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How to Manage Multiple Generations in the Workplace

Human Resources

Managing multiple generations in the workplace isn't as easy as it sounds. With five different generations potentially in your business, each has different expectations, communication styles, and perspective. Tricia McLaurin, a Paychex HR specialist, explained that the generational gaps are, "the most prevalent type of concern and area of strategy affecting most employers."

In a recent podcast, McLaurin provided insight into how employers can effectively manage multiple generations.

Know Your Generations

Before understanding how to manage these different generations, it's important to know which you may be in your workplace. Note that these dates are approximate and may not reflect which generation's general traits reflect your individual employees' experiences.

  • Silent Traditionalists (born between 1925-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation Xers (1965-1982)
  • Millennials (1983-1999)
  • Digital Natives (2000-Present)

Each generation, because of the context they grew up in, have very different expectations. For instance, silent traditionalists are typically depicted as being very fiscally conservative while baby boomers may show more liberal fiscal tendencies. While there are exceptions in every generation, knowing your workers' general framework of experience can help you understand their point of reference.

5 Communication Styles

Technology has changed dramatically over the past 70 years. This has affected how different generations tend to communicate. Silent traditionalists often prefer face to face communication. McLaurin explains that they, "embrace face-to-face communication...they like to feel an agenda or memorandum in their hand." It's critical when you work with a silent traditionalist to have face-to-face interactions. Baby boomers and generation Xers are more flexible, but all highly value in-person interaction.

Baby boomers differentiate themselves with an emphasis on group interaction. "They much prefer to meet in a conference room and hold a conference than to attend a conference call or do a webinar," says McLaurin. While they will be willing to try other options, they want to have in-person interaction.

Generation X has a more individual emphasis. They want less supervision and the ability to get down to work. While the baby boomers can seem more like extroverts, Generation X wants more physical and psychological space to do their work.

Millennials and digital natives, on the other hand, find technology critical to communication. This can work to their detriment with other generations. We've all seen stories complaining that millennials would prefer to email or text rather than walk across the room to chat with someone. Their emphasis is on efficiency and ease. Setting clear expectations of when to use tech and when to use in-person interaction is critical as both of these generations become larger components of your workplace.

Creating a Strong Workplace for All

The problems in managing multiple generations rise from misunderstanding. Each generation has their own preferences and expectations. For instance, silent traditionalists, baby boomers, and generation Xers may be more deferential to authority than their later-born counterparts. They may also put more stock in loyalty to a specific company.

Millennials and digital natives, however, often care more about the quality of work than on taking orders. They look less at position and the years spent at a company. They judge management by the content of their work and want to be judged not for the hours worked but their results. Without an understanding of these differences between generations, conflict and misunderstanding may become a more prevalent factor in your work culture.

Thus, it's logical to consider hosting team-building exercises that bring employees together (physically and digitally) across departments as well as generations. It can be as simple as bringing in free coffee for workers once a month or creating projects with teams of people from various generations. An understanding and accommodating work place may lead to fewer misunderstandings and a more productive workforce.

Rewarding Each Generation

While everyone wants to be rewarded for their work, each generation tends to prefer different types of rewards.

Silent Traditionalists:

  • Long term benefit
  • Pension
  • Health insurance
  • Acknowledgment of fundamentals

Baby Boomers

  • Public appreciation
  • Awards
  • Ceremonies
  • Explain how their work has made the workplace better
  • Something to share with family, friends, and coworkers

Generation X

  • Monetary gifts
  • Stock options
  • Gift cards
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Workplace flexibility


  • Career development
  • Monetary gifts
  • Opportunities to give back

Digital Natives

  • Flexible options
  • How can they get things done faster, more efficiently?

Understanding the different emphases for each generation will allow you to make your workforce feel valued, no matter what generation they're from.

While these findings are backed up by research , they are certainly stereotypes. Every individual differs and those born on the edge of a generation can have traits from both generations. As McLaurin puts it, "we don't want to base our business practices on expectation or even characteristic identifications, but we want to use that knowledge to help frame how we interact."

Building and using that knowledge can help improve interactions and support a thriving workplace.



This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.