Generations at Work

Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace

 Generations at Work

Authors: Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, Bob Filipczak
Pub Date: March 2013
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432334
Page Count: 304
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432358

Buy the book:

Buy the book thru Barnes and Noble. Buy the book thru AMAZON. Buy the book thru indiebound. Buy the eBook.
See other vendors.



The New Economic Reality and the

Cross-Generational Workplace

It’s been more than ten years since the first edition of Generations at

Work. The world has changed profoundly and so have our personal

circumstances. In 2004, we lost Ron Zemke, one of our original coauthors.

He was the driving force that led to the first book. Ron was a brilliant

writer, an even more brilliant presenter, and a great mind and mentor.

We still can’t stand in front of an audience without thinking of him

and, every time we get a laugh from the group, it’s because we are channeling

Ron’s spirit. In updating this book, there are phrases and paragraphs

and whole pages of the original that are pure Ron, and it hurts to

revise them. Just the act of deleting the words seems sacrilegious.

Fortunately Ron was nothing if not irreverent, so the idea that we would

attach religious potency to his writing would have him chasing us from

his office with heavy projectiles—as we fled for the elevator on the eighteenth

floor of Minneapolis’ Foshay Tower.

Suffice it to say, the world we live in has changed. In some ways, it

seems as if the earth has shifted on its axis. We find ourselves near the

end—we use that phrase with great hope and determination—of a dramatic

economic decline that has affected the entire world economy.

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in oil and food prices, a precipitous

drop in international trade, and low consumer confidence. The

European Union (EU) is stretched to its limits as it decides whether to

bail out the failing economies of Greece and Spain. Growth has slowed

in the formerly booming economies of China and India. In the United

States, the number of foreclosures and personal bankruptcies has skyrocketed.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are unemployed.

The poor economy has even affected birthrates; according to Demographic

Intelligence, a company that produces quarterly birth forecasts,

birthrates in the United States are at their lowest in 25 years, “in large

part because unemployment and economic fear remain high” among


The first edition of this book focused on generational issues in the

United States where, in 2000, we were experiencing our ninth year of

economic expansion. For nine years running, the United States had

added more than two million workers a year to its payrolls. The unemployment

rate hovered around four percent. So it makes sense that our

first edition emphasized recruitment and retention, labor shortages, and

meeting the demands of workers who knew they were sorely needed.

Those workers knew that, if their current positions didn’t suit them to a

tee, they could get a job just across the street.

Today, employees from every generation are going back to the basics

and lowering their workplace expectations. Elizabeth Milligan, a recent

college graduate, describes the shift: “I think the current economic crisis

has changed things. I would have said a few years ago, ‘We’re really skilled.

We’re going to get jobs and we’re going to do something interesting.’ But

we recognize that the economy is bad. If we can get a paycheck, we’re

pretty lucky. Today we’re saying, ‘We just need jobs.’”2

The shifting sands of the economy are playing havoc with the generational

mix in virtually every organization. The Boomers—and even

some members of the generation before them—aren’t retiring as soon as

everyone thought. As a result, Generation X is feeling as if it has been

sentenced to an extended parole in middle management without much

room for movement. And some Millennials will spend their early “working

years” underemployed or even unemployed because the organizational

pipes are clogged with more experienced Boomers and Xers.

Even though the current economic climate might make compromise

on the part of employees and job seekers unavoidable, let’s not be

tempted to assume all those nagging differences among us will simply

evaporate. While employees of all ages are surely less confident and emboldened

than they were in 2000, history tells us that our tough economic

times will be temporary. Job seekers might acknowledge that today

they have to settle for less, and current employees might stay in their

jobs a little longer, but that doesn’t mean we will all perform at the highest

levels—unless and until we create a workplace environment that respects

and rewards workers of all ages. The cost to a business of replacing

a disgruntled employee who is fortunate enough to find a greener

pasture is approximately 2.5 times his or her annual salary. Now, more

than ever, that’s a cost few companies can afford.

In the first edition of Generations at Work, we made a case for a new

crisis in the workplace that could be solved, or partially solved, by recognizing

generational diversity. The work world was then at the beginning

of an awakening about generational issues, and our primary objective was

to convince readers that some common workplace complaints—lack of

respect and inability to work as a team, for example—could, in many cases,

be attributed to generational differences. We smiled to ourselves when

you shared with us your “ahh haaaa” moments via email and after speeches

and seminars. Awareness was raised. But in many cases, that’s as far as

it went. People got better at recognizing generational speed bumps—and

even seeing how they affected work relationships and results—but they

were often unsure how to navigate the speed bumps.

This edition is less about raising awareness, and more about problem

solving. We look at causes of generational behavior and approaches

that not only reduce conflict but actually make generational differences

an organizational asset. In these turbulent economic times, it is even

more critical that organizational leaders take steps that attract candidates

with the right skills, engage every employee to bring out the best

each has to offer, and create an environment that lowers anxiety, boosts

morale, and increases productivity. With that as our goal, we invite you

to read on and learn how to tap the potential of workers from all the


The Generations

The generations vying with each other in today’s workplace, as we depict

them, are unique and a bit different than those commonly suggested by

others. For instance, we define the Baby Boom generation as those born

from 1943 to 1960. Others, particularly population demographers, define

the Baby Boom as 1946 to 1964. Why the difference? We have factored in

the “feel” as well as the “fact” of a generational cohort in our definitions.

For instance, our research finds that people born between 1943 and 1960

have similar values and views as the “true” demographically defined Baby

Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Likewise, we date Generation

X from 1960 rather than 1965. This again, comes from our research and

conclusion that the 1960 to 1964 cohort act and think more like Generation

Xers than any other group. In interviews and discussion groups, most

members of that set of birth years adamantly refused to be labeled Boomers

for any purpose. Our four generational groups therefore are:

1. The Traditionalists: born before 1943

Those who grew up in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II

and faced the world with a can-do attitude.

2. The Baby Boomers: born 1943 to 1960

Those born during and after World War II and raised in an era of extreme

optimism, opportunity, and progress.

3. Generation Xers: born 1960 to 1980

Those born after the blush of the Baby Boom who came of age deep in

the shadows of the Boomers and the rise of the Asian tiger.

4. Millennials: born 1980 to 2004

Those born of the Baby Boomers and early Xers into a culture where

children were cherished, nurtured, and protected.

Note that our generations overlap at their end points. If we wouldn’t

utterly confuse everyone, we would overlap them by three or four years.

There are no hard stops or road signs indicating when one generation

ends and another begins. Please note also that we are aware of the danger

of stereotyping whether by generation or gender. To say that all Boomers

strive for their greatest human potential or that all Xers are good project

managers or that all Millennials are hard-working optimists would be a

mischaracterization, even though those core traits tend to accurately describe

the generation as a whole. The research we rely on describes a cohort

of people that includes tens of millions, so whenever you take those

generalizations and apply them to the guy in the next cubicle, you will run

into problems. Rather than shoehorn your coworkers into the characteristics

we describe for each generation, learn to identify the characteristics

and see if some of them fit the coworkers who are driving you crazy—and

then find creative ways to change your approach.

The most important thing to remember is that the specific markers

of a generation’s formative years do bind them together in exclusive

ways. To say, for instance, that Millennials are more attuned to rock

climbing and extreme sports than Boomers doesn’t preclude the possibility

of Grandmas who can ski a half pipe. It does suggest, however,

that aside from the passion for snowboarding, she will still have fewer

attitudes and experiences in common with the Millennial than would

another Millennial. Those common ties are self-reinforcing and selfsustaining

and lead to within-group cohesion.

How This Book Can Help

This book is divided into four parts. Part One, “Dynamics of the

Multigenerational Workplace,” digs into the generations, their histories,

and how they arrived at the work characteristics that shaped them—before

entering the workplace and then during their socialization into the

work world. Without understanding where each generation got its ideas,

you will be hobbled in your attempts to diagnose what’s going on in your

workplace. But this isn’t Freudian analysis; it’s just knowing enough history

to be able to problem solve.

We’ve done everything in our power to give this new edition a global

perspective. Chapters Two, Three, Four, and Five are told from an

American perspective. We outline the history of the eras that shaped the

four generations in the United States. It’s the history we as authors know

best and can speak about with authority. If you’re reading in Belgium or

Bangalore, you may want to overlay your own history and adjust the

timeline a bit. In any case, you will find helpful strategies, tools, and

techniques that you can apply no matter where you live and work. And

in Chapter Six, we tell you what we’ve learned about the generations in

other parts of the world.

In Part Two, “Where Mixed Generations Work Well Together,” we

look at three companies where a mix of generations is treated as an asset

rather than a liability. They represent a wonderful mosaic of the possible.

Part Two is also chock full of tools. We introduce the ACORN imperatives

and then provide best practices from a variety of organizations

and industries. This section is designed to be a practical user-guide for

today’s day-to-day manager.

In keeping with the multigenerational approaches we endorse and

support in our work, in this revision we don’t just talk about the generations,

we invite them to speak for themselves. We’ve been listening to

workers, leaders, managers, mid-managers, and executives in interviews

and focus groups, company offices, coffee shops, and college classrooms.

In Part Three, “The Interviews” we hear from three executives who have

put loads of time and effort into bridging generational gaps in their

organizations—and from ten workers representing all the generations,

who share their thoughts on everything from the worst boss to mandatory

teambuilding sessions to retirement.

In Part Four, we’ve reprinted four of our best articles. They cover

important issues from social media to mentoring—and how to chill

when the boss is young enough to be your grandchild. Finally, we’ve

included an appendix with an inventory you can use to evaluate the generational

“friendliness” of your organization.

A Few Words About Our Research

Twentysome years ago, the three of us became interested in generational

issues. We collected information separately and collectively that we used

to write the first edition. Now, with another decade of experience under

our belts, we are more certain than ever that helping people understand

their own generational predilections and the generational eccentricities

of others is a worthy calling.

As writers, consultants, speakers, and trainers, we have spent substantial

time learning from those who are “in the trenches” facing intergenerational

workplace issues on a daily basis. We have administered

surveys and facilitated discussion sessions and focus groups to get a

broad understanding of how the generations view themselves and each

other. In addition to interviewing hundreds of managers and those who

report to them, we have interviewed the leading experts on the sociology

of generations. We have been part of think tanks and have been

closely associated with two of the best minds in the history of generational

studies—Neil Howe and Bill Strauss. Our findings are corroborated

by the growing body of generational research conducted by organizations

like the Higher Education Research Institute at the University

of California at Los Angeles; Yankelovich Partners; the National Center

for Educational Statistics; Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company;

Harris Interactive; Pew Research; the Annenberg Foundation; and


Search the full text of this book


Order Now!

For single copy purchases of any AMACOM title, you can connect directly to the online retailer of your choice, from the list below, to buy the title you have selected. Most of our links will take you directly to that title on the site, making your shopping experience easier. You can also visit your local retailer, and if the book is not on their shelves they can special order it for you.

Retailers: Please contact us to change or add a listing.

Buying in Bulk?

We have very competitive discounts starting at 5 copies, as well as personal service, for bulk orders. Simply contact our Special Sales Department. Call 800-250-5308 or 212-903-8420 and ask for Special Sales. You can also email: