The dynamics of the work place are undergoing dramatic changes as the Baby Boomers retire and are replaced by the generation called the Millennials. Never is our history have so many people from significantly different generations been asked to work together.

Sociologists have defined four distinctive population groups:

  • Traditionalists—born before 1945
  • Baby Boomers—born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X—born between 1965 and 1980
  • Millennials—born between 1981 and 1999

While these categorizations are important and useful in identifying trends and patterns, they shouldn’t be used to label individuals. Not everyone born between 1981 and 199 will exhibit the characteristics we ascribe to Millennials—some may actually reflect the values of a Traditionalist.

The values and beliefs of a generation are shaped by the cultural and social events occurring during the formative years. It is these experiences which create a culture clash within organizations. The intensity of the clashes can be no different than those that exist between people with different cultural or national backgrounds.

The different generations have different needs regarding feedback. Traditionalists don’t expect feedback unless they are doing something wrong. Baby Boomers want feedback once a year and are very sensitive to criticism. Generation Xers need positive strokes continually and will seek them out if they don’t get them. Millennials expect instant feedback.

Traditionalists are intensely loyal to their companies and felt that changing jobs was a stigma. They traded high degrees of loyalty for lifetime employment, a good pension, and benefits. Baby Boomers see changing jobs as a step backward. People in the baby boomer generation who have been laid off as a result of downsizing or mergers, take it the hardest of any of the generations. Generation Xers have seen their parents downsized after many years with a company. They feel working at one place is unsafe and unstable and will change jobs frequently. They view changing jobs as essential for survival. Millennials see changing jobs as part of their normal routine. They often seek to change jobs just to increase their skill level.

Traditionalists enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and take great pride in their work. Baby Boomers expect recognition, money, and rewards. Generation Xers value freedom and Millennials are only happy when work is meaningful to them.

Each group responds differently to supervision. Tradtionalists respect the chain of command and readily accept a top-down approach to management. Baby Boomers want to shake up the chain of command, Generation Xers believe in self command, and Millennials reject the idea of command and prefer to collaborate.

After looking at just a few of the differences between generations, it is not hard to see why so much exists in the work place.