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The need to build generational bridges in the workforce

Posted by on in Workforce Planning
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Generational diversity in the workforce is nothing new, but as people are living longer and retiring later, it is becoming more common to see four, or in some cases, even five different generations working side by side in organisations.   

It is not uncommon to see the workforce in both government and the private sector reflecting a growing number of 65+ year olds due to changes in accessing of entitlements and ensuring sufficient funds to support them for retirement into their 80s and beyond!

This is a very different work environment to even 10 years ago for many organisations.

This workplace reality can create many people management challenges as different generations can reflect different perspectives on communication styles, work/life balance, organisational change, implementation of technology, leadership style, expectations of employers and paths for career progression for example. 

Although stereotyping is always a risk, there is some value on reflecting on the different generational experiences and how that can impact on the workplace environment.

So how are the different generations characterised?

  • Traditionalists, also known as the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945).     

Although only comprising around two per cent of the current workforce, many working Traditionalists now hold very senior and powerful positions, eg members on Boards of Directors.

  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964),

Accounting for about 29 per cent of the workforce, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit the superannuation funds of this group hard. Many have delayed their retirement plans and are still working full-time, much to their disappointment and simultaneous annoyance of some of the younger generations coming through! Changes to superannuation access rules have hit this group the hardest with the least amount of time to recover from the changes.

  • Gen X, also known as the MTV generation (born between 1965 and 1979)

This group makes up about 34 per cent of today’s workforce. Many are now at the midpoint in their careers and hold strong positions in key leadership roles.

  • Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994)

Comprising of about 34 per cent of the workforce and this group are now in the early stages of their careers. Often described as the most highly qualified generation (and of course as a result lumbered with large HECS debts they are keen to pay off!)

  • Generation Z, also known as iGens or Post-Millenials (born between 1995 and 2009).

Often confused with Millenials, the oldest of this group are now just beginning to enter the labour market and currently make up less than one per cent of the workforce. Their experience of being born into a world of fast paced technology reflecting constant and rapid change has manifested itself particularly in different expectations to other generations around how we communicate and feedback in the workplace, in what format and how often.

Just as in any diverse mix, the potential for conflicts are clear.

Stereotypes abound about each of these groups, eg that Traditionalists favour a ‘command and control’ management style and resist change, Boomers are condescending workaholics, Gen X are cynical and disrespectful of authority, Gen Y are tech-savvy narcissists who need constant attention and Gen Z are risk-adverse, untrusting Snapchatters with an attention span of eight seconds!

It’s not always easy to separate the myths from the reality and I want to focus on the areas that unite, rather than divide, people.

Jennifer Deal, a leading research scientist with the US Center for Creative Leadership, argues that intergenerational conflict has more to do with miscommunication and misunderstandings than anything else. Her findings, outlined in the book, Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground (2007) are based on seven years of research with more than
3,000 corporate leaders.  

According to Deal, while it is natural that people of different ages will see the world in different ways, the so-called generation gaps are more commonly “fuelled by common insecurities and the desire for clout”.

Tolbize (2008), similarly found that “Generational conflict is more likely to arise from errors of attribution and perception, than from valid differences.”

So how do you manage the age mix and promote intergenerational cohesion in your workplace? 

My next blog provides some helpful strategies, but if you would like to discuss the needs of your organisation, please get in touch.


  • Deal, J, (2007) Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground, Jossey Bass, San Fransisco
  • <http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/The-Myth-of-Generational-Differences-in-the-Workplace.aspx> viewed 26 March 2016
  • <https://www.haygroup.com/downloads/de/haygroup_thought_paper_multigen%20workforce.pdf> viewed 26 March 2016
  • <http://growingleaders.com/blog/generation-z-differs-generation-y/> viewed 26 March 2016
  • <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/> viewed 27 March 2016
  • Tolbize, Anick, 2008 ‘Generational differences in the workplace’, <http://rtc.umn.edu/docs/2_18_Gen_diff_workplace.pdf> viewed 28 March 2016
  • <http://www.tomorrowtodayglobal.com/2007/07/25/retiring-the-generation-gap-how-employees-young-old-can-find-common-ground-by-jennifer-deal/> viewed 28 March 2016
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