Differences among the generations in the workplace are more about perception than reality. Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y view other generations more harshly than they view their own. But they are more alike than they realize, according to a recently released Conference Board of Canada study.
According to the authors of Winning the Generation Wars: Making the Most of Generational Differences and Similarities in the Workplace, as the workforce ages and workers from different generations take on new roles in the workplace, employers have become increasingly concerned about the potential challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce. The questions is: how concerned should employers be?
“The generations see one another in ways that mirror many of the negative-and inaccurate- stereotypes,” says Tim Krywulak, senior research associate. “This research shows each generation includes workers with similar personality types, workplace motivations, and social behaviours. Workers from all three generations want respect, flexibility, fairness, and the opportunity to do interesting and rewarding work.”
Negative stereotypes of the three generations include:
- Boomers are seen as less comfortable with technology, less open to change, and less accepting of diversity than other generations;
- Generation X workers are seen as cynical, independent, and easily annoyed by any hint of being micro-managed; and
- Generation Y workers are seen by older colleagues as lazy, difficult to manage, and perpetually prepared to bolt from the organization as soon as another opportunity arises.
“Employers need to be aware of these stereotypes, as each can have a negative impact on workplace performance,” says Krywulak. “Perceptions that Boomers are not open to change can make younger workers more reluctant to bring forward new ideas, just as older workers’ assumptions about the purported cynicism of Gen Xers or the supposed “laziness” of Gen Yers can lead to added friction in the workplace.”
To manage the differences in perceptions among the generations while recognizing the cross-generational similarities in workplace preferences, the report recommends three strategies for employers:
1. Implement programs, policies and practices that respond to the cross-generational desires for respect, flexibility and fairness in the workplace;
2. Build a culture of inclusion to address the negative stereotypes about the generations in the workplace; and
3. Learn from effective practices used by other organizations-for example, L’Oreal Canada has an intergenerational training program that brings employees of different generations together to discuss their differences (and similarities).
Findings from this report, Winning the Generation Wars: Making the Most of Generational Differences and Similarities in the Workplace, are based on a literature review combined with a survey of more than 900 workers (including at least 300 from each of the Baby Boom, Gen X, and Gen Y cohorts). The study forms part of the CanCompete project, a three-year Conference Board program of research and dialogue designed to help leading decision makers advance Canada on a path of national competitiveness.
To view the entire report, free of charge, visit