Generations in the Workplace

Every new generation changes workplace culture

It started back in the days of Socrates and continues today with the arrival of the newest and the largest generation in the workplace, Gen Z. Hopefully, the time has come when we will finally pivot away from our Millennial obsession and begin to consider how Gen Z will change the world of work!

Karen McCullough explores the impact each generation has on the workforce and provides unique insights into the 5 generations in today's workplace.



If you Google “Millennial” you see the countless stereotypes written about the


Most Millennials were raised by Baby Boomers and are often misunderstood by


I have always been fascinated with the concept of employee engagement. Before


I have been presenting keynotes on Millennials and the generations in the

Generations Rock: Gaining the Generational Advantage

Generations Rock: Gaining the Generational Advantage

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Karen’s new book, Generations Rock, shines a positive light on all the generations sharing their quirks and attributes. Added bonus: Quizzes, song lyrics, stories, movies, and rock stars!



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How Generations Shaped the Workplace

Researchers have noticed that generation-shaping trends seem to come into play when individuals enter the workplace. Here are the five generations in the workplace today with a summary of their characteristics and their influence on the workplace.

Traditionalists born in the U.S. 23 million, 1922- 1945

Common Characteristics: 

  • Loyal
  • Top-down leadership style
  • Sacrifice

Workplace Influence: By and large most traditionalists have retired or thought about retiring. Traditionalists took us out of WW2 and made up a world power. Traditionalists saw that top-down hierarchy helped us with the war, and quickly implemented that management style in the 1950's workplace. Traditionalists were known for their loyalty, and most stayed with one company throughout their lifetime. When they retired, they received a handshake and a gold watch.

Baby Boomers born in the U.S. 72 million, 1946 -1964

Common Characteristics:

  • Optimistic
  • Self-absorbed
  • Competitive
  • Goal-oriented

Workplace Influence: The end of WW2 shaped the country and Boomer's lives with prosperity and optimism. They had a clear sense of right and wrong. In their prime, they were 80 million strong, and their size alone created a very competitive workplace. Boomers admit they love work, their offices, and their titles. Today many enter consulting or start new businesses after they retire.

Boomers put in the hours, and their addiction to work took precedence over family life and obligations. Think about it; boomers did not have the technology that is available today, so they did all their work at the office: Working remote was not an

As boomers have aged, many have admitted they stayed in jobs that offer little growth or future, but continued to work hard calling their work a "badge of honor."

Generation X born in the U.S. 65 Million, 1965 - 1979

Common Characteristics:

  • Independent
  • Skeptical 
  • Tech pioneers
  • Adaptive

Workplace Influence: As children, Gen X had lots of freedom. They rode their bikes all over town and stayed outside until the streetlight came on. Women went back to work, and many Gen X children grew up independent, self-reliant, and dependent on technology that helped them take care of themselves, such as microwave ovens, video games, and personal computers.

From a parenting perspective, this was not a coddled generation. Gen Xer's experienced their parent's divorce, two working parents, and parents downsized during a corporate restructuring. Gen X kids saw firsthand that their parents were human and fallible, and they often found themselves giving their parents advice and comfort. Autonomy and self-reliance were natural byproducts of Generation X's childhood.
When the oldest Xers entered the workplace in the late '80s, they discovered Baby Boomers dominated. Gex X, small in numbers, had no clout. When they asked for time off to be with family, the Boomers labeled them "Slackers." Many Gen Xers entered into technology, a field not occupied with Baby Boomers while others did their own entrepreneurial thing.

Millennials (also called Gen Y) born in the U.S. 72 million, 1980 - 1997

Common Characteristics:

  • Collaborative
  • Self-expressive
  • Optimistic
  • Social

Workplace Influence: In the mid-1980s, America became more child-centric, parents worried about the children being "safe," became overprotective, and the freedom experienced by Gen X vanished. Parents scheduled their kids in activities protected them from dangers, and continually praised them for building their self-esteem.

Millennials, often referred to as digital natives, are the first generation to come of age during a time of technological changes (the internet), globalization, and the 2008 economic disruption. This gives them a different set of behaviors, perspectives, and expectations than previous generations.

The 2008-09 Great Recession lasted through 2015 and took its toll on the Millennials entering the workforce. Many could not find employment while others were let go because they were the last to be hired.

The recession may have played a big part in:

  • Millennials moving back in with their parents after graduation
  • Millennials not making large purchases such as cars and homes
  • Millennials postponing marriage and children

Growing up with the internet impacted the Millennial's opinion on working remotely. Their thought was, If we have a computer and the internet, we can work anywhere, anytime, and communicate via text, I.M. and as a last resort, email. And the workplace began to change.

Gen Z born in the U.S. 88 million, 1998 -2010

Common Characteristics (thus far):

  • Innovative
  • Entrepreneurial-focused (they will have a side job or two)
  • Security
  • Privacy
  • Independent work style
  • Frugal

Workplace Influence: Gen Z has never known a world without the internet and most don't know what life was like before smartphones. Gen Z'ers are the true digital natives, and that paired with their entrepreneurial mindset will result in independent employees that will not tolerate being micromanaged (very similar to Gen X in this regard).

They are the most diverse generation in U.S. history, fully embracing inclusion. Many were children when the Great Recession of '08 hit and saw friends and family go through tough times. That, along with college debt, has made them both pragmatic and frugal.

Keep an eye on Gen Z, as it will be interesting to watch how they continue reshape work as we know it.

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