Understanding Millennials, Gen Xers, & Boomers: How to Work Together

For the first time in history, there are 4 generations of people working together in the marketplace. Working together is more challenging than ever with so many different generations at work at the same time. Working well together with fellow employees is easier when you are in relatively the same stage of life. However, in an environment with people who are much older or younger than you and who view the world much differently than you, working together can quickly become complicated and stressful. Understanding your fellow co-workers and being willing to learn from them will set you up to be a better leader and employee.

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What Millennials, Gen Xers, & Boomers Are Known For

The 4 generations in the workforce from oldest to youngest are the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials and Generation Z.

According to Forbes, one-third of the workforce in the United States is comprised of millennials. Boomers represent 25% and Gen Xers compose 35%. Generation Z rounds out the workforce.


Boomers are the generation born between 1946 and 1964. They came into the workforce en masse and had to learn to compete for resources and success early in their careers. They know how to work hard for what they want.

Often referred to as the “workaholic” generation, they are all about putting in a lot of hours, and they expect everyone else to as well. They define their identities by their careers and their successes, and they expect the generations after them to pay their dues. Success has to be earned, after all. They are also the least tech-savvy of all working generations.

Gen Xers

Gen Xers were born from the early 1960s to late 1970s. Referred to as the middle-child generation, they are often known as being neglected and ignored. They had to figure things out on their own as they went. As a norm, they receive marching orders from leaders and get things done without asking many questions or making waves.

This generation is also tagged as being disaffected and directionless. Many Gen Xers might even say the same about Millennials. Is history repeating itself?


Millennials are those born in the 1980s and 1990s. Millennials are known for being the first generation of digital natives. Their calling card is their passionate nature and desire to make a difference in what they do. They desire to make a difference and feel good about the work they do. They will often even put their passion before money, which makes them harder to keep in jobs as compared to members of older generations.

A survey conducted by Deloitte indicates Millennials are not as dedicated to one company as their Boomer or Gen Xer predecessors. The survey indicates that more than 40% of millennials think they will leave their current jobs in less than 2 years. Less than 30% have a desire to be in the same job for more than 5 years. This survey also underscores that millennials want to work for companies that offer flexible work environments and have diverse management teams.

Generation Z

Generation Z is the newest to the marketplace and is composed of individuals born after 1997. This generation is known as living a very digitized life, with a huge focus on gaming and social media.

They are known to be able to process information very quickly and are extremely flexible. Even though they are young, they truly value what they have to offer and want their voices to be heard.

Pros & Cons of Millennials, Gen Xers, & Boomers

Each generation has their pros and cons. Understanding each of these is critical to everyone working well together.


Boomers have wisdom and experience in the workplace that is invaluable. They often have the benefit of living through the history of an organization and know how not to do things. They believe in face to face meetings and have some of the best interpersonal relationship skills. It’s safe to say that most of their work was done without the help of a Zoom call.

A con is that they don’t always move as quickly or fluidly as their Millennial counterparts, which can be frustrating to their younger team members. They may also not be as skilled with technology, albeit some of them will surprise you.

Gen Xers

According to Forbes, most Gen Xers are highly educated, and an astounding 55% are founders of startups. Not too shabby for the forgotten generation! Gen Xers are accustomed to figuring things out as they go and don’t seek or receive lots of feedback along the way. It makes sense that they are comfortable with trail-blazing.

They don’t feel the need to be attention-grabbers and have done well for themselves in balancing caring for themselves, their children and aging parent(s).

This generation tends to be less satisfied with upper management and values getting things done quickly, which can translate to less willingness to work overtime.


Millennials want to make an impact in the world. They need and want to feel empowered to do so. They are big fans of consistent feedback and appreciate managers that act more like coaches than bosses. A big tip for working with Millennials: ask questions versus giving specific orders or directions. You will find that they are more responsive to this approach.

Millennials are results oriented and can be trusted to do good work for their organizations. They value getting things done right so they will seek feedback and course correct frequently. This need for regular feedback can be seen as “too much” work to Boomers and Xers. The older generations are used to receiving and responding to marching orders quickly. Millennials value flexibility in their approach to work rather than a strict and rigid process that a Boomer or Xer may appreciate. A millennial’s desire for flexibility and support may cause tension between the generations.

Millennials want to be heard, which can cause them to overlook typical hierarchical norms. This perspective can raise a challenge for the older generations who wouldn’t dream of barging up to a CEO to share an idea without a scheduled meeting.
They are also not willing to stay at an organization that does not seem to be advancing their careers. They value a fair exchange of paycheck and career growth for their work and will quickly make changes when they are dissatisfied and don’t see forward progress in their careers.

Tips for Working with Millennials, Gen Xers, & Boomers

  1. Understand you can and will learn from each other.

Millennials should be mentored by the older generations who they have a lot of wisdom and experience to share. On the flip side, 20% of this time should be spent in reverse mentoring where the younger generations can share their fresh and competitive ideas and approaches.

  1. Respect each other’s process.

The older generations love protocol and process. They will often receive work and begin with little debate, contrary to the younger generations. When learning how to manage Millennials, it is important to understand that they need and want to know “why” something needs to be done. If Millennials can get behind something, they will be much more married to it and be more tolerant of a “process” to get there.

  1. Teamwork works no matter how old you are.

Teamwork allows the wisdom and knowledge of all generations to be transferred. It is important for each member of the team to be heard and each member to speak up and share ideas. As a leader, it is your job to ensure each team member has a voice and each team member embraces age diversity.


Working together with others is challenging, even on a good day. It is imperative that you understand what drives the different generations and how they approach work. Understanding where each person is coming from makes a substantial difference in how you perceive and interact with others. Your interpersonal relationship skills will be improved when you know what each generation needs to feel fulfilled, how they are best led, and how you can help them approach their careers. We all are very different, but we can work well together when we consistently work towards ensuring each of us has the space to thrive and grow, irrespective of our age.

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Filed Under: Consulting skills