Adapting to Different Generations in the Workplace

Written by Deanna Melanson


“You can’t define someone's work ethic by their generation.”
- Steve Janssens

Let’s take a look at Zach who is 23 and fresh out of school and Barbara who is 62 and ready to retire. Their different work styles are apparent, but instead of drawing on the differences, look at the similarities. Though their approaches differ from one another, the business is working toward a common goal: success. So how can these two make for a more efficient workplace?


Being a millennial, I find myself working between different generations. There are Generation Xs and Baby Boomers before me, and generation Zs after me. The differences in the world at the time we were being raised is evident when working with others. We have different norms, work ethics and core values. This is why investing time in researching how other generations work can help you and your business.

If you’re unsure about a certain generation and how they typically work best, do a bit of research and be willing to learn. To help, we’ve added a chart from Mindtools below to breakdown the values, work ethics, communication preferences, feedback preferences, and stereotypes of each generation.

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Though statistics and studies seem to represent the majority of a generation’s preferences, they are still averaging results and don’t speak for everyone. Try some primary research at your place of work and ask how they like to do things. This can be done by making up a brief survey, putting a comment box in the office or having monthly check-ins.

Previous Experience & Stereotypes

Considering you’ve probably worked with other generations, you may have some kind of experience already. Whether it be good or bad, this can influence how you treat other generations without even realizing it. With this being said, take a step back and remember not to include prejudices when dealing with those who prefer to do things differently. Instead, approach the situation by asking questions and using clear communication.

Typical stereotypes for generations are as generic as Baby Boomers struggling with technology, Millennials being entitled or Gen Z not knowing how to put down their phone. Stereotypes and preconceived notions prevent growth and the ability for someone to genuinely stand out when judgement has already been made. By focusing on differences rather than finding similarities, workers are facing more issues than necessary.

Office Activity

To have some fun, I asked a few coworkers around the office if they would rather have a displeasing job that pays well or an enjoyable job that makes them happy but pays less. It was interesting to gather this quick research and hear the array of answers.

Most of the older millennials said they would prefer a good job, whereas the people who are younger (early 20s) said they would prefer a bad job with good pay. When I asked why, people who picked having a good job with less pay said they value their happiness and don’t want to come home miserable every day. Those who chose a bad job with more pay immediately answered saying that even if they’re not happy with their job, they would have enough money to live comfortably.  

Tell us which generation you are and whether you would choose a job that you enjoy with less pay or a job you dislike with more pay.