approach to leadership, particularly when it comes to communication.

Let’s look at each of the groups – where they came from, what’s important to them, and where they are now. While not everyone within a particular age group fits the descriptions exactly (especially if they were born on the edge between groups), these generalizations will help in the understanding of the group as a whole.

Who They Are:

Traditionalists

Born between 1925 and 1945, they grew up with the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Most have lived in one place and worked for one company. The traits of Traditionalists include dedication, sacrifice, and discipline. They believe in conformity, want to make a contribution, and leave a legacy. Their contribution in the workplace is history and experience. Other generations may seem them as uncreative, authoritarian, and rigid.

Baby Boomers B

orn between 1946 and 1964, they grew up with Vietnam, Watergate, and the civil rights movement. They shared a mass culture and saw results for their efforts. The traits of the Baby Boomers include optimism, team orientation, and an openness to change. They believe in independence, financial security, and coined the phrase “workaholic.” Their contribution in the workplace is perspective, being able to look at situations from multiple angles. Other generations may see them as self-absorbed and too work-focused,

Generation X /Gen-Xers

Born between 1965 and 1982, they grew up with divorce and daycare, widespread layoffs, and family relocation. The Gen-Xers challenge authority and see work as a way to live. The traits of the Gen-Xers include multi-tasking, independence, and need for variety. They believe in work-life balance, diversity, and flexibility. Their contribution in the workplace is the ability to multi-task effectively. Other generations may see them as disrespectful, impatient, and too focused on their personal life.

Millenials

Born between 1983 and 2002. They grew up with the Internet, global marketplace, and terrorism. The Millenials have experience the greatest amount of change of any of the groups. The traits of the Millenials include creativity, busy schedules, and civic involvement. They believe in social responsibility, collaboration, and education. Their contribution in the workplace is originality. Other generations may see them as naïve, spoiled, and impulsive.

Tips on Communicating with, Motivating and Providing Feedback:

Traditionalists: use face-to-face communication, be more formal, tell them what you want done, and use inclusive language (we, us). Demonstrate that their experience and wisdom is respected and valued. This group believes that no news is good news. They need very little feedback.

Baby Boomers: be direct and open, expect questions and be prepared to answer them, present options, and set goals. Demonstrate that they are a valued member of the team. Boomers don’t need much feedback, say once a year, but they will want documentation to support the feedback received.

Gen-Xers: use e-mail as primary communication tool, share information immediately and often, and ask for their feedback. Set the goal and let them do it their way and allow them to break the rules. This group wants and needs constant feedback.

Millenials: use e-mail, communicate in short bursts (think text message), and explain the value of their work. To motivate provide learning opportunities. This group needs feedback, but is happiest if they can receive it electronically.

Managing Across Generations: Make the Most Out of a Multi-Generational Workforce