The generation game

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Winning hearts and minds across the 4 generations in our workplace

Apologies to Generation Y’s  reading this, the title may not resonate much with you, but for Traditionalists ( 1939-1948)  Baby Boomers (1949-1963) Generation X (1964-1978) it will bring back memories of Saturday nights with Bruce and Anthea, saying ‘ nice to see you to see you nice’.

We often hear about generation gaps and people who are stuck in their ways of doing things, but not many of us pay close attention to what this means.

Paying closer attention to the background, needs and values of our 4 generations can pay dividends when designing change programmes, developing our internal comms strategy and working hard at employee engagement, winning hearts and minds to deliver more.

There has been plenty of recent research in how we can bridge the generation gap and my aim here is to boil it down and give you some ideas on how to engage with each generation and bring them together as a force for good.

For starters let’s look at the population of each generation at work


To paint a richer picture of each generation, let’s take a look at the background of each

Traditionalists or Veterans   1939 – 1948.

Born before or during world war 2,  they were brought up at a time rationing and  lean times and they have experienced the biggest changes in society, from the introduction of the NHS in 1948 to  introduction of the NHS, a technological revolution and a shift in how we work and view work.    They would have joined the workforce when jobs were abundant, manufacturing and industry were strong in the UK and you had a job for life.  They experienced promotion as something earned in recognition of time served and hard work. 

Baby Boomers   1949- 1963

Born at a time of a post war economic boom as well as a population explosion, this generation experienced growing up with in a time of wide spread social housing, housing estates, free health care and overcrowded schools.   Competition for jobs were intense and university was for the elite.   Baby boomers are hard workers and value rewards and perks.   They are resourceful and independent and feel like they can change the world.   They believe in hierarchy and structure and management by walking around.  Face to face communication is very important to baby boomers. 

Generation X 1964 – 1978

Born in an era of two-income families, sexual revolution and rising divorce rates and a faltering economy, although they would eventually enter the workforce during the healthier economic years.   Women were joining the workforce in large numbers at the time of their births, spawning an age of “latch-key” children.   As a result, Generation X is independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient. They value freedom and responsibility in the workplace.   Many in this generation display a casual disdain for authority and structured work hours.

They dislike being micro-managed and embrace a hands-off management philosophy.

Generation Y Millennials 1978 – 2000

Nurtured and pampered by parents who didn’t want to make the mistakes of the previous generation, millennials are confident, ambitious, and achievement-oriented.

They have high expectations of their employers. They seek new challenges and aren’t afraid to question authority. Generation Y wants meaningful work and a solid learning curve.   Growing up with technology they rely on it to perform their jobs better. They like to communicate through email and text messaging rather than face-to-face contact and prefer webinars and online technology to traditional lecture-based presentations.  They are family oriented and are will ing to trade high pay for flexibility and work life balance

Here’s a summary of what each generation value in the workplace:

Generation Their needs
Traditionalists •Desired to feel valued for expertise,

•Need a clearly defined role or set of responsibilities

•Seek personal development around coaching and mentoring, authority to make decisions, project management  (PM)

Baby Boomers •Desire for work life balance,

•Feel personally valued, listened to.

•Seek development around specialist knowledge, leadership skills, coaching and mentoring, customer service skills.

Generation X •Want authority to make decisions,

•Desire  immediate feedback

•Sense of team but also value their independence

•Seek development around leadership skills, customer service, PM and career management

Generation Y •Team orientated

•Like structure and relationships with senior leaders

•Reward package important.

•Blurred lined between work and social and like to have fun. 

•Seek development around increasing knowledge of other parts of organisation, leadership skills, customer service skills 


So how can you use this information to win hearts and minds with your work force ?

Internal comms:

Segmenting your work population by generations will help you identify the most effective ways to communicate with them.    Traditionalists and baby boomers like written, hard copy information, news letters and magazines.    Gen X and Y are technologically adept and embrace instant communication such as text, WhatsApp, Facebook and LinkedIn.      Both Gen X and Y like instant and regular feedback, both giving and receiving it.   Why wait for the annual appraisal when you can talk to me anytime to let me know how things are going?

Leading change:

When designing major change programmes, consider the reaction and implications for each generation.    Consider the impact this will have on their skills, values and self-worth.   Think about how you can tap into each generation to gain maximum traction and support.   Tailor your communications about change to suit each generation and


When rolling out large scale development programmes, sheep dipping can’t be avoided.  However, there are ways you can still deliver scale without missing opportunities to tap into the values and talents of all generations.      

Bridging the gap

There are key development areas that are important to all 4;

People skills – emotional intelligence, rapport building, communication

Leadership development – leading teams well, tapping into authenticity and understanding how to lead teams according to their needs

Customer service skills – all generations feel there is a lack of customer service capability but feel this is important to the way they work

Broader knowledge of their organisation and business context – enabling them to see how they can contribute and make a difference.

In addition, Gen X and Y value citizenship and organisations who demonstrate a strong sense of corporate responsibility.   Their desire to ‘give something back’ is very high and employers must work hard to attract and retain these generations.    

Finally I thought I’d leave you with a few  tips to help you bridge the gap and really engage with those hearts and minds:

  • Pilot new methods of communicating with a cross section of generations
  • Review your engagement strategy, what’s working, what’s not and for whom
  • Link engagement results to people metrics and segment these by generation
  • Create cross generational engagement champions
  • Review your internal comms methods to ensure you are covering all bases
  • Review how change is delivered to meet the needs of the 4 generations
  • Set up reciprocal mentoring schemes across the generations