Working Together: Understanding Generational Differences at Work

Different generations were raised with different values, goals, and experiences throughout life. Generational differences are fascinating, and we’re here this week to discuss the difference between different generations in regards to careers and the workforce. How have generations adapted to education and how have they perceived the professional world through the decades? Let’s discuss the differences and similarities between the generations, and how those characteristics affect people’s everyday lives.

an older man and a younger man sit at a desk together working on their computer, dispelling generational differences

Different generations

There are four distinct generations we’ll be discussing for the purpose of our analysis. The groups are Veterans and Traditionalists (1922-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), and, finally, Millennials (1981-2000). Every generation has its own commotion and all of these generations have fully entered the working world, meaning their youngest members are at least age 18. While there are more similarities than differences among these age groups, each generation developed in a way that members are more likely to demonstrate specific characteristics.

Education characteristics

Education plays a huge role in career goals and accomplishments, and has changed drastically over the past few generations. For the oldest generation, education was a dream. It wasn’t easily accessible, and most people didn’t have higher learning opportunities. For Baby Boomers, education was seen as a birthright. More people attended college, and their parents made this possible for them most of the time. Generation X viewed education in general as the only possible way to achieve professional success. Not going to college was seen as reckless, which is why many millenials faced pressure from their counselors and parents to attend college as soon as possible. Now, Millennials and younger generations are faced with extreme expenses to attend college. In fact, there is about $1.48 trillion in student loan debt just in The United States currently. That financial burden is convincing some within younger generations to enter the professional world without an education, something that older generations might deem irresponsible.

a group of multi-generational women work together in an office

Work ethic and values

While no generation works harder than the other according to a reliable study, the work ethic and values of individuals within generations have evolved with time. For Traditionalists, work was always an obligation. They worked hard, respected authority, made sacrifices for their family, and fulfilled their duties before fun. Baby Boomers saw work as an exciting adventure and a chance to both find personal fulfillment and financial stability. They were workaholics, and questioned the generation before them in terms of business strategies and progressive business mindsets. Generation X saw the effort put in by the Baby Boomers, and felt skeptical. They didn’t want to sign contracts, and while they aimed for structure and direction, they also desired self-reliance. They didn’t want be a “cog in the machine” and functioned more as entrepreneurs. Millennials have in many ways picked up on the skepticism in Generation X and translated it into ambition, extreme entrepreneurship, and goal orientation. Millennials want to create meaningful work while maintaining proper work life balance, and most were inclined to answer that their work’s meaning is more important than the money they make when polled.

two multi-generational women work together at an office

How to work together

Each generation communicates differently, works differently, and enjoys different values. When working together, it’s crucial to understand these differences, and learn to embrace them in order to fully benefit from the various viewpoints. There is truly no right or wrong answer, and both in the workforce and in everyday life, working together is about compromise and understanding.

If you’ve experienced generational gaps in your life, we’d love to hear how you overcame those boundaries. If you’re working with an older loved one to decide how to best care for their health, see if assisted living is right for you by calling the Waterford today!

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