There are now up to five generations that coexist in the workplace, including Traditionalists (born 1925 – 1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), Gen X (both 1965 – 1980), Millennials (born 1981 – 2000), and Gen Z (born 2001 – 2020). With different generations, there are certainly generational differences. However, many tend to focus on the differences that stem from society-placed stereotypes, which in turn leads to a lack of connection among generations. Stereotyping individuals within a generation poses a real risk in the workplace and beyond and prevents us from acknowledging the value of having differences among age groups.
Common harmful stereotypes, such as Millennials being driven but entitled and Generation X being independent but bleak, can have a negative impact in the workplace in terms of individuals’ job performance and productivity. The stereotypes serve as metaphorical barriers to collaborating with colleagues of different generations and stand in the way of a real understanding of generational differences. To understand generational differences is to know that each generation is shaped on how they grew up, events that took place within each era, and the environment of the workplace when their careers first began. Understanding the factual differences of generations enables us to accept and value one another.
It is important that we recognize the benefits of a generationally diverse workforce just as we recognize the benefits that are gleaned from racially and culturally diverse workforces. When we learn how to collaborate with and appreciate the unique differences of colleagues who grew up in different times than ourselves, the workplace has the potential to thrive. Differences are a good thing – they keep us from turning into a “stagnant pond” and instead gives us the opportunity to continually progress.