21st Century Workforce: Are you prepared for Different Generations at Work?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work with people who could be your father, your twelve-years-older brother, and your 20-something son in the same workplace?

This is exactly what is happening in the 21st-century workplace, having four generations at work. We need to be prepared for this phenomenon and understand the impact of having different generations at work.

Generation can be defined as an identifiable group that shares birth years, age, critical life events, and who have common tastes, attitudes, and experiences. They have different values, views, ways of talking, and thinking.

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These differences and seemingly incompatible views on how the workplace should function, have stirred conflict in the business world. You need knowledge of the generations, their values, and motivations in order to effectively manage the generational divide.

Different Generations at Work

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Who are the 4 generations?

According to “The Future of Work”, published in 2015 from PWC, here are some fascinating statistics about the generations under discussion.

Baby Boomers


The Baby Boomers still make up about 14% of the workforce. They are known to be work-centric, independent, goal-oriented, competitive, and driven towards self-actualization.  This population has largely been rewarded for fitting in and not standing out.

They are the most affluent and influential group in the US population and are known for delayed gratification: work first, pleasure later.

Gen X


Gen X makes up 20% of the workforce. They can be described as being Entrepreneurial, striving for work/ life balance, creativity, challenge, and change.

This population has been raised in a time where being different and standing out was encouraged. They are known to be loyal to people, not companies.

Gen X

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Gen Y


Millennials make up 30% of the workforce. They are achievement-oriented, striving for personal growth, meaningful work, and apparently like constant change. Put in other words, they are all about self-actualization. This generation has been shaped when Truth started becoming more relative, they have had exposure to things never before possible, good and bad and Technology grew up with them.

According to Cam Marston of Generational Insights, “Millennials grew up protected, praised and programmed by their parents.”

After graduating from college, they tend to consider themselves smart consumers, adept at Googling whatever they want to know. They are known for instant gratification, wanting quick feedback, and being optimistic.

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Raised to view people of their parents’ and grandparents’ age as their equals, they can be startlingly outspoken with gray-haired superiors. Being so tech-savvy, they’re also connection-obsessed, so you shouldn’t take it personally when they text their friends while talking to you. They expect a prompt reply. Older advisors (or bosses) will find them impatient and unhappy with waiting for things that could be done more quickly.

Gen Y

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Gen Z


Gen Z will make up 10% of the workforce. They are predicted to value respect, responsibility, and restraint. This generation has been shaped by a harsh mix of uncertainty. They believe that anything is possible (with hard work and sacrifice) and that diversity is normal. They’ve grown up with tech. They’re less trusting and more cautious.

Gen Z

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Are you prepared?

How are organizations preparing for future generations, especially Millennials and Gen Z?

They put personal growth high on their agenda and they want the work to be meaningful, not just a means to income and economic survival.

In Cam Marston talk: “Leadership Lessons from the Wheelhouse” he states that great managers can focus on doing two things well:

To want more for their people than they want for themselves.

To be predictable in their behavior; to be the same every day so that people know what to expect.

These qualities will help to inspire performance and to create loyalty.

According to Mr. Marston Gen X Managers tend to manage remotely while giving jobs and deadlines; then they assume that if there are problems, someone will say something. They also dislike unnecessary meetings.

However, Gen X Managers need to be visible, engaging, and more interactive. They need to become interested in their team beyond how they’re doing in their jobs. Should provide accolades and encouragement. Have meetings for the purpose of building consensus.

When Millennials are dealing with the conflict they would often use their technology devices rather than talking in person. Marston is of the opinion that this is a weakness in younger generations that need to be fixed.

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What attracts this generation and will make them want to stay at a company?

According to the South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA), there are specific reasons why the younger generations will join companies and there are ways for companies to attract and retain talent.

Top 5 reasons for joining a chosen employer

  1. Training – opportunities to grow and achieve.

  2. Reputation and organizational culture, international opportunities.

  3. Career path and the prospect of career advancement.

  4. Security – the organization will still be around after 5 years.

  5. Hiring and good remuneration will make them stay.

What companies should do to attract and retain talent?

  1. Provide opportunities to unlock their potential.

  2. Incentivize what matters to them.

  3. Enable and reward curiosity.

  4. Engage and communicate often.

  5. Understand what they value.

  6. Help them plan and prepare for the future.

Companies that want to keep the best talent from all working generations will do well to acknowledge generational differences, appreciate each generation’s values and motivations, and adapt their management styles to lead them in a way that will bring out the best in each of them.


  • The Future of Work (2015), Price Waterhouse Coopers

  • Managing Four Generations in the workplace, Cam Marston

  • Leadership Lessons from the Wheelhouse, Cam Marston

  • SAGEA.org.za, South African Graduate Employers Association

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