4 Generations in The Workplace and The Potential of Intergenerational Learning

There are 5 generations on earth and in any workplace, and there are likely to be 3 or 4 working together. This is a huge potential for intergenerational learning but could also be a source of much friction and misunderstanding. I have never paid attention, as closely as I do now, to issues of diversity related to age. I have friends in all age brackets in the workplace and in my people development work. Digging deeper into the career trend of different generations in the workplace and the opportunities and challenges has been an eye opener. This blog aims to provide insights that will help strengthen two career management skills related to this trend. One is, having a positive self-concept, which is influenced by age, life experiences in any life stage and how people interact with us. The second is, interacting positively and effectively with others. Both competencies require us to know and appreciate ourselves, as well as know and appreciate others. There is potential for a lot of learning and career or life growth in the space in-between intergenerational interaction, which is important to explore here.

What are the Multiple Generations at Work and Their Characteristics

What is a generation you may ask? A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this “birth cohort” exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.” https://genhq.com/faq-info-about-generations/

There are 5 generations on earth to note:

Traditionalists (born pre-1945), also known as the Silent Generation

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964),

Generation X (born 1965-1976),

Generation Y (born 1977 to 1995), also known as Millennials

Generation Z (born from 1996), also known as iGen or Centennials

 The Traditionalists are mostly retired, even though a few many be active, so we will not dwell on them a lot. The 4 generations in the workplace are the Baby Boomers and Generations X, Y and Z, as illustrated in the picture below.

5 Generations in the Workforce.png

As you read the following text bear in mind the two-fold objectives:

  • For you to have a positive self-image in the workplace despite the generation cohort you belong to. For example, if you are a Baby Boomer, own the experience you have that come with time in the workplace, but also be open and positive to new trends that are shaping Generation Z and you through artificial intelligence and other technologies.
  • Second, if we use the example above, the objective is to strengthen the career management competency of interpersonal skills and collaboration, both of which have become critical soft/essential skills in the addressing future of work changes in the workplace.

All the descriptions below do not factor in changes over time, the influences of education, geographical circumstances such as a rural or urban upbringing, gender roles and income level. They are indicative of general expected preferences, attitude and behaviour for each generational cohort.

Baby Boomers, Their Attributes and Intergenerational Insights – Born 1946 – 1964

 The formative experiences of Baby Boomers can be found in the historical experiences of the World War II, the Cold War and the “Swinging Sixties”. This generation experienced a post-war boom in developed countries and in most developing countries in both Africa and Asia they lived through the colonial period and started wars of liberation. They aspire for job security as their careers were linear and determined by their employers. Most yearned to own a television as a signature product and their medium of communication was the telephone, which now is mostly a smartphone, even though many are not comfortable with this. Their communication preference in interactions and decision-making is face to face ideally, but they can use the phone or e-mail if required.

Intergenerational Learning insights

  • Baby Boomers are great Mentors and they have the benefit of hindsight that you can tap into.
  • Have a few in your Social and Professional Network as they can connect you to networks built over time.
  • They can shorten your learning curve in terms of navigating institutions’ culture and politics.
  • Ask them about how to grow in a career path even if you hop from one role to the other.
Generation X, Their Attributes and Intergenerational Insights – Born 1965 – 1976

Generation X did not really experience the Cold War, their formative experiences included the fall of the Berlin Wall and early mobile technology. This generation is said to have experienced rising divorce levels and in most developing countries in Africa they are the ones who took part in or experienced the wars of liberation. They aspire for work-life balance or integration and they are the early practitioners of having “portfolio careers”, where they are loyal to a profession and not necessarily the employer. Their signature product was a personal computer and they mostly used text messaging and emails. In interactions and decision-making, their preference is face-to-face time permitting, but they can also engage online.

Intergenerational Learning insights

  • Generation X are also great Mentors and many can connect you to networks built over time. Have a few in your Social and Professional Network.
  • From them you gain the benefit of bridging the more conservative Baby Boomer generation and the experience of huge generation changes such as the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with the introduction of the computers and mobile technology.
  • They are the work-life integration generation, so as leaders they are likely to promote such policies and role model this lifestyle.
  • Many are thought leaders and they can teach you about building a profession on your own terms. Ask them about how to grow in a career path in this way.


Generation Y / Millenials, Their Attributes and Intergenerational Insights – Born 1977 – 1995 

Millennials are the terrorism generation, whose defining formative experiences are the 9/11 Terrorist Bombings, the Invasion of Iraq live on television due to the start of “embedded journalists” and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. They are the social media generation that is comfortable with reality TV and their signature products are tablets, smart phones and play stations. In most developing countries in Africa are labelled the “Born-frees”. They are much more comfortable with technology, with most of them being digital entrepreneurs, who work “with” organisations and not “for them”. They prefer to communicate through online text messaging and social media, with friends influencing their decisions than experts.

Intergenerational Learning insights

  • Millennials are great Reverse Mentors for Baby Boomers and Generation X.
  • Their Social and Professional Network is global, so they can connect you to global networks built quickly using technology and social media platforms.
  • Millennials can shorten your learning curve in terms of navigating the digital world and leveraging it for work, relationships across borders and for business.
  • They are good in institutions as they are more open and ready to introduce or try new ideas.
  • Millennials are more likely to change jobs 5-7 times. Ask them about how to grow in a career path through continuous opportunity seeking and managing career transitions.
Generation Z/ Centennials/ iGen, Their Attributes and Intergenerational Insights – Born from 1996 onwards

 Generation Z or Centennials are being socialized before our very eyes and many who follow my work are likely to have compared their upbringing to that of those born after 1995. iGen grew up in the economic downturn period, where global warming and many other major natural disasters have been on TV resulting in a call for and negotiations for global action. Globally they experienced the freeing of Nelson Mandela, the Arab Spring, Wiki Leaks, the Barak Obama fever and more recently the restrictive policies under Donald Trump. They are comfortable with producing their own media, cloud computing and many are “technoholics” who are very dependent on IT and have not experienced much else.

 They aspire for security and stability, despite being open to be career multi-taskers who easily move from one organisation or business to the other. Their medium of communication is handheld devices or anything integrated into clothing. Communication is through face-time and decisions for them are influenced by trends as well as digitally crowd sourced solutions.

Intergenerational Learning insights

  • Generation Z is digitally savvy and comfortable with technology induced future of work impacts.
  • They are the best teachers for all others past generational cohorts on how to navigate the major technological changes.
  • Great trend spotters and analysts as they are influenced by trends
  • Good at digitally crowd sourcing solutions, so they can introduce new ways of doing things.

In conclusion, each generational cohort has a lot to offer the other if there is openness to learn and appreciation of the other. Age discrimination will remain a challenge, but in a rapidly technology influenced and changing world of work, we all need to lean on each other’s strengths to navigate this new era successfully. The End!


  1. https://genhq.com/faq-info-about-generations/
  2. https://www.slideshare.net/markmccrindle/generations-definedsociologically
  3. https://www.slideshare.net/MeghanGranito/navigating-generational-differences-in-the-professional-environment

Ennie picture.jpgWritten by: Ennie Chipembere Chikwema, Career Coach and Learning Expert

E-mail: ennielifecoach@servicesgalore.co.za

LinkedIn Profile: https://za.linkedin.com/in/ennie-chipembere-chikwema-81a30910a

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/EnnieLifeCoach/

Twitter: @EnnieChipembere

Date published:  08 July 2019

4 thoughts on “4 Generations in The Workplace and The Potential of Intergenerational Learning

  1. Most Millennials’ characteristic is tech-savvy because they grew up with technology, reply quickly. They use excellent technology look like the same way they were born from it, they know everything. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets are plugged in 24/7 not because of what just the reason they like to communicate through mail, text or messaging even though social media. They update their knowledge and make relationships by be a blogger or share beautiful pictures and status emotion on the internet.


  2. Most Millenials will easily join the integrated society today. Because they are professional in social media, globally connected, and they can learn very fast and not take too much time. I have the same idea as above!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Generations will have different perspectives on the future. Most of the young people, especially me, Gen Y, will look at things that are real, can be done, aim near and then far. achieved the goals will help Mill have more momentum.


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