HR Forum

Closing the generation gap

There are currently four different generations employed in our organisations. Each generation has distinct values and characteristics that often lead to difficulties in managing and communicating with one another.

It is important for each generation to be aware of and sensitive to these differences in order to minimise misunderstandings. These generations have been labelled the Matures, the Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.

The Matures are those born before 1945 and are also known as veterans, seniors, traditionalists and even “the silent generation”. Boomers are those born between 1945 and 1964 and often referred to as the Baby Boomers.

Generation X are those born between 1964 and 1980 and also known as Xers, and Post Boomers. Generation Y, born after 1980, are called the Millennials, Nexters, and of course the Internet Generation.

Defining idea

The Matures’ defining idea is duty, their work style is team player, their view of education is a dream and they manage money by saving.

The Boomers’ defining idea is individuality, their work style is self-absorbed, their view of education is a birthright and they manage money by spending it.

Gen Xers’ defining idea is diversity, their work style is entrepreneurial, their view of education is a way to get ahead and they manage money by investing.

Gen Y’s defining idea is back to basics, their work style is team player, their view of education is lifelong and they manage money by spending their parents’ dollars.


Matures value dedication, law and order and a strong work ethic. They are risk averse, have respect for authority and loyalty to the organisation.

Boomers value optimism, teamwork, personal gratification, promotion and recognition, health and wellness.

Gen X values diversity, a balance in life, computer literacy, personal development, informality and initiative.

Gen Y values optimism, confidence, ambition and achievement in education, idealism, fun and diversity.

Work ethic

Matures are stable, detail-oriented, thorough, loyal and hard working. Their flip side is that they are often uncomfortable with change and ambiguity, are reluctant to buck the system, prefer to avoid conflict and are reticent when they disagree.

Baby Boomers are service-oriented, driven, good at relationships, they want to please and are good team players. But they are not naturally “budget minded”, are uncomfortable with conflict, reluctant to go against peers, put process ahead of results and are overly sensitive to feedback.

Generation X workers are assets because they are adaptable, techno-literate, independent, not intimidated by authority and creative. But they can also be impatient, have poor people skills, are inexperienced and cynical.

Generation Y workers are loyal, optimistic and tolerant, adept at multi-tasking, are fast thinkers and have technological savvy. Some of their negative aspects include the need for supervision and structure, inexperience — particularly with handling different people issues — and low service levels.

Attitude to feedback

  • Traditionalists: “No news is good news.”
  • Boomers: “Feedback once a year.”
  • Generation X: “Sorry to interrupt but how am I doing?”
  • Generation Y: “Feedback at the push of a button.”

Leading them

For the Matures, leaders must make time for the personal touch, honour their hard work with symbolic records of achievement, verbally and publicly acknowledge their experience, provide proactive technology support and create ways they can mentor others.

Give Boomers lots of public recognition, a chance to prove their worth, perks with status, ask for their inputs and get their consensus.

Give Generation Xers many projects and lots of control, offer constructive and straightforward feedback, invest in computer technology, resist micro managing them, provide a flexible work environment and reward initiative.

To lead Generation Y workers, learn about their personal goals and find ways to mesh these with the company’s goals. Forget traditional gender roles, be sensitive to the potential for conflict with Gen Xers, develop a hands-off style, open avenues for education and skill building and introduce mentoring programmes.


  • Matures: Give them the big picture, emphasise long-term goals, let them share their experiences.
  • Boomers: Focus on the near future, challenges and their role, and provide development experiences.
  • Generation X: Focus on balance, offer them access to many different kinds of information and provide electronic support.
  • Generation Y: Let them know that what they do matters, communicate expectations, focus on boosting their customer service and interpersonal skills.

Motivating messages

  • Matures: “Your experience is respected, it’s important for the rest of us to hear what has and hasn’t worked in the past, your perseverance is valued and will be rewarded.”
  • Boomers: “You are important to our success, we recognise your unique contribution, your vision for this project and you are valued.”
  • Generation X: “Do it your way, we have the latest technology, we are not very corporate here.
  • Generation Y: “Your learning is important to us.”

Different generations have different approaches to the same problem. Different is neither right or wrong — just different. Remember, the generational context is not about age, but common experiences. - Source: Singapore Straits Times/Asia News Network

Article by Chris Fenney, co-founder and director of Training Edge International.