I’ve talked about the differences between generations in the workplace for many years. We used to discuss five Generations: Traditionalists (born between 1924 and 1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980), Gen Y or Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012).

Today, there aren’t many Traditionalists left in the workplace, so we focus on four Generations. We’re learning more about Gen Z all the time as more of them enter the workplace.

To review, Boomers represent the largest generation to hit the workforce. They invented workaholism and were the first group impacted by downsizing. 

Gen X saw all that happening, and as the smallest generation, they came in with more leverage.  This group invented the concept of keeping a fresh resume in hand, having seven jobs in their career and being willing to jump ship to advance.  The challenge with Gen X is that they often take their best team members with them when they go.

Gen Y, the kids of the Boomers, are the “everybody gets a trophy” generation, so while they can be quite loyal, they prefer group recognition and want to fully understand your mission, vision, and values to make sure they’re part of an organization they believe in fully. 

Gen Z, the kids of Gen X, are now quickly joining the workforce. While they bring a bit more of a conservative view of their position in the workplace, they are similar to Gen Y in that they view their employer more like an investor than an employee.

Knowing all this, what’s changing post-COVID as we have many more remote and hybrid workers, technology, rapidly advancing AI, and a changing world economy? One structural change is that we continue to see Boomers retiring in high numbers, so many of today’s corporate leaders are now Gen X. Gen Y, and Z will soon make up 50% or more of the workforce.

As my team at Incentive Services continues to build recognition, engagement, and performance management programs for the biggest and best companies in Healthcare, Transportation, Food Services, Manufacturing, and more, we strive to be inclusive of all four generations.

Boomers still prefer meaningful, individual recognition if it’s earned, fair, and meaningful. Gen X responds to a broad selection of awards and likes the new experiential rewards and creative use of gift cards.  The key to engaging Gen Y and Z is to create fun, frequent, group-focused award programs and initiatives based on achievements that benefit the company while also considering the environment, community, and the world. 

Companies that best combine these approaches and tools are seeing tremendous and ongoing results in retention, engagement, productivity, profitability, and bottom-line ROI.

Here’s an interesting twist that I just discussed with a colleague.  How much of the generational differences we talk about are generational, and how much is due to age and experience?  That’s a great question.

As I look back at young Baby Boomers, we were a bunch of hippies and rockers from the ’60s, and I’m sure the Traditionalists running the companies where we had our first jobs wondered if we had what it takes to lead America in the future.  Most of us grew up, gained skills and experience, and did a good job of making the world better.

If you’d like to learn more about John Schaefer, Schaefer Recognition Group, Incentive Services and how our team can help you develop a recognition strategy to support the majority of Key Engagement Drivers, email me personally at john@SchaeferRecognitionGroup.com  or call (800)378-5821. 

I’d be happy to discuss your company goals and growth objections to see if we can help you and your leadership team optimize your most important resource – people!


While being aware of each generation’s differences and perspectives based on their size and their experiences is valuable, my gut says that our businesses are in some pretty good hands. Having watched my three Millennial children get educated, join the workforce and thrive, I’m feeling confident that we are going to be just fine!