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How Generational Differences Affect Workforce

Kirjoittanut: Katrina Cirule - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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The expression of “generations” has been utilised in numerous ways and has a variety of definitions, yet is frequently used to group individuals by their year of birth (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020,1). The present business climate might be the first one to incorporate five different generations working next to each other towards shared financial and business objectives. For entrepreneurs and leaders, managing various generational challenges might not be as simple as it sounds. Expectations, correspondence styles, and perspectives can vary within each described age (Paychex 2019).  Since the topic covered is broad and includes many viewpoints, this essay focuses on the basic understanding of generational concepts, qualities, and values of each involved age group to better understand the means of a multigenerational workplace.


The idea of generational differences became noticeably relevant for sociologists and historians during the 20thcentury, creating many sociological theories of generations. Looking at major historical events’ impact on humans, it has been noticed how it could result in common values and behaviours among certain age groups. These age groups of 20 years are frequently compiled to make up a certain generation, often named by the key events of their birth time (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020, 4). For instance, “millennials” are the people born in 1980’s and 1990’s- before the turning of a new millennium. However, generation “Alpha”, also known as “digital babies”, is labelled after the digital era they are born and raised in (Rubene 2019).

The generational gap is usually referred to as contrasts between age groups that cause disagreement and confound correspondence, constructing a “gap”.  This gap can refer to a confusing absence of communication or a time interval leading to age group separation inside a society, permitting them to create their own character (Adcox 2021). According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2019, the main areas of disagreement between generations are the use of technology, perspectives towards different races and groups, moral values, religious convictions, respect towards others, political views, and work principles(Dimock 2019).


As already stated, there are many 20th century scholars and researchers who have investigated this topic, such as Karl Manheim, Norman Ryder, and Arthur Scheslinger, to name a few. However, the most influential and popular of them all is the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020, 42).

Inspired by the previously mentioned historian A. Scheslinger, two American authors- William Strauss and Neil Howe- began to develop their view on the generational cycle since the 16th century USA in their first book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 (1991). Their research on recurring generational archetypes identifies repeating cycles of generational values. The theory implies that during every 80-90-year period named saeculum (from Latin- century, also meaning a long life of a human being), there are four different 20-year turnings, which represent the four different archetypes of generations:

  1. prophets who are born during the time of strict social order before an upcoming crisis;
  2. nomads who grow up in a period of awakening while being under-protected;
  3. heroes who are raised during the decay of awakenings and usually show a stronger interest in politics;
  4. artists who are born at the start of a new crisis.

This theory concludes, that each saeculum cycle always begins and marks change with a crisis.

Although the validity of generational theories is often argued because of their generalising way of sectioning the same age group people, creating prejudice and stereotyping, as well as not focusing enough on the individual aspects of each case and time peculiarities, these arguments still offer engaging and possibly valuable insights when collaborating multi generationally (Twist & Newcombe 2021).


The rise of technological development, increased globalisation, growing dominance of the service sector, and changes in the employer-employee relationships have all been great influencing factors in today’s work environment. Additionally, attributes of the workforce such as the changes of competencies required, rising educational level, as well as age, gender and ethnic diversity also affect the organisation of work (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020, 3).

When talking about today’s generations, technological development plays a vital role. Marc Prensky, an American educational spokesperson and author born in 1946, is well-known for his creation of “digital immigrant” and “digital native” terms (Prensky 2001). Generation X, born between 1961 and 1980, is the last generation to grow up without modern technologies, therefore, classifying as the transitional generation from “digital immigrants” to “natives”. Non-natives of the internet world have a different viewpoint on how communication and learning processes are conducted. “Digital natives” are used to hypertexts, games, global networking, and fast-paced information exchange, whereas people before the rise of the internet still think in the printed-media way of transmitting information (Cirule 2021).

This creates a generational gap in digital skills, however, it does not mean that the “digital immigrants” are less better at communicating in the online world. The environment an individual grows up in affects one’s way of thinking, therefore non-native internet users bring another perspective into these days’ digital world- they have experienced different times and can see more clearly where improvements need to be made. Whereas, ”digital natives” are more confident operating online, which opens an opportunity for them to pass these skills to both older and future generations (Sreenivasan 2015).


Although the data of generations and their sectioning are approximate, and the names of each cohort can vary based on the source of information, rather than generalising and labelling individuals according to their years, age group classification must be viewed as a lens to better understand and learn ways to embrace these differences for the best (Dimock 2019). Nevertheless, Paychex, a human resource management company in the USA and Northern Europe, suggests 5 generational guidelines in today’s workplace.

As the senior, “silent” generation, also known as the “traditionals”, were born between 1923 and 1945 (Paychex 2019). This cohort grew up during the time of the Great Depression and experienced the terror of war their own eyes. Since the “silent” generation had to overcome many financial obstacles by themselves, this age group’s representatives tend to be hard working with stable financial practices and strong fundamental values (Rubene 2019). Offering security, thoughtfulness for retirement, and possibilities for working offline and having face-to-face discussions can be crucial to these individuals (Paychex 2019).

The name of “baby boomers” comes from the sudden boost of birth after World War II. As “digital immigrants”, these people were born during 1945-1960, throughout the Cold War, which has supposedly led them to be hard-working, but fight for their place at the same time. It has been noticed how this 20th-century generation was the one to bring up the fight for equality and protest social hierarchy. “Baby boomers” in job relations are self-centred, and will enjoy loyalty and long-term commitment, as well as being praised and having a possibility to share their learnings with others.

Generation “X” was born between 1961-1980, therefore growing up in the transition from polygraphy to digital times, experiencing various professional changes. This cohort values education and self-sustainability, as well as individuality. The main motivation in work life is self-esteem reassurance and status. It has been noticed how generation “X” is more money-focused, however, they tend to tie themselves with financial liabilities, in order to afford the lifestyle they desire. These individuals might have experienced present shock, because of the rapid change of competencies required in the working life. They are usually skilled in both online and face-to-face interaction, however, they will firstly rely on printed and spoken information.

The main players in these days’ labour force are the “millennials”. Born between 1980’s and 1990’s, they entered the labour market in the beginning of the new millennium.  “Millennials” grew up introduced to digital technology, therefore can be classified as “digital natives”. This age group is believed to be self-oriented and competitive, as well as unconcerned about the social hierarchy and power distance. Compared to the previous generation, “millennials” prefer teamwork and open-space office concepts. This age cohort values freedom, therefore flexible schedule, little liabilities, and professional advantages in technology, language, as well as socialising skills, are vital for them. It is important for this generation to acknowledge the “bigger” meaning of their work, thus development opportunities or possibilities to help others are crucial (Rubene 2019).

Representatives of generation “Z”, born between 1997-2013, are considered to be one of the most cared for generations. They are complete “digital natives”, who value direct and concise communication online, therefore the place of work can be switched online, as well. In the effect of globalisation, the stated age group is believed to be more accepting of diversity, focusing on collaboration and ethical values, such as social responsibility, equality, and sustainability. Learning from the 2008 financial crisis their families had gone through, generation “Z” looks for stability, meanwhile keeping an open mind about change and learning opportunities (Paychex 2019).

The youngest, generation “Alpha”, also known as the “digital babies”, are thought to be one of the most advanced age cohorts so far. Born starting from 2013, they believe that technology is an inseparable part of their lives. Although this generation is still in the childhood stage, it would definitely be interesting to witness their impact on the world (Gourani 2019).


In summary, the definitions of generations and their differences vary depending on the time period and the author covering this topic, as well as tend to exclude other vital factors such as location, culture, race, financial situation, and just simply personal reasons. However, the acknowledgment of these theories and practices can come in handy when looking at the multigenerational environment of the 21st-century workforce- generational differences impact the processes of communication and it’s channels, as well as challenge the effectiveness of teamwork. Nonetheless, the most important notion to be sure of is to not overgeneralise certain age group representatives and avoid prejudice when conducting communication processes, because every individual can have one’s own unique perspective, regardless of the generational effects.

Reference list:

  1. Adcox, S. 2021. Generational Differences and Their Causes. Read on 11.2021.https://www.verywellfamily.com/looking-at-the-generation-gap-1695859#citation-1
  2. Cirule, I. 2021. X, Y, Z & ALPHA Generations- Communication & Collaboration & Future Professions. Unpublished. Senioru Universitate. Riga.
  3. Dimock, M. 2019. Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins. Read on 8.11.2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/
  4. Gourani, S. 2019. Leading Multiple Generations In Today’s Workforce. Read on 11.11.2021.https://www.forbes.com/sites/soulaimagourani/2019/04/25/leading-multiple-generations-in-todays-workforce/?sh=1e87f6c24636
  5. 2019. How to Manage the 5 Generations in the Workplace. Read on 9.11.2021. https://www.paychex.com/articles/human-resources/how-to-manage-multiple-generations-in-the-workplace
  6. Prensky, M. 2021. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Read on 9.11.2021. https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
  7. Rubene Z. 2019. Generations X, Y, Z and A. Youtube video. Published on 23.01.2019. Referred on 10.11.2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na0YhxcX-QQ&t=2s
  8. Sreenivasan, S. 2015. Digital natives vs. digital immigrants. Youtube video. Published on 15.01.2015. Referred on 9.11.2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_9gI0B4nS4&t=319s
  9. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  10. Twist, A. & Newcombe, S. 2021. Strauss-Howe Generational Theory. Read on 8.11.2021. https://www.cdamm.org/articles/strauss-howe

  • Thais

    Wow Katrina! This is a really good essay. I liked how you brought so many sources and points of view to the discussion!

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