The Generational Divide – Myth or Reality?

Have you heard – or maybe you thought or said – anything like this lately?


  • The younger generation just doesn’t get it do they?
  • Nobody works as hard as our generation.
  • Everyone under 30 wants to work from home and instantly be the CEO.
  • Their generation is a bunch of cranks that don’t like change.
  • This generation expects to be praised every five minutes or they’ll quit.


Scientific studies over the years have all tried to either prove or disprove the existence of differences in how one generation approaches work vs the other. The results have mostly proven that any difference, if they exist at all, are minor to insignificant.



Studies are unlikely to change most people’s opinions when on a day-to-day basis, they believe they see the proof around them. Most of us are driven by confirmation bias – which means we will find the proof we are looking for through our own interpretation of the evidence.

  • You see a Gen Z co-worker checking their phones during the workday, and you may see it as proof that all “kids” these days are constantly on their phones. This ignores the fact that constantly checking phones has crossed generational lines – most of us have our “face in our phone”.
  • A Boomer co-worker doesn’t know how to do something with a software program, and you may see that as proof that the “old folks” can’t handle technology. This ignores the fact that employees of all ages are both good and bad at the software used in most jobs. It’s about the experience you have with one program over another. Sure, you might come across a Boomer employee who is not familiar with what a social media CMS is, but you may also come across a Millennial who doesn’t know how – or why - to use formulas, filters, and pivot tables in Excel.



The simple truth is that assumptions of generational differences are a form of stereotyping. Whether it’s older employees complaining about younger employees, or vice versa, they are both engaging in over-simplified assumptions that are incorrect and harmful. You can replace the word “generational” with any other personal characteristic (“gender”, “ethnic”, “religious”, etc.) and it becomes clear that this way of thinking can lead to a workplace filled with increased drama, disrespectful behavior, and – in the worst-case scenario – accusations of a hostile workplace environment.



No matter our generation, we all want very similar things from our work, such as being treated with respect, getting some recognition for our efforts, progressing in our careers, and of course getting paid for our efforts. The differences are in how much we care about each of those things. And how much we care about these basics of the workplace has little to do with our generation - it has to do with our own individual personalities, preferences, experiences, etc. Note that this is not meant to ignore or dismiss the fact that shared experiences among populations can occur based on personal characteristics (for instance, race, gender identification, age). These shared experiences are real, and they can shape perceptions and feelings. And it’s important for employees to be aware of these issues and to be given tools to build cultural competence by, for example, understanding what a micro-aggression is and how to avoid using them.


We do have to successfully navigate the multi-generational workplace, and that raises challenges for everyone to navigate. However, the challenges have little to do with differences across generations, and much more to do with our perceptions of the differences across generations. This is no different than the fact that we all face challenges in navigating workplaces that are “multi-everything”, and the same rule applies no matter the differences: If you avoid making assumptions based on personal characteristics, you are already on your way to building your own toolkit of cultural competence and helping your workplace be one filled with respect.




Email me to find out how PEAR can help you build workplaces based on respect!


David Freedman, SHRM-SCP – VP, Organizational Development, PEAR Core Solutions, Inc. –