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Embrace the strengths of generational diversity in the workforce

Michelle Dagnino Published on 31 December 2015
man and boy milking a cow

Most companies today have four generations within their workplace – the first time in history that all four generations have converged at work.

With each emerging generation comes a different attitude, work ethic, life experience and set of goals than prior generations. Managing a workplace with generational diversity has become a key issue for Canadian employers.



Focusing on the generational demographics in your business is an essential part of planning for the future.

Particularly in the agricultural industry, where succession planning often requires the transfer of large-scale equipment, land and livestock, operators and owners need to start planning for the next generation of their operations at least 15 years before planned retirement. Yes – I said 15 years!

Succession planning, when done well, requires transferring both physical and mental capital.

Generational diversity requires the same care and attention as managing any other individual and group attributes each of us bring to the workplace. Having a variety of workers who bring differing perspectives and skills to the table allows your company to grow and diversify in ways that will allow for a healthier organization.

To get the most out of employees, managers must understand each of these generations, what brings out the best in them, what each generation requires in the workplace to perform at their highest levels, what their expectations are, and how they interact with those around them.


Primary generations working today are the Baby Boomers, born between 1940 and 1965; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1978; and Generation Y, also referred to as the Millennial Generation, born between 1978 and 2000 – and now the largest percentage of workers in the North American workforce.

The WWII Generation, born before 1940, is largely retired now; however, markets where labour shortages are extreme may see an increasing number of this generation returning to the workforce.

Over the last five years, the Baby Boomers went from being the largest segment of the workforce to the second largest after the Millennials, as more Millennials enter the workforce, and more Boomers retire.

A large percentage of this generation is in the ongoing process of retiring, leaving employers having to replace this group in greater numbers.

Many people from this generation have worked with fewer than five employers their entire career – while most Millennials will have had more than five employers by the time they reach their early 30s.

Largely, Baby Boomers value recognition, integrity, job security, structure and want their experience and knowledge appreciated in the workplace. Qualities that they bring to the workplace include dependability, loyalty and a vast amount of experience in their chosen professions.


Challenges facing Baby Boomers typically have to do with the onset of technology in recent decades. This generation did not have the advantage of growing up with computers or smartphones and had to learn the skills required to use the technology while on the job.

Some Baby Boomers have a tendency to resist technology and it may ultimately impede their job performance in today’s technology- driven workplace.

Generation X makes up a smaller percentage of the workforce than the Baby Boomers. These two generations grew up in very different households. Generation X included far more latchkey kids who often watched television or played video games rather than entertaining themselves outdoors as their predecessors did.

In addition to this, divorce rates increased as Generation X grew up, another factor in the drastically different lifestyle experienced by Generation X as opposed to that experienced by the Baby Boomers.

With the shifting lifestyles, Generation X developed alternative goals and ambitions. Perhaps the largest difference between Baby Boomers and Generation X is the need for a structured schedule.

At times stereotyped as a generation who doesn’t work as hard as generations prior, Generation X values time spent away from work and seeks a work-life balance.

Generation X likes to both work hard and play hard, and as such, they are motivated to produce quick results and use resources and technology to do work in more flexible locations.

With the desire for autonomy and freedom in their schedules, Generation X has brought with it a new wave of entrepreneurs who are busy building their own companies in an effort to attain the lifestyle they seek. Employers wanting to attract or retain this group need to look for ways to achieve the productivity they need without sacrificing the quality of work.

Examples of benefits attractive to Generation X include: flexible work hours, opportunities to work from home, autonomy in the job and updated technology. Outdated technology is often seen by Generation X as counterproductive and can be frustrating for them as they are trying to accomplish a maximum amount of work in the most efficient ways possible.

Generation Y is now entering the workplace in droves after having completed their education and is the fastest-growing segment of the working population. This group grew up with technology and they have never experienced life without it. It has been with them since the day they were born, and it is an integral part of their lives.

As anyone who has ever called their teenager to only have them respond back with a text knows – communication styles for Millennials are vastly different from generations before. With relationships almost entirely conducted through computers, smartphones and social media, this generation values constant contact with peers.

Their relationships with their parents has resembled that of close friends – and as a result, Generation Y walks into the workplace with the expectation that they are equal to their bosses.

They do not believe in hierarchy, and reject the notion of “working your way through the ranks.” They expect to be promoted often and quickly, as long as they demonstrate the potential and skill set to do the job.

In general, the under-30 crowd entering the workforce today is education-oriented, technology- driven and wants to move up the corporate ladder quickly. The independent nature instilled in them by their parents motivates them to continuously improve their situation and their knowledge base.

As a generation on a whole, they value recognition and flexibility and are a creative group, constantly on the lookout for new and improved ways of completing their job duties. This group can be motivated with recognition, promotions, flexible schedules and employers who recognize that their personal and career goals need to connect.

There are a number of things an employer can do to ensure that each of the generations in the workplace has the opportunity to contribute to their strengths:

  • Speak frankly and openly with employees, not only about work product, but also about organizational strategy. Make them feel invested in the success of your operations.

  • Make up teams within the organization from different generations. Each will bring something different to the table and contribute in a different way. If each person on a team has the same attitudes and skill sets, you will miss out on the valuable knowledge and perspective that each generation contributes.

  • Tailor benefits according to what best motivates employees. Think creatively about how to retain your best and brightest.

  • Try to match up your employees with your customers. Think about your customers’ strengths – and weaknesses – and match them with your employees. Have a customer who is not sufficiently communicative about their needs? Keep them paired with a Baby Boomer or Gen X employee. Have a customer who has introduced the newest technology as part of his farm management tools? Bring in your Millennial employees to manage that relationship.

  • Teach your employees when required, and learn from them when they have something to show you. Successful workplace relationships recognize that everyone has something to contribute to the success of the operations.  PD

Michelle Dagnino is a senior engagement specialist with LURA Consulting. Email Michelle Dagnino.

PHOTO: Managing a workplace with generational diversity has become a key issue for Canadian employers. Photo by Mike Dixon.

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