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Mind the Gap

As we celebrate youth day this month we take a look at how to bridge the generational gap in the workplace.

As you stare in disbelief at the young upstart across the boardroom table that just interrupted the managing director, while addressing him by his first time, you can’t help but feel a spark of envy for that almost inherent self-belief that your younger colleague seems to have.

Managing a multigenerational workforce has become an art in itself because each generation of employees has a different approach to life and work. Young employees want to make a quick impact, the middle generation need to believe in the company objectives, and older employees are impatient with ambivalence.

Understanding the strengths and differences of each generational group in your organisation, and then leveraging their strengths will create a workforce that values differences and draws strengths from these seemingly different worlds.

But first you need to know how to spot them.

The Traditionalists

Born: Between 1925 and 1945.

Strengths: Dedicated, loyal, respectful.

Weaknesses: Risk adverse and intolerant of change.

Formative years characterised by: The great wars, hard work, tough economic times and discipline.

Philosophy: Duty comes before pleasure.

Career Orientation: Build a legacy and a lifelong career with one company.

Famous Traditionalists: Warren Buffett, American business magnate


While many of the Traditionalist generation are by now retired they still, from time-to-time, form part of many organisations in an advisory capacity. The greatest strength of this generation is that their upbringing during some of the world’s most challenging economic periods has created a generation of exceptionally hard workers. They always respected authority and are often dismayed at what they view as the seeming lack of respect for authority in workplaces today.


The Baby Boomers

Born: Between 1946-1964.

Strengths: Optimistic, team players, excellent mentors.

Weaknesses: Avoid conflict, sensitive to feedback.

Formative years characterised by: Nuclear families and loyalty.

Philosophy: Work defines who you are and one day we will change the world.

Career Orientation: Excel in all you do. A balanced life is a nice idea but not really possible.

Famous Baby Boomers: Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple


The Baby Boomers were raised in a world characterised by traditional nuclear families that was changing for the better from an economic perspective. This inspired a generation of great minds that sought out to change the world and make it a better place. Boomers take great pride in their work, and in fact define their whole identity in what they do, rather than who they are. Much like the previous generation they are fiercely loyal to the organisations they work for and find themselves confused by what they view as the self-entitlement of younger generations. As this generation approaches retirement, many of them are struggling because their desire to continue working is perpetuated by their need to stay relevant in the workplace. They are also the most exceptional mentors of all the generations with a wealth of knowledge to pass on.


Generation X

Born: Between 1965 and 1980.

Strengths: Self-reliant, positive, flexible, multi-taskers.

Weaknesses: Question authority, want freedom to do things their way, it’s just a job attitude.

Formative years characterised by: Blended or single parent families.

Philosophy: Just get on with it.

Career Orientation: Cynical around organisational loyalty but independent and adaptable

Famous Generation Xers: Quentin Tarantino, American filmmaker


Generation X are the children of the Traditionalists. They saw their families adversely affected by a dogged dedication to work and many spent their childhoods in day-care as they were raised in single parent households. This upbringing has resulted in a cynical view towards corporate culture, and while they are happy to dedicate themselves to an organisation, they need to believe in what it stands for. When they don’t, they have no problem looking elsewhere for new opportunities.


The Millenials

Born: Between 1981 and 1995.

Strengths: Enthusiastic, confident, embrace cultural differences.

Weaknesses: Need constant affirmation and feedback.

Formative years characterised by: The greatest technology boom the world has ever seen.

Philosophy: But why? Unafraid to question due to being raised by an empowering parenting style.

Career Orientation: Build parallel career paths with more than one job at a time

Famous Millenials: Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Facebook.


The Millenials / Generation Y are the offspring of the Baby Boomer Generation, and also the boomers greatest source of irritation in the workplace. Boomers are baffled by the Millenials’ constant need for feedback and affirmation, forgetting that they used to reward their children for the smallest of accomplishments. The Millenials are both the most enthusiastic and frustrating people in your employ. If their energy is channelled constructively they can achieve significant feats, but if they feel in any way dismissed or overlooked they start questioning what’s in it for them. They often place lifestyle above the idea of developing their skills further, which makes them seem obsessed with money and self. Because this generation is unafraid to question old ways they can make an enormously positive impact on an organisation with systems that no longer work in a rapidly changing world.

Generation Z

Coming soon to a workplace near you, is the generation that was born holding smart phones in their hands. Born from 1996 onwards and bound to give Generation X and Y a serious run for their money, we’re still waiting to see what the biggest contribution of this generation will be.

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