Negotiating Across the Generations

The cliché of the entitled millennial employee is more than a little worn out. I’m fortunate to have a birds-eye view of a lot of different companies and their employees and I know for a fact that millennials are just as capable and dedicated as their older coworkers. But, having managed employees in many different industries I also know that there are generational differences when it comes to values, attitudes, and workstyles.

In our office, we’re experts at negotiation. Part of being a great negotiator is understanding your negotiation partner’s background and what motivates him or her. It would be a mistake to assume that everyone of a specific generation is the same. But having a little understanding of how generations are seen and see themselves may help you with workplace negotiations.

The 5 Generations
Depending on where you work, you could have up to five generations working there at once. It’s important to understand that people of different ages may have different mindsets when it comes to work. It’s not that Traditionalists are loyal and Generation X is disloyal, it’s that having gone through several rounds of layoffs, Generation X knows they can’t necessarily assume they’ll be with one company for long.

1.Traditionalists – 1945 and before

There are many people still working today who started their careers in the 1960s. When they started work the expectation was that you worked for one company for decades and retired with a pension. For that reason, Traditionalists tend to view work commitments as permanent. Older employees can often feel neglected or disrespected in workplaces with younger employees. They may worry that their technology skills will be suspect or that they’ll be seen as out of touch.

2. The Baby Boomers – 1946-1964

The Baby Boom generation was defined by its youth. As younger workers, they were the ones bringing change to the workplace. In today’s workplace they may worry that they are now the older generation and may be seen as out of touch. Baby Boomers also value self-development and want to continue growing and changing. It’s important to appeal to self-interest when negotiating with Baby Boomers.

3. Generation X – 1965-1976

Sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X often sees itself as forgotten. Generation X is independent, self-sufficient, and just a little cynical. When negotiating with Generation X it’s important to appeal to reason. Although they may be dedicated employees, Generation X is generally seen as viewing work as a job and valuing work life balance. Generation X employees have likely been through several rounds of layoffs over their careers and view employment as somewhat temporary.

4. Millennials or Gen Y – 1977-1995

Millennials are social and confident. According to some people a little too confident. Baby Boomers and older employees who value “working their way up” may feel that Millennials, many of whom are working in jobs and fields that didn’t exist when they were born want things handed to them. Millennials tend to value society and the social good as much as they do their own personal growth.

5. Generation Z or iGen or Centennials – 1996-now

Generation Z is just entering the workplace. They are Internet natives and assume there is a faster, better way to do just about anything. Having grown up in a time of school shootings, social media, and political upheaval, Generation Z deals with a lot of anxiety. Generation Z folks tend to have an entrepreneurial spirit and know that they’ll spend at least some time in the “gig economy.”

Opinions on the dates for Millennials and Generation Z vary. This is just one of the reasons you need to make sure you’re looking at people as individuals, not just members of their generation.

What Everyone Wants

At the end of the day, every employee wants the same things:

  • A fair salary
  • Satisfying and valued work
  • Work life balance
  • To be treated fairly
  • A clear sense of purpose

When negotiating with employees and coworkers, keeping the basic human needs, generational differences, and personal differences in mind will help you come to a better outcome.


About The Author:

Dean Kaplan is Principal at The Kaplan Group. Dean's exper­tise is widely rec­og­nized in the debt col­lec­tion indus­try. His advice has been pub­lished in a num­ber of indus­try newslet­ters such as Credit Today and InsideARM and he is a fre­quent speaker at indus­try events.