Are we coping with the mix of generations at work?

Its such a wonderful feeling when we attend a staff development session that ignites a fire, creating enthusiasm. It doesn’t happen very often, but that’s what happened last week.

Its the start of the new academic year, and as always, we start off with some staff development. I can’t say I was thrilled with much of the mandatory routine coverage, but there were a couple of things that caught my attention. One was how different generations feel about their learning and how we should adapt our teaching to maximise their learning. That sounds good, right? It got me to thinking, so I’m coming to you today with some thoughts for reflection and maybe some questions to answer.

Learning Expectations

It was pointed out that many of the educators possibly fall into the Baby Boomer Generation or Generation X, but the majority of our students fall into the Millenial Generation or GenZ. I also read that Generation A will be entering the workplace soon. This creates an imbalance in our learning experiences and those that we’re trying to educate.

I’m not going to explain what the features are for the different generations, but I’m sure you’re aware of the differences when you’re dealing with people from these different generations.

As an educator, I need to be aware of the dynamics in the class – that the GenZ student has a short attention span, is digitally savvy regarding their mobile phone, but not necessarily a PC. I was shocked to learn that they’ll vote with their feet if they’re unhappy or don’t see the relevance of a topic/class. I need to adapt how I engage with them so they commit to their learning and stay in the classroom (that might explain some of the behaviours I was seeing last year).


My thinking is that its fine to be aware of these differences, and to adapt my teaching to be more effective in the classroom. However, as well as teaching HR related subjects, I’m also preparing students for the world, for employment.

  • As managers and employers, what skills, knowledge and behaviour do you need to see developed in our young people?
  • How do we harness the skills that these generations are bringing into the workplace, but ensure that they fit into the workplace today and in the future?
  • If you are a Millenial or GenZ – or perhaps a new Generation A person, what do you need from us, educators, employers etc?

A Conversation

I believe its fine having different groups of people being told what to do, what is needed etc, but we need to have a conversation – get everyone around the table in an open, honest and non-judgemental conversation so we can ensure that the various generations today and in the future, can all work together, to support each other and play to each other’s strengths in a way that benefits everyone.

I’d love to get a conversation going today, so please share your thoughts in the Comments Section. I look forward to hearing from you.

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31 thoughts on “Are we coping with the mix of generations at work?

  1. One of the first things that came to mind was the Marshmallow Experiment, you remember, the one where toddlers were given an option of one marshmallow now or several marshmallows later. The many variants on this experiment showed that the ability for delayed gratification was a great predictor in how successful youngsters are going to be as adults. As you were describing the challenges you encounter with short attention span (different, of course), and then asked what skills are needed, this seems like a good one to focus on. What do you think?

    1. That’s an interesting thought, EW. I think we can all be impatient sometimes. I will definitely need to think about this one.

  2. One of the things this generation kids are thrown upon is the statement you have everything and we didn’t have so much. Remember with technology the kids have been pushed so much. They are not getting the credit they deserve. From a Mom whose son will be a freshman in college next week. Yes, they have phones by the time they are in eighth grade but they have been exposed to so much that we weren’t at his age. 😊.

    1. I agree about the technology. But I also think there is an assumption that they’ll know more than they do. Not everyone will have had the same opportunities. Also, I guess with the Internet and the vast amount of knowledge there is, not to mention how AI might change things, students (of all ages) need to learn/be guided in its usage

      Thanks for sharing your ideas Ganga

  3. I’m the mom of a 20 year old and 23 year old. Something I’ve always instilled in them was strong work ethic and that anything worth doing is worth doing well. That has served them well in all the jobs they’ve had, even part-time jobs in stores and fast food restaurants.

    In terms of my workplace, young people bring a different perspective. Despite the bad rap that many put on them, I think they have it figured out in ways that we didn’t at their age. They have a strong sense of boundaries between work and life.

    They’ll need strong communication skills in any workplace. Sadly, the pandemic has not helped them at all in that respect. They’ve missed out on a lot of the socialization that happens in high school.

    1. Thanks Michelle. I agree, the pandemic, lockdowns and online teaching where kids were isolated hasn’t helped with their communication skills. I guess I can make sure we do lots of interactive activities on class and encourage them to do the reading etc as homework.

      I also think, linking to your comment about young people getting a bad rap, we also need to educate everyone else. That’s why I said we need to have a conversation across the different generations without bringing barriers or bad attitudes, so we can really get to know each other and see the good things we all bring. I dont see it as a case of better/worse. We’re just different and we should be embracing the difference. Sorry, I feel like I’m lecturing now lol

    2. I agree, Michelle, with the basic message of a strong work ethic. If someone tells you that you must collect shopping carts from the parking lot all day long, then do so with pride in your task (and possibly even some Zen-like meditation!). My dad was big on this one. “If you’re gonna do it half-arse, don’t do it at all,” he said quite often.
      Even if doing something that seems ‘beneath us’ in some way, give as much effort and consideration to the task as you would something you deem of greater significance.

      1. I think I agree with you. You’re paid to do a job. Take pride in what you do

  4. Generation after generation can be heard saying the old phrase “these kids today are lazy and won’t amount to anything“. I was told the same thing when I was a kid and repeated the same well wore phrase back in my working days. I did eventually realize we all absorb information and work differently. Yet, generation after generations the world has not yet fallen apart. It’s only different from past generations.
    The kids will be alright.

    1. Thanks Kevin. I’m sure they’ll be fine too but if there’s anything I can do to facilitate the transition from childhood and school to adulthood and work, then I’m all for it.
      And maybe it’s the adults who also need to learn some tolerance of the differences- we don’t like change, and with the way technology is driving change, it’s necessary

  5. After years of teaching preschool (just retired!) I saw very few changes in behaviors of the kids at 3, 4, & 5 years old. Four year olds today acted the same as four year olds twenty years ago, with the exception of a few pandemic related delays. But, I have noticed a lot of changes in the parents, their expectations, their level of participation, and other things. One of the most telling issues was that they now want constant updates and daily pictures of what’s going on in class. They don’t necessarily have time or want to come volunteer, but they want to “see” what’s going on. Versus my style of taking pictures and documenting the year, then having a big “reveal” slideshow at the end of the year–look at all the fun we’ve had this year! Two completely different approaches. I haven’t analyzed it, but just found it to be a very interesting change in parenting approach, and one that I tried to adapt to, because, ya know, it’s their kids.

    1. I can understand that. I think what you’re seeing in the parents is what we’re seeing in our students – they’re more demanding, less tolerant in some ways

  6. Speaking from an “elder millenial” standpoint… I’m 36, born in 87′. I was raised into the 90’s and 2000’s. Technology did not play a role in my education, except maybe for high school, and we’re talking like when Apple first started becoming a thing.
    Remember chalkboards? Those were the days…
    It’s the generations after us that are born straight into technology. The education system is also a lot different. There is a teacher in my family who goes about her own way with her students to keep them engaged and not on screens all day.
    She’s also a mother. She let her son have all his gadgets and games, but also made him be active outside.
    He’s 13 now, and even with today’s schooling he’s a very well mannered, respectful, and intelligent.

  7. I think your idea about having a honest and non-judgmental conversation would help a lot. On the other hand, I think you are missing a point in your analysis. The impact that AI has and will have in the future generations and therefore their education. In Belgium they interviewed some students before their end of the year exams and many of them replied that they used Chat-GPT for their preparation because it’s super fast and writes good French. If not done yet, try it, it’s still for free and you may also ask it your questions. It could be an interesting experiment. I think that for us – baby boomers gen – adaptation is key, as you mentioned, but we should also be trained at a certain point! Interesting article Brenda!

    1. Thanks Cristiana. You’re right, AI is making and going to make a big difference. I have started experimenting with it. It’s written my lesson plan for Monday’s class next week.
      I was actually planning to write a separate, focused piece about how I might use it, and integrate it into my teaching

  8. Maybe check in with your students?

    Depending on the city, their socio-economic background, and of course family situations, some kids are very prepared, while others struggle to understand the need to set up a budget and how to pay the monthly bills so the electric doesn’t get turned off or the car repossessed!

    My daughter works in collections for a car dealership specializing in selling to sub-prime borrowers, and she spends a lot of her time teaching these basic skills to adults, in efforts to keep them in their cars, and to help them turn their lives around.

    If the kids are struggling with home life issues, it is difficult for them to focus on classes, and the anger and frustration they’re feeling comes out sideways in other ways.

    The fault of course is with their parents, who themselves may not have great life skills, and who aren’t putting the time into teaching their kids what they need to know. There’s a big myth going around that the schools need to teach the kids everything, from manners to how to write a resume, leaving a big gap.

    The teachers who connect with their kids and help them to learn the little skills they will need are the ones the kids listen to.

    Years ago I worked with some inner city youth. I was a white lady going into an almost all black student population and the very first day they sent the youngest one to face me down, arms crossed, who looked me straight in the eye and said, “What can YOU teach us?” So I sat with them and talked to figure out what they needed. #1 thing was they needed to be heard, #2 thing they needed to find ways to express themselves and their feelings in a positive way.

    I had the counselor (a black man) approach me a few short weeks later, asking me WHERE I came from, and HOW I learned what I was teaching, because he had been working with these kids for years, and for the first time these guys were opening up and talking. They showed him the therapeutic art exercises we did in class and were able to explain the tools I had given them. I told him I had listened and created a program for them that met their needs instead of following the protocols of what I wanted to teach them.

      1. Thats very true. And as you pointed out, they don’t always have good role models at home

    1. Great ideas Tamara. As the college I work for straddles 3 Council areas and I think about 10 of the poorest areas in Scotland, there are challenges. But thats also mixed with affluent areas too. I always start by talking to the students but your comments are giving me ideas to explore deeper, so thank you. I agree, if I want to really build trust, I can only do that by talking with them and listening

  9. A slightly different spin. There have always been multiple generations in the workplace. Now because of technology, each of these generations has been dramatically influenced and none of them in the same way. You have your work cut out for you.

    1. Thanks Danny. Maybe I’ll take in pens and paper and make them work without technology 🤣
      Seriously though, I know I need to help everyone develop tech skills, but maybe I also need to find out what they’re learning in other classes (like their IT classes) and identify the gaps in their knowledge. It does go from extremes- more mature students who don’t know how to turn on a computer

  10. I love this conversation you’ve started, Brenda. I haven’t worked with a lot of Gen Z or Gen A colleagues so I’m fascinated by your questions. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    1. Thanks Wynne. I think Gen A’s oldest are only about 16/17, so they’re just entering the workplace

    2. I’ll probably see them in more of next year’s classes – but possibly have 2 classes this year. I’ll maybe need to write about my experience 🤔

      1. Yes, you will! I interface with them a little in the babysitters and pet sitters we have from time to time. I’d love to get insight through your observations!

  11. The thing that struck me most about this post is that you had a useful staff development day! In my 25 year teaching career, that rarely happened.

    1. I maybe took something positive from the experience, but im not sure the full 2 days were that informative or best use of time. But needs must

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