Generational Differences Affect the Workplace

September 18, 2012 ( Observing managers and workers ages 25 to 34 and 55 and older, a survey found differences related to communication, work style and career advancement. 

While a majority of both groups favor face-to-face communication—60% ages 55 and older and 55% ages 25 to 34—a small digital divide exists, CareerBuilder found. Twenty-eight percent of those older than 55 favor e-mail and text, versus 35% of those ages 25 to 34; 12% and 10% prefer to use the phone, respectively.

In terms of career advancement, younger workers tend to “seize any opportunity” while older workers are more likely to place value in loyalty and putting in years before advancing, with both groups reporting the following: 

  • Workers should remain in a role for at least three years before moving up (62% of those 55 and older versus 53% of those ages 25 to 34); 
  • Workers should remain in a job until learning enough to move ahead (38% versus 47%); and 
  • Workers should be promoted every two to three years if performance is good (43% versus 61%).


Younger workers are more likely to work eight or less hours a day (64% versus 58%), and older hiring managers are more likely to arrive at work earlier than younger managers, with 53% arriving before 8 a.m. and 41% leaving by 5 p.m. (versus 43% and 38%). However, older managers are less likely to take work home with them (62% versus 69%). Younger workers also reported being more open to flexible work schedules; 29% said arriving on time does not matter as long as work gets done, versus just 20% of those 55 and older. 

The two generations also take differing approaches to workplace projects. Younger generations are more likely to want to plan ahead rather than immediately take on a new initiative, with 48% of younger workers versus 35% of older workers reporting a desire to write out a detailed game plan before acting.

The study also discovered that a new generation is entering management; one-third (34%) of U.S. workers have a younger boss and nearly one in seven workers (15%) have a boss at least 10 years younger.

One commonality exists between the two age groups: 60% of both groups prefer eating alone during lunch rather than eating with co-workers.

The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder between May 14 and June 4, 2012. Participants included 3,982 U.S. workers and 2,298 U.S. hiring managers (employed full time, not self-employed, non-government) ages 18 and over.


Kristen Heinzinger