UNA-USA Leadership Summit: Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace

At this year’s UNA-USA Leadership Summit, participants had the pleasure of listening to keynote speaker Phil Gwoke from Bridgeworks, an organization that works to bridge the generational divide often found in the workplace. Gwoke’s message was especially pertinent considering the crowd at the summit, as there was a more diverse range of ages than in years past.


Gwoke divided the crowd into four main age ranges. Those born before 1945 are dubbed the “silent generation” or “traditionalists”. These individuals lived through the Great Depression, and therefore grew up expecting a hard life. This translates to the workplace, as traditionalists expect timeliness, diligence, and a typical, pyramid-like chain of command in the office.


Individuals born between 1945 and 1965, known as the “baby-boomers”, grew up during events that tremendously shook America, such as the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights movement. These individuals favor teamwork, and find relationship building to be extremely important.


Next comes Generation X, those born in 1965-1985. Shaped by the events such as the end of the Cold War and Watergate, these individuals want open communication regardless of position, title, or tenure in the office. They are also very independent and value control of their time.


Those born between the years of 1985-1995 are coined “millennials”. This generation has been shaped by the rise of technology, and can easily be working at all times due to accessibility to email. This is because millennials are competitive; many are extremely educated, and will work incredibly hard to stand out from their colleagues. This generation tends to change jobs frequently due to their ambitiousness to seek more opportunities to learn and advance.


Lastly, those born past the year 1995 are known as “Generation Z”. Since not many members of this age group have begun working, there is little data regarding their impact in the professional world. However this generation is predicted to be even more technologically savvy, tolerant, and driven than millennials due to an upbringing in which a college degree is extremely common, having an African-American president is not a big deal, and seeing a toddler play with an iPad in a restaurant is all too familiar.


Gwoke’s message is extremely applicable to GenUN members as we are all beginning to enter the workplace. Although many of these generational differences complement one another, it is easy for individuals to clash. It is important to be cognizant of your generational strengths and weaknesses when interacting with colleagues; for example, although it can be extremely rewarding to seek feedback from your boss, sometimes your boss may expect you to work individually without consultation.


I encourage you to discuss these generational differences with your chapter, as well as with future colleagues. By being cognizant of the generational gap and its implications, you are more likely to close it, and become a stronger employee and teammate.