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Five Generations Interacting in the Workplace

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephanie M. Moore
June 30, 2015

The workforce is currently comprised of five generations, often referred to as cohorts. These five distinctly different generations are forced to interact, coexist and be productive. Workplaces are challenged with making it work, challenged to blend the generations in a cohesive manner that benefits and respects the worker and the mission.

Moore juneThe generational breakdown is commonly understood as these cohorts: Radio or Silent Generation (1900-1944), Baby Boomer (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Generation Y/Millennials (1981-2000) and the freshest group preparing to enter the workforce, Generation Z (2001 and on). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this breakdown means that the age range of people in the workforce is 18 years old to 89 years old. With such a wide breadth of age, experience and attitudes it is no surprise  the workplace is continually challenged to figure out how to connect all the varied parts.

These common generational cohorts are generalizations and people may identify more with the characteristics from other generations than with their own cohort. People may also be hesitant to self-identify with their pre-determined generational cohort for fear of being associated with all of the negative stereotypes and by default, limited by the generation’s unflattering characteristics.

Not all of the characteristics are unflattering. Each generation has unique perspectives, life experiences, attitudes and insights to offer. The ability to take advantage of and build on those perspectives, attitudes and insights is essential to a well-run organization with happy and productive staff.

The workplace is already filled with silos and barriers and we don’t need to build additional walls between the generations. Breaking down the generational walls and allowing staff to contribute their insight in a supportive environment will help link the generations and allow people the space and place to contribute to their fullest potential and bring their best to the workplace. Training that is tailored for each generations learning preference and continued efforts to develop each generation are ways to break down those generational walls.

It is well documented that each generation shares common life forming events which helped to shape the life views, attitudes and work ethic of that generation. These shared events result in how each generation generally approaches life, education and work. Each generation experiences the workplace differently and impacts the workplace in their unique way. The seasoned generations have been in the workplace for decades, watching it evolve from a highly male dominated realm into the more diverse workplace we see today. The newer generations are entering a workplace that is much different from their grandparent’s or even their parent’s workplace.

Each generation has different ways of operating, different motivations, different reward preferences and different rewards they enjoy. Even with all these differences each generation shares some key similarities. Every generation wants to be respected, flexibility, wants to be challenged and wants to be rewarded. Although these are shared similarities, how they look for each generation varies.

Every generation deserves respect and flexibility. Respect for a job well done, respect for input and expertise, respect for honoring the mission. For the first generations, workplace flexibility was not always an option. Towing the company line was the only option for the Silent and Baby Boomer generations. Hard work was just part of the job description, asking for time off or working a flexible shift was not an option. The newer generations experienced not having their parents at home and how hard their parents had to work. They do not want to be over worked with no flexibility and have changed the “8– 5” mentality.

Younger generations are also looking for more challenges and opportunities to grow and expand their skills. This may result in workers seeking jobs outside of their current institution. This potential turnover presents challenges to workplaces that may need to fill the same position every three to five years. The workplace needs to adapt to this new normal, without blaming the newer generations for their perceived shortcomings or sense of entitlement. As well, the newer generations need to respect the system that has been built, even if the system may need updating.

The more established generations have been with the agencies for most, if not all of their lives. They have seen how the agency has matured and grown into its present day version. Younger generations have witnessed that the former way of doing things, may not always be the best way of doing things. The younger generations are the ones who will make changes to the current and future workplace. Generations will always be moving down the generational line and replaced by the next generation. The next generation is being raised by current generations. The next generation is waiting and watching, ready to make improvements to their future workplace.


Author: Stephanie M. Moore holds a master’s degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Urban Administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, an undergraduate degree from Rockhurst University, Cum Laude. She is a member of Women Leading Government and a Board Member of ASPA, Greater Kansas City. She is a program supervisor for the Community Development Department at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County in Kansas City, Kansas.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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