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How to build relationships with every generation in the workplace

Region IV-W
April 14, 2020 Jennifer McDannold University of Arkansas at Little Rock


  1. #OKBoomer, how’d you get here?

Although there is a lot of talk about #OKBoomer, there’s something to be said about the oldest generation in the workforce today. Baby Boomers have achieved a high level of success in the workplace, and since their about 56 - 74 and looking at retirement, call dibs on mentors now. They were shaped by the Vietnam War, JFK, Woodstock & disco - so they’re pretty optimistic and accepting if you follow their old school rules. Even though they’ll call you on a good ole fashioned telephone (yes - with a cord), they seek a collegial spirit, so answer questions in detail, with respect and it will get you far.

2. Sure #Karen, tell me more about your new Facebook profile picture.

Gen X, often characterized as the “left out” generation since they are smaller in number to Baby Boomers and Millennials, are aged 42 - 55. They have the honor of parenting Gen Z, so you’ll notice some similar characteristics in these generations. Gen X values professionalism and stability, so that’s why you have weekly meetings with your blazer wearing boss. They love staying connected, so invite them to your projects and make friends. You can also thank this generation for the term “work life balance”, as they were one of the first generations to crave work & family/friends - equally balanced together as one. Making the news amidst COVID 19, the hardship they faced as adolescents with the dot.com crash, economic recession and housing crashes have made them the “positive Polly” of the workplace, cheering their tired colleagues through this crisis. 

3. Millenials killed Olive Garden.

If you study generational cycles, you’ll find that each generation falls into a 4 category cyclical generational movement. Millennials, falling into the “civic” group usually gear toward rebuilding institutions. That means as society has changed, Millennials are the generation that has expected change with it, evolving once established restaurants or businesses to change or face extinction. With their work ethic, ability to multitask and “what’s next” attitude - they push ahead with confidence and tenacity. Put yourself in constructive feedback mode often or fear losing their respect. Lose that and you’ll lose them as an employee - as they are more likely than any other generation to leave if expectations are not met.

4. Has anyone in Gen Z spoken to each other in real life?

If you need a great book to read, I recommend iGen by Jean Twenge. Gen Z is one of the most inclusive and diverse generations we’ve ever seen, but they may struggle with social expectations and connections. In fact, ½ as many Gen Z high schoolers versus Boomers/Gen Xers at their age have gone on dates. In the 1970s, 22% of high schoolers didn’t work a job, but by the 2010s it was up to 44%. Latchkey kids or Gen Xers, are days gone with their children Gen Z seniors less likely to have a driver’s license than Boomers/Gen Xers at their age. How do they get around? Parents drive them around. #ThanksKare

5. Establish respect, be flexible & tailor your communication style

I leave you with three general tips to enhance your multi generational relationships

Just as newcomers need to respect long time employees’ seniority and experience, long time employees need to adjust to and respect the talent of newcomers.

Be flexible with workplace hours and expectations -  ready to retire Boomers may want to work part time, while Gen X may need flexible hours to take care of their children or their parents.

Get to know the person you’re working with and ask questions about preferred communication style and expectations. Not everyone falls into a typical age based personality, but if you know more about a generation’s history and preferences - you’ll become an amazing relationship builder!

Jenn McDannold

Coordinator of Orientation & Transition

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

[email protected]