Generational Differences in the Workplace

Open office with workstations and employees working

Complaining about younger generations has been popular for thousands of years. In the fifth century BC, Socrates famously griped about children loving luxury, having bad manners and showing contempt for authority.

Generational friction often shows up in the workplace, and many people are aware of the stereotypes: Baby Boomers complain about millennials’ lack of professionalism. Millennials criticize Gen Xers’ insistence on emailing everything. Gen Xers wish Millennials would get off their smartphones during work.

In today’s workforce, collaboration among different generations is the norm. Generational stereotypes can hinder effectiveness if left unaddressed, according to research from the behavioral and occupational assessment company Birkman. Just as gender and ethnic diversity initiatives can increase an organization’s productivity and effectiveness, preparing employees to appreciate generational differences can help workplace teams.

Several studies have found unique inclinations for generational cohorts. Here’s a guide to help navigate each generation’s preferences in six areas.

Communication Preferences

  • Millennial – Text messages and messaging apps
  • Gen Xer – Email
  • Baby Boomer – Phone calls

Open, quick communication is important to every generation. According to Nielson, 98 percent of millennials own a smartphone, but Baby Boomers and Gen Xers aren’t technologically inept. A good rule of thumb is to use the communication method preferred by the person you want to reach.

Decision Making

  • Millennial – The group decides
  • Gen Xer – The most qualified person decides with group input
  • Baby Boomer – The boss decides

Everyone wants the best outcome. Keeping that in mind can diffuse tense situations when making important decisions. The best bosses seek input from their employees, even if the decision ultimately is theirs to make. Johnson Consulting Services recommends bosses carefully manage team members’ expectations at the front end to help manage angst at the back end for people whose ideas weren’t chosen.


  • Millennial – A complete waste of time
  • Gen Xer – OK when it’s relevant
  • Baby Boomer – Best way to get information

According to an Atlassian study, $37 billion is wasted on meetings each year. The study also revealed 47 percent of employees think they were a waste of time. Conference calls and emails can be viable alternatives worth recommending to colleagues who like meetings.

Having Fun at Work

  • Millennial – Having fun at work increases productivity
  • Gen Xer – Work to live
  • Baby Boomer – Live to work

What constitutes fun is different for each generation. Millennials grew up learning through fun activities, while Boomers think the work itself is fun. Enjoying the workplace doesn’t have to be frivolous, according to Forbes. If incorporated strategically, fun can have a positive impact on the bottom line. Encouraging group lunches or hosting a happy hour can give all generations an opportunity to let loose while building relationships with co-workers, which boosts productivity and engagement.


  • Millennial – Instant
  • Gen Xer – Timely
  • Baby Boomer – Annual review

Feedback is important to employees of all generations. It’s the timing and frequency which differ. Giving employees feedback in a way they prefer increases employee engagement and loyalty.

Dress Codes

  • Millennial – Casual
  • Gen Xer – Business casual with casual Fridays
  • Baby Boomer – Business professional every day

Each generation has been more casual than the one before. An OfficeTeam survey found 50 percent of senior managers said employees dress less formally than they did five years ago, regardless of generation. Company policy and the industry in which it operates often determine what is appropriate and what is not. Bosses can still set minimum acceptable standards, and employees should pay attention to organizational norms.

The Birkman study concludes that managing and engaging three unique generations in the workforce is more than just a trendy topic of discussion. Generational issues have a tangible impact on the success of teams and their organizations. Businesses with functional, multigenerational workforces will have a strategic advantage in the marketplace.

Soft skills training can also help smooth generational issues in the workplace. The UCO Customized Education Workforce Advantage Certificate addresses generational differences and gives employees the keys to personal branding, relationship building and reputation management.

Karen Youngblood is the executive director of UCO Customized Education.

9 Ways to Increase Employee Productivity

Disengaged employee checking his phone at work.


Disengaged employees are unproductive employees. From entry-level positions to top executives, a lack of connection to the organization and its mission can mean a loss of profits.

In fact, a recent study from McClean and Co. estimates a disengaged employee costs an organization roughly $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary. A Gallup study found disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.

Here are 9 ways to improve productivity in the workplace.

  1. Refine the onboarding process. Give new hires the help and support they need starting day one. It doesn’t have to be a long process, but simple things like giving them a managerial mentor can decrease stress and start their productivity off on the right foot.
  2. Create a unique culture and environment. The workplace should be inviting, but that means something different for every organization. Adding artwork and branded dishes to the breakroom or sharing employee playlists on social media can make a big difference in an organization’s atmosphere.
  3. Cross-train departments. When employees know how hard other areas of the organization work to meet mutual goals, it encourages them to keep up their end of the bargain.
  4. Simplify goals and duties. Decrease confusion and time lost trying to navigate complicated processes or shifting priorities.
  5. Promote health and wellness. Provide gym membership discounts or ask your team to join you for a walk during lunch. Healthy employees are productive employees.
  6. Hold standing meetings to improve group performance. A Washington University study suggests decreased territoriality sparks a team’s creativity and enthusiasm. It also provides accountability.
  7. Encourage internal and external networking. Employees should be connected through professional social sites like LinkedIn, but companies should also encourage employees to attend trade shows and conferences to meet their peers and share ideas.
  8. Provide continuing education opportunities. Showing employees you want to help them advance professionally is crucial. Paying for classes or giving them time off to attend a workshop lets employees know their success is important and makes them willing to go the extra mile to show their gratitude.
  9. Have some fun! Nothing builds comradery faster than putting people together to have a good time. Holding contests or ordering in pizza for lunch on a random Tuesday can go a long way toward endearing employees toward your organization.

Boosting employee engagement and productivity must be a company-wide initiative supported by management. Changes won’t happen overnight, but the payoff will be well worth the efforts.

UCO’s Workforce Advantage Certificate teaches specific strategies to increase employee engagement and productivity. To register for our next class, click here.

Karen Youngblood is the executive director of UCO Customized Education.

7 People Who Always Show Up Late

Looking at a wristwatch when someone is running late.

When people show up late for meetings or miss deadlines, it gives the person waiting time to think.

They think about how unprofessional their coworker is. How untrustworthy. How careless.

Even if employees produce great work and have a positive attitude, being too casual with schedules can make the boss question a staff member’s leadership ability.

Being late doesn’t just cause chaos for everyone else’s schedule; it can damage reputations and stop a career in its tracks.

We all deal with tardiness from time to time. Nevertheless, the chronically late tend to fit into one of seven categories defined by Diana DeLonzor in “Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged.” Some of these characteristics may be familiar from your workplace:

  1. Rationalizers who think ignoring the clock is no big deal, or who always have an excuse.
  2. Producers who get things done, but try to squeeze in so much they can’t possibly make it all work and end up breaking promises.
  3. Deadliners who live on the edge and can only get motivated when the heat is on, but who end up putting pressure on everyone around them.
  4. Indulgers who play things by ear rather than sticking to a schedule, avoids starting projects.
  5. Rebels who think ignoring schedules is a way to feel powerful and show they don’t bow to authority.
  6. Absentminded professors who just don’t do details. These people often digress and jump from one activity to another without finalizing projects or conversations.
  7. Evaders who set low expectations for themselves, and who may have fears of both success and failure which can turn into anxiety.

None of these personality types doom an employee to a life of angry colleagues and low-level roles. However, anyone who has trouble managing their time can benefit from understanding their procrastinator profile.

UCO’s Workforce Advantage Certificate gives specific strategies to help people manage the clock. To register for our next class, click here.

Karen Youngblood is the executive director of UCO Customized Education.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard………..

Pile of Dollar Bills

“I wish I had come to visit you before I made the decision to……..(fill in the blank.).”

In my previous business consulting life, I often found that we were the first people, outside the family, a business owner came to for objective advice.  In many cases, they came because something was going wrong in their business life, or there was an unease that they couldn’t seem to figure out, or things weren’t working the way they anticipated.

So often we traced it back to a particular decision that was made, and how that decision was playing out in the company.  That decision might have been made for many reasons – lack of knowledge, experience, perspective, or just some bad advice.  More often than not, decisions were being made in a personal vacuum!

In my experience, business owners are a pretty independent lot, which is why they are business owners in the first place(!), and many seek advice from no one other than themselves.  Or, they run things by a spouse, or a brother-in-law, and that may not be a good thing either, for various reasons!  Or spouses disagreed considerably about decisions!  I have often found myself in a situation where the spouses came to talk over decisions because I had the best interests of the BUSINESS in mind, and not which party was “right”.

Customized Education can help!  Our Business Advantage Forums, based on a peer advisory board model with like-minded, but non-competitive businesses can provide that objectivity.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have others around you who can “have your back” in helping you think through issues, and for you do do the same for them.  What a powerful tool!    Groups are forming right now!  Click here to express an interest, and we’ll contact you.

Susan Urbach, EDFP
Business Strategist for Customized Education
University of Central Oklahoma

Click on Susan’s Name then scroll down to learn more about her.