With the baby boomer brain drain just around the corner, it’s more important than ever to understand your multigenerational workforce. Below are some characteristics of each generation to provide insight into what makes each tick — helping everyone thrive in the process.

Defining the Generations

Based on “A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workforce,” created by MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, there are four generations in today’s workforce. Each generation contributes unique perspectives and work styles to the enterprise environment: baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z.

Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomers are known as the “Me Generation,” since they have such a focus on self-realization and self-fulfillment. They make up almost 30 percent of the workforce, and nearly 70 million are expected to retire over the next ten years. Here are a few key traits to keep in mind:

  • They have a strong work ethic that’s motivated by rank, wealth and prestige.
  • They view their professional lives as careers more than jobs.
  • They are high in company loyalty.
  • They were the first to create a “work-life balance” focus.
  • Although they have strong technology skills, they still prefer face-to-face communications.
  • They excel at being team players and are focused on customer service.

One of the most important characteristics may be their desire and willingness to share their expertise with younger generations. Helping them leave a legacy by passing it on will be key.

Generation X

This generation makes up 32 percent of the workforce. It’s often referred to as the “Sandwich Generation,” since its members were born between 1965 and 1979, and the size of the generations before and after overshadow it. Here are other characteristics to keep in mind:

  • They are highly independent.
  • They led the dot-com boom and are well-regarded for their entrepreneurial abilities.
  • Generation X-ers want authentic leaders who are “hands-off” in their management approach.
  • They want ongoing training and new growth opportunities.
  • Many want optimal flexibility in how they get their work done.
  • They’re committed to a work-life balance, and willing to work less to achieve it.

Members of Generation X are viewed by their multigenerational peers as the experts when it comes to generating revenue and building teams.


Born between 1980 and 1995, millennials account for about 34 percent of the workforce, but estimates forecast 75 percent by 2025. These digital natives have always had 24/7 internet access. This impacts how they do everything — including communications, research and their relationships with others. Here are a few other unique features that millennials share:

  • They are the most ethnically diverse generation.
  • They value social responsibility.
  • Millennials want meaningful work that makes them feel part of the organization’s mission.
  • Helping others usually trumps a big paycheck.
  • They strive for a work-life balance and want a say in achieving it.
  • They often seek new opportunities and employment terms that meet their expectations.

Comprising such a large component of the workforce of the future, millennials will play a key role in knowledge-transfer initiatives among leaders and ongoing company success.

Generation Z

Members of Generation Z were born between 1996 and 2010 — and the oldest among them are just beginning to enter the workforce. Generation Z is the most technologically savvy generation, with many spending nearly all of their waking hours on some connected device. Here are other unique characteristics of the youngest in the crowd:

  • They are highly focused on having a positive impact on the world, which may be even more important than their jobs.
  • They have high entrepreneurial aspirations — with 72 percent expressing a desire to own businesses, and 3 percent already achieving it.
  • They love sharing every detail of their lives — and since they’re always online, that’s often where they do it.

The possession of such advanced technological skills — along with high entrepreneurial aspirations — means that many members of Generation Z are likely to become the leaders of the future.

Now that you know more about what makes each generation thrive and tick, you’ll have a better foundation for preparing for the baby boomer brain drain.