Business leaders are struggling to understand the various values of the generations in their organizations, and it’s affecting the performance and retention of their teams. In a recent hiring trends survey conducted by Express Employment Professionals, 41 percent of leaders cited the values of the different generations of their work force as being difficult to appreciate.

Today’s work force is more diverse in terms of age than any other time in modern history. It includes four distinct generations, each with their own idea of what a career and workday look like, how a company should treat its employees and how employees should interact with their supervisors. It is not unlikely for your business to include members who are traditionalists (born 1925 to 1945), baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), generation Xers (born 1965 to 1981) and millennials (born 1982 to early 2000s).

With a work force spanning nearly 80 years, it’s no wonder that finding a workplace approach or setting that works for everyone is nearly impossible. Additionally, this diversity is leaving some business leaders struggling to keep their top talent.

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. Here are a few ways you can connect and develop a better awareness of the needs of each generation at your company.


The generation that experienced the end of the Great Depression and World War II is now mostly retired or coming to close of their careers. They are most likely loyal, hardworking and tend to be quiet about workplace issues they see as secondary or minor.

Unfortunately, this group has information and knowledge that often goes untapped in a modern work setting, so it’s important to ask for their opinion and advice in situations. Traditionalists are also most likely to have pride in their work and feel satisfaction that their job makes good use of their skills and abilities, according to a 2008 study by Sirota Survey Intelligence.

Baby Boomers

With nearly 77 million making up the generation that, for the most part, experienced economic prosperity, baby boomers are typically in leadership positions and have been for a while. They can be perceived as both optimistic and competitive, but they will almost always be hardworking and loyal. On the other side, though, a study by Deloitte, a consulting firm, showed that 32 percent of baby boomers cite a lack of leadership as a key turnover trigger.

“Boomers are the ‘show me’ generation, so they use body language to communicate, answer questions thoroughly and expect to be pressed for details,” said Christine Zust, president of Zust & Company, a training, consulting and coaching firm.

This generation is also reaching a time when retirement is an immediate focus, so look to offer creative to keep them on board. A consulting position with the company requiring less hours spent in the office may be an attractive offer to keep some of the most knowledgeable and passionate workers still involved in the business. Many in this generation are also looking at spending more time in nonprofit work, so consider finding outlets for your tenured workers to spend time working for your company’s philanthropy or charity of choice.

Generation Xers

Most members of this generation are in their 30s and 40s, hold college degrees and are operating in management positions. They’ve seen a major recession in the economy before and are willing to work through lean times to get the job done. A recent study conducted by three universities in Canada showed this generation as being the most unsatisfied in regards to their pay, career advancement and training and development.

“The theory of generations says you have dominant generations and recessive generations and they tend to alternate, and Gen Xers are definitely a recessive generation caught between two much more dominant, louder, impactful generations,” said Sean Lyons, a professor at the University of Guelph and lead author on the study.

If you are leading and working with members of Generation X, provide them with opportunities to lead and prove themselves as capable of becoming a senior level leader. The same study in Canada also showed that this generation places the most value of any generation on balancing hours at work and in their personal lives. Be cautious about assigning after-hours projects and events to this group and be understanding when they request time off for family events, and you will see a team member committed to the success of the company.


The newest part of the work force is entering at a time when jobs are difficult to find and student loan debts are at record-breaking levels. Also known as the “boomerang” generation for the many who have moved back in with their parents, Millennials are facing tough times but have a lot to offer businesses that are looking to expand. They bring technical skills and knowledge other generations don’t have, and a willingness to work extra hours because they most likely haven’t started a family yet.

According to a survey by Elance, an online freelance jobs board, on the Millennial generation, 78 percent of Millennials are optimistic about the direction of their career path. If you want to attract and keep the top talent from this generation, keep the workplace fun and employee-centered and consider if the job could be done partially through telecommuting.

Managing a team of age-diverse employees offers unique challenges that can keep leaders up late at night. With a better understanding of each generation and what they’re looking for at work, you can make sure 2012 is the most successful year yet for your organization.

— Karen Dwyer is owner of Express Employment Professionals, 1025 Chapala St., Suite 206, in Santa Barbara. Click here to contact her or call 805.965.6900.