The multi-generational workforce is here, with five generations active in the workplace for the first time ever.

Just as diversity with regards to race and gender can bring a vibrant array of perspectives and solutions to the table, so too should different age groups working together. Still, there can be big challenges when different generations come to the table with their different approaches to learning, collaboration and technology.

How much truth is there in the stereotypes of generational divides?

People are unique, and you can’t paint an entire generation in one broad stroke. But there is truth behind some of the stereotypes about different generations. Changing technology, evolving perspectives on hierarchies and teamwork, the state of the economy, the explosion of digital in the last 20 years—all of these factors served to shape us, whenever we happen to have come of age.

Millennials currently take up the largest portion of the workforce—more than one-third, according to the Pew Research Center. And that number is only growing. At the same time, people in the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations are living longer and retiring later. And it’s really no surprise that today’s 75-year-old, born at the end of World War II, might approach work differently than today’s 25-year-old, a child of the Dot Com boom.

What are the key differences between generations?

Whether or not these characteristics hold true for every individual within the generation, it’s helpful to be aware of some of the key features of each generation in the workplace, from Traditionalists to Gen Z. You and your team members can be more cognizant of others’ differences—and of any negative stereotypes that they may unconsciously hold—and recognize that people of all ages bring many positives to the workplace.

Traditionalists (Born 1925–1945)

As life expectancies increase and retirement funds that fell apart during the Great Recession inch back up, many are staying in the workforce well into their seventies. So what does this generation bring, and how can they be best engaged?

Who they are

According to research from Purdue University’s School of Business and Information Technology, Traditionalists tend to be straightforward yet tactful. Having started in the workforce back when employees enrolled in the company pension plan and stayed on for decades, they bring dependability and loyalty. Finally, they expect some seniority with age, and they are fairly comfortable with hierarchies and discipline.

How to motivate them

It’s important to offer Traditionalists a sense of stability and the opportunity to make long-term contributions. Ensuring that they feel that a hierarchy is in place—and that there is an order to how leadership approaches projects and challenges—lays the groundwork Traditionalists need to give everything they’ve got to the task at hand.

Ideas like reverse mentorships ensure older employees remain in the fray technologically. Still, experts emphasize that the key to keeping all ages engaged is determining what approach really works for all members of your team. In other words, listening to your Traditionalists and trying to find technology that allows them to leave a personal imprint on tasks.

Baby Boomers (Born 1946–1964)

If Traditionalists have set the trend of delayed retirement, Baby Boomers aren’t going anywhere fast, either. Nor do they want to, being a work-focused group that has helped break many barriers and glass ceilings in the 20th-century American workplace to create something different and new.

Who they are

Baby Boomers tipped the scales for women in the workforce, with more Boomer women being employed when the oldest Boomers were thirty-one (1985) than not. The same wasn’t true for Traditionalists in the mid-sixties, when the majority were not in the workforce.

Shaped by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, Boomers might have less belief in authority and hierarchy than those above them, but they still feel bound by duty and believe success is hard-earned. They like efficiency and embrace it with communication, not standing on ceremony by writing a note if a quick phone call is more efficient.

How to motivate them

Baby Boomers are just as goal-oriented as those who came before them, even if their goals are less traditional. They like clear-cut tasks. They don’t believe in reinventing the wheel but would prefer to share their knowledge and move forward, so casting them in mentor roles will reap benefits for all parties. Boomers are willing to break a sweat to succeed. Thorough coaching-style feedback with plenty of constructive criticism will take you far with Boomer employees.

Gen Xers (Born 1965–1980)

Generation X has gotten a bit of a bad rap from the beginning when it was called the “slacker” generation. In fact, it’s a high-earning generation that has bred many a business founder and CEO. Some 55% of startup founders are Gen Xers. They didn’t grow up with smartphones in their hands, but they helped invent the first social media platforms, apps, and so on.

Who they are

Gen Xers may be the first to question authority—supposedly because they are the first latchkey kids of divorced parents, and also that they came of age during the recession of 1990. But the upside of this is a penchant for thinking outside the box, and a drive to achieve a sense of harmony between life and work. When systems don’t work, rather than change them from the inside they prefer to start a new system—or leave for a new job.

How to motivate them

Gen Xers value diversity and professional development as well as work-life balance. Exhibiting a strong company culture that cares about these things is a surefire way to engage a Gen Xer. Giving them quick feedback also shows them they aren’t “latchkey kids” on the job, but rather that their work and their performance really matter.

Millennials (Born 1981–2000)

Millennials are often the first generation named in conversations about generational characteristics. After all, their generation sits on the biggest piece of the workplace pie, and has since 2016: Some 35 percent of the workforce is in the Millennial generation today. Also, Millennials have come of age and are now in their working prime, from their late 20s to just turning 40. And they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Who they are

The first generation to become adults after the Internet had made an indelible mark on business and culture, Millennials are generally tech-savvy and digitally focused. Immigration has helped feed the Millennial workforce, adding to its already diverse base.

Millennials have learned to hustle and stay flexible in a topsy-turvey economy that tanked as they were joining the workforce in 2008, and has had some very good years in the last decade. As native digital users, they have adopted technology that helps them work smarter, not harder—and it’s their first instinct to turn to technology when challenges arise.

How to motivate them

Often ambitious and hard-working people who aren’t difficult to motivate, Millennials do have certain preferences and desires for their work environments. A manager or mentor who inspires them with cutting-edge technology choices, skills to spare and a visionary outlook can excite Millennials and foster their growth. Having grown up fast as early participants in social media entrepreneurship, they also appreciate a long-leash and a set of work responsibilities they can own. They’re also used to seeing success in numbers of Likes and other concrete metrics, so focusing on measurable results will go far with today’s thirty-something set.

Generation Z (Born 2001–2020)

They’re a small presence in the workforce today—but won’t be for long. Generation Z may be the tipping point for diversity in this country, given its makeup of at least 48% racial or ethnic minorities. They were born with devices in their hands—or were gripping onto them before their first birthdays. Equipped with tools that excite them, their instincts are strong and potential is limitless.

Who they are

Technology is first nature to Gen Zers, and they like to have free reign with it. While most of them haven’t experienced the lessons about collaboration and humility that the work environment brings, which could shift their outlooks, they have a strong leaning toward independence and self-direction.

How to motivate them

Generation Z likes to switching between projects to see the bigger picture through all the moving parts, so asking them to multi-task is a good thing. They don’t mind showing others how to use technology, but they want to do it their way, with their own unique spin. Keep them interested by showing you value diversity and inclusion, are willing to support their independence when possible, and are eager to streamline processes through great technology.

General tips on working with multi-generational teams

Articles from both Forbes and Inc. Magazine assert that there are clear benefits to multi-generational teams—but only if you cultivate each groups’ strengths, and pay attention to their needs.

One recommendation is to map out learning and career paths. As Inc. points out, Millennials are eager learners and want to learn skills outside of their job descriptions, but you need your senior employees to be lifelong learners, as well. Giving them clear milestones to meet will help them feel that they are on a journey to bettering and solidifying their careers.

Carefully choosing new software tools that will be accessible to, and embraced by, all your team members is also important, according to Forbes. They recommend this against just jumping straight for the shiniest, quickest to adopt or least expensive new tool.

Arcoro helps management provide employee feedback and career roadmaps that are tailored to the individual to ensure engagement at all ages, while leaving you time for other projects. Our easy-to-use, flexible software modules offer simpler onboarding, benefits and learning management for cross-generational employees, so you can keep everyone on the same page and feeling valued.

Get in touch today to learn more about how Arcoro can help you maximize the productivity of your multi-generational workforce.