Different generations in a work environment – pros and cons of GenZ, Millenials, Baby Boomers, and more 

Aiva Strelca 2.04.2024
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Today, workplace diversity is a hot topic, and understandably so. Diverse teams matter and bring quite a list of benefits to companies and their growth. According to a LinkedIn study, diverse companies earn 2.5x higher cash flow per worker, make better decisions 87% of the time, and are notably more productive.

While many work environments worldwide painfully lack diversity, and the change remains slow, some are paying plenty of attention to appreciating diversity’s multifaceted nature. One thing is clear – the better managers and leaders understand why diversity matters, the better it can be cultivated in a work environment. 

That’s exactly why, in this article, we’ll explore age diversity in the workplace. What are the pros and cons of having different generations under one roof, and what does each generation bring to the table? Read on to find out.

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Age diversity in the workplace today

Living and working in the 21st century, we’re quite uniquely positioned, as some workplaces can employ up to five generations simultaneously:

  1. Traditionalists (born from 1925 to 1945)
  2. Baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964)
  3. Gen X (born from 1965 to 1980)
  4. Millennials (born from 1981 to 2000)
  5. Gen Z (born after 2001)

Being born and raised in different times creates differences in how we work, our values, our goals, and more. But each generation also has its strengths that can benefit the work environment. Let’s examine the pros and cons of the five age groups one by one.

A note before we dive in: The benefits and disadvantages explored in this article are by no means applicable to all representatives of the age groups. People are unique, and age is really just a number. Take the lists of pros and cons with a grain of salt, and if you’re a manager, keep an individual approach when managing age diversity and generational differences in your team.

Two men shaking hands in the office

Benefits and disadvantages of having traditionalists on the team

Traditionalists are the employee group with the biggest life experience. Quite a few of them are pre-retirement – however, more and more traditionalists choose to (or are forced to due to financial reasons) stay in the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of 75+ year-old workers within the workforce is growing rapidly and will only continue to do so. 

So, what does traditionalists’ presence look like in a work environment?

Pros:

  • Growing up in often strict environments, they tend to have extraordinary work discipline and be hardworking and respectful towards management, displaying amazing work ethic
  • Traditionalists are ready to stay at one job for a long time as they see it as a sign of loyalty and legacy-building, which they value very much
  • They prefer to separate professional from personal life, having solid boundaries between the two aspects of their lives
  • Age doesn’t equal wisdom, but the traditionalist generation has a greater chance of having dealt with all kinds of issues at work, giving them expert status in conflict resolution and making them potentially good mentors for their younger colleagues

Cons:

  • Despite witnessing all sorts of innovations enter the workplace and adapting to changes, traditionalists can sometimes have a hard time with that, as an ageing mind is naturally less adaptive to novelties
  • While it fully depends on the person, the traditionalist generation tends to be more conservative than other generations, which can mess with diversity and inclusion in the workplace
  • Despite being all for separating their private and professional lives, due to their extraordinary work ethic, traditionalists tend to prioritize work matters over personal ones, which can cause clashes with colleagues who prioritize a healthier work-life balance instead
  • Traditionalists typically favour in-person communication and formal modes of interaction, which may conflict with the communication preferences of younger generations that lean towards digital channels and informal conversations

Baby boomers on your team? Here are some pros and cons

Baby boomers are another experienced generation in the work environment, and they are in many ways similar to the aforementioned traditionalists. For example, it’s common to find baby boomers who have worked years and years for the same company, earning the title of the most loyal employee ever. 

Born after WWII, when the world witnessed a spike in birth rates, baby boomers are the longest-living generation in history and hold substantial economic and political power. 

They, undoubtedly, have had and still have a notable influence in work environments. Here are some benefits and disadvantages of their presence in the workplace.

Pros:

  • Similar to the traditionalist generation, baby boomers have collected quite the experience and industry knowledge over time, making them potentially good mentors for younger generations
  • Work ethic, loyalty, and commitment to a career are what characterise baby boomers. Hence, they often are among the most loyal and hardworking employees within a company
  • Having lived and worked through times when all the crucial communication happened in person rather than online, baby boomers are often skilled communicators, making them great for sales, customer service, and other positions that may need live negotiation
  • Baby boomers are highly motivated by employee perks and are ranked among the most productive workers

Cons:

  • Data says that boomers rank low when it comes to adaptability and collaboration skills
  • This generation tends to put an equal sign between hard work and long hours, increasing the risk of burnout, unhealthy work-life balance, and unrealistic expectations towards their younger colleagues
  • Being extremely hardworking and putting their work on a pedestal of their priorities, boomers who are managers can show impatience or lack of understanding towards their colleagues who prioritise well-being, family, or other personal matters
  • Baby boomers sometimes tend to equate seniority with authority. While it’s nothing critical per se, it can manifest itself as not respecting managers or leaders who are younger than the boomer generation, causing potential conflicts in a work environment

Generation X at work – pros and cons

Moving on to Generation X (also referred to as Gen X) and their presence in work environments. According to Investopedia, Gen X is “the first generation to be worse off in terms of being prepared for retirement than their parents”. They also have notable average debt among other generations. Does it show in their working style and affect how they work? 

Let’s see what are the benefits and drawbacks of Gen X in the workplace.

Pros:

  • Gen X is often viewed as self-sufficient and individualistic as they’ve cared for themselves from a young age due to their parents working hard. That leads to Gen X being good problem solvers, independent thinkers, and not needing supervision to perform well
  • Having witnessed the rapid advancement of technologies in the workplace, this generation is usually comfortable with adopting new solutions or adapting to new systems in place – it feels natural for them
  • They value flexibility at work not only for themselves but also for others, which is one of the reasons why Gen X-ers can be good leaders. They’re the generation that understands having to care for your family, parents included, while working full-time
  • Gen X brings informality to the work environment in comparison to their forerunning generations. They’re often “work hard, play harder” people and appreciate having fun at work after a job well done

Cons:

  • Contrary to traditionalists and baby boomers, Gen X is not likely to thrive in rigid corporate environments as they prefer working in more relaxed settings
  • Gen X-ers are  r e a d y  to question authority in the workplace, and that can cause some clash situations between managers and Gen X employees
  • While also being a benefit, Gen X’s love for independence and autonomy at work may interfere with their ability to collaborate and work in a team
A man using computer at work

Millennials at work – what’s the deal with them?

While Generation X has brought fresh winds into work environments, added more flexibility and often ditched corporate stiffness, it’s safe to say that millennials are the ones truly reshaping the workplace. 

According to Gallup, millennials are the biggest job-hoppers and have lower engagement at work than previous generations. What does this mean for workplaces?

Pros:

  • Millennials tend to look for purpose in work rather than just a well-paid position. When their values align with those of a company and their job has a clear purpose, millennials can truly excel
  • They are all about development and gaining new skills and knowledge at work. According to a report by PwC, development at work is what millennials are looking for, and who wouldn’t want a worker looking for constant growth?
  • When it comes to work-life balance, millennials are taking it to a whole new level – they’re all about managing stress and having enough time to rest and spend with loved ones, which makes them great people-oriented leaders
  • The millennial generation tends to be open to everything new – from innovations and creative approaches to new workplace policies that embrace diversity and inclusivity. When it comes to diversity at work, it’s a requirement for them rather than something nice to have

Cons:

  • Millennials may not be the most loyal workers due to their tendency towards job-hopping – six of 10 millennial employees are open to new job opportunities
  • This generation is also infamous for being “lazy” and working, on average, fewer hours per week than the generations before them. Some call out millennials for having poor work ethic (which is related to their purpose-seeking nature)
  • Compared to other generations, millennials show a bigger dependence on feedback and support from their co-workers and managers, which can interfere with their ability to work independently
  • According to a study, only 29% of millennials are engaged at work, and 16% are actively disengaged – not great from a company growth perspective

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Pros and cons of having Gen Z on the team 

The youngest generation currently active in the workplace is Generation Z. In fact, in 2024, Gen Z will officially overtake baby boomers in the full-time workforce – or at least that’s what Glassdoor data says. 

If millennials came into the workforce like a breath of fresh air, Gen Z-ers are taking it all even further. Being the first generation born into the smartphone era, Gen Z brings a unique set of qualities into the workplace.

Pros:

  • They live and breathe change – from tech to approach to work, Generation Z is ready for all sorts of shifts, remaining flexible and resilient
  • Gen Z-ers value collaboration and teamwork. In fact, they perform best when in teams, and if their contributions are actively appreciated, expect them to thrive and deliver their absolute best
  • Work-life balance and well-being, especially mental health, is one of the main priorities of this generation, meaning that Generation Z is not only capable of doing everything to avoid burnout but also of looking out for their colleagues from different generations. A sign of potentially great leaders? 
  • Similar to millennials, diversity and inclusion are non-negotiable aspects of a workplace for Gen Z employees. For them, it’s a standard and a must-have – as it should be

Cons:

  • According to a survey, 3 in 4 managers find it difficult to work with Gen Z employees And while generational gaps and differences exist between all of the aforementioned age groups, it seems like Gen Z is having the hardest time of them all
  • Gen Z tend to have the shortest attention span among the currently active workforce. Growing up in an era of constant digital stimulation, Generation Z workers may find it more difficult to focus for longer periods of time than their older colleagues, leading to struggles with certain types of tasks
  • This generation can also be over-reliant on technology, as their reality is unimaginable without the presence of technology. The downside to it? Hindered face-to-face communication skills and struggles of maintaining interpersonal relationships at work
  • Due to having instant access to information and services as they grew up, Gen Z-ers are used to instant gratification more than other generations. It can transfer into their work lives as they have heightened expectations for immediate success and rewards

The bottom line

As you have probably understood by now, each generation brings a unique set of skills, attitudes, and values into a work environment. None of them is better or worse than the others, and none of them should be preferred over others. Plus,  the individual should always be considered overt generational stereotypes. 

It is challenging to manage a team consisting of five generations. Still, the diversity of experiences, skills, and viewpoints such a team can deliver is truly remarkable and absolutely worth it, both from the perspective of business growth and the personal development of your employees. 

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